“Lower for Longer” was right and yet so wrong… Finding the real cost of the marginal barrel.

The Marginal Barrel and why does it matter?

The price of the “marginal barrel” in the world of oil is critical, as it dictates the price of all oil. The marginal barrel is the one (or at least a small number of barrels) that represents the gap between supply and demand. In a market that uses c. 100 million barrels of oil per day, the delta between supply and demand is typically only about 1% or 1mmbbls/day. In normal times the price bounces around within manageable ranges as this ebbs and flows. Price has no correlation to absolute supply (see image in title).

Price shocks occur when the deficit or surplus becomes larger. For example, in 2014 the oil price crashed from over $100/bbl to about $50/bbl before continuing south through 2015 because the US shale patch was adding about 1 mmbbls/d each year from 2012 onwards. Disruptions in conventional supply (Nigeria, Venezuela and Libya) left a gap in supply that was almost perfectly matched. However, when Libya brought back on-stream 1.4 mmbbls/day the market flipped into clear over-supply and the price tanked.

Obviously the 30% collapse in daily demand seen in 1Q 2020 due to Covid is and extreme example of this but is such an outlier it is better to focus on normal dynamics.

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How to explain Embodied Energy: introducing the “WACE”: Weighted Average Cost of Energy

By conventional logic, low oil and gas prices suppress demand for low-carbon alternatives, and conversely high oil and gas prices spur substitution.  There is some debate that the current low oil prices will slow the transition to low carbon energies.  I argue below that we should not be worried about low fossil-fuel prices undermining the energy-transition, but rather the complete opposite.  High fossil-fuel prices will be a bigger problem.

In corporate finance the concept of the Weighted Average Cost of Capital  (“WACC”) is well known.  This is the total cost of how the company funds itself through equity and debt.  Simply put, the cost of funding a corporate entity is the percentage of equity times by the cost of equity and the percentage of debt times by the cost of that debt, thus:

  • WACC = (%E*costE) + (%D*costD)      where %E+%D=100%.

When thinking about the concept of embodied or embedded energy I have adopted and adapted the idea of the WACC to better explain the issues.  In this new model I call the Weighted Average Cost or Energy – I am trying to capture, albeit very simplistically, the idea that making wind-farms and solar panels requires a large energy input, and the cost of that energy input(“cRE”) is today dictated by the cost of fossil-fuel power (“cFF”).  This statement is true given that roughly 85% of the world’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels – so it stands to reason that this will underpin the cost base. Thus, the WACE can be expressed:

  • WACE = (85% * cFF) + (15% * cRE)

If you are constructing a renewable energy project today, the WACE for your project will be dominated by the 85%, that is by the cost of fossil-fuels.  This has important implications for the Energy Transition: if the cost of fossil fuels increase, the cost of renewable energy increases also.

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One black swan is unfortunate, two may be careless.

Summary: “Unprecedented” supply increase in the face of demand destruction. Fueling the fire.

About the publisher: Richard Norris is a leading business developer and advisor to energy investors, developers, bankers and the public sector.

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Brilliant Minds, Sub-Optimal Outcomes in Investing: Ignore Oil and Gas at Everyone’s Peril

“Old” energy sucks as an asset class, yet not investing in it will undermine the driver of growth (cheap energy) that allows other sectors to soar. No individual investor is incentivized to support the common good.

In game theory, the Nash Equilibrium, named after the mathematician John F Nash Jr. (of “A Brilliant Mind” film fame), is a proposed solution of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy. source 

To this we can add that the observation that such an equilibrium is often sub-optimal for all players, but as noted in the description, no player has any incentive to change. Players are “locked in” to a sub-optimal outcome. 

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Future Energy – technology will save us

Summary: With a focus on “Greener, Cleaner and Cheaper” energy, we are overlooking the possible negative consequences of cheap energy. More expensive energy can be seen as a big negative as it will slow economic growth, but cheaper energy could accelerate degradation of planetary resources. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

About the publisher: Richard Norris is a leading business developer and advisor to energy investors, developers, bankers and the public sector.

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Time to “woke”​ up, oil still matters

Oil production companies are about as far from being part of the self-proclaimed “woke” set as you could imagine. A dinosaur industry with its head so far in the sand (to mix my metaphors) that it can’t even see that most of its assets will stay in the ground and be worthless. Woke people know that we will be 100% renewable by the middle of next month.

This week may not change public perception, but its a pretty big wake up call to all wokeists everywhere, if they bothered looking.

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