NATO association of Canada

The webinar focuses on what energy security means to different people and how this plays into policy. Participants will discuss the physical security and cyber-security of installations as well as the security of energy supply and the security of trade routes. Questions discussed include: how will the need for electricity infrastructure to be resilient, and for electricity itself to be affordable, affect the fate of unconventional energy, including the “oil sands”? Do Canada’s high latitude and long transmission distances exclude a good match between supply of renewable energy and demand for it? In light of the last question, what decisions will be made about nuclear power? While the webinar focuses on Canada, these issues will be addressed for other countries as well. The use of information and communication technologies, including artificial intelligence, in the energy sector will also be addressed.

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

It is normal to want to live in harmony with nature and the unrelenting negative news about climate and CO2 and energy speaks to this. Exciting examples of how things are being done create expectations about how the system should change but also create exasperation about how slow progress is. But the use of flagship projects should be managed with care – these are often in the news because they are the exception, not the norm.

 Gravity Sucks

A while ago, there was a widely-shared video of a huge truck carrying quarried rocks – the electric truck was painted green (of course) and to much adulation was reported to “never need charging”.   Factually correct because the specific circumstance is that the quarry is high on a hillside and its destination (a cement factory) is in the valley. The truck uses regenerative braking to charge its 600kw batteries, and the charge is sufficient to get it back up to the quarry. Magic. The nuance is of course that it carries load down and comes back up empty; thus the losses in generating and storing electricity are compensated for by the additional kinetic energy provided by gravity on the way down – the unladen truck weights 45 tons and carries 65 tons of material – so is 110 tons on the way down and 45 on the way back up.

In many ways this is not too different to counter-weight systems like funicular tramways or building elevators – only here instead of a mechanical transfer with friction losses and a “top-up” of input energy, there is an electro-chemical transfer (with associated losses but net gains).  The laws of thermodynamics still hold.

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The impact of Bullfrogs, Leopards and CO2 emissions

In the simplistic position in which all fossil-fuels are bad and that catastrophic climate-change is a few years away, gas is just another problem that has to be done away with.

However, in the real-world there are complex considerations that are lost in a binary, dogmatic world-view. The discovery of significant gas reserves offshore South Africa is a good case study.

Total and partners are currently drilling the second exploration well in the Block 11B/12B in the Outeniqua Basin offshore South Africa. The first well “Brulpadda” was drilled in 2018/19 evidencing a significant hydrocarbon accumulation.

This discovery of a large gas-condensate accumulation was correctly described as a “basin-opener” – as it significantly de-risks four additional prospects mapped across the block in a classic “string of pearls”, including the current Luiperd well.   Whilst there is always the voice in the background that says “oil would have been better”, this is still a fabulous prize, given its geographical location. Finding wet-gas 175 km offshore of Port Elizabeth and the 60 million people of South Africa, is not inconsequential, and indeed has been rapidly hailed as a “game changer” by WoodMac

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Massive fossil fuel subsides must stop.

Returning to one of my favourite subjects – those disgraceful subsidies for fossil fuels. One of the features of having teenage kids is you often hear “whatever”, or more recently “no one asked” as conversation stoppers. In the same way, having reasonable conversations about fuel subsidies is often met with the “concerned citizen” equivalent – one such appeared on a previous blog post that laboriously (I thought) tried to show that it wasn’t a simple case of “Fossil-Fuels Bad (and subsidised), Renewables good (and yes subsidised, but that’s OK)”. Despite this I got the “whatever” style comment of how “we should just stop subsidising fossil fuels”.

So here I go again.  The infamous $5.2 Trillion headline has been widely debunked so will be ignored hereafter and whilst there are some places that have direct subsidies for production, in the vast majority these are “implied” subsides whereby the specific and very high petroleum taxes simply generate some rebates, and were discussed at length in the previous post.

However, there clearly are countries who subsidise the cost of (notably) petroleum products to their citizens. The headline number is often mentioned “$426bn” or “$372bn” or some such. A far cry from the debunked $5.2 Trillion, but still a big number, but you have to dig pretty hard to see who these bad actors are. The platitudinous headline is “fossil fuels subsides to consumers must stop” or in more thoughtful works, “should be swapped to subsidies for renewables”. Let’s just ignore that petroleum product molecules and renewable electrons are not always interchangeable, especially around transport.

Globally there are still more subsidies directed toward fossil fuel consumers and producers than toward renewable energy: currently around USD 372 billion is spent on producer and consumer fossil fuel subsidies, overshadowing the USD 100 billion in support to renewable energy (Best et al., 2015; International Energy Agency [IEA], 2018b; Merrill et al., 2017).

Note in the 33 pages of this report there is no definition of these subsidies other than the above – it is just gospel that they exist and must be swapped out. When digging, I found the cited IEA reference has no mention of subsidies at all in it, the Merrill paper is better, and references price-gap analysis.

Spoiler Alert: the countries that subsidise their citizens for say gasoline are clearly globally significant, get them to change and all will be well in the world…

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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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Nigeria to follow Angola off the production cliff?

Summary: Changes to fiscal terms and delays in licence renewals look likely to condemn Nigeria to declining production, following a path analogous to that of its regional challenger Angola.

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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Snowflakes in Winter

I guess it is not unusual to find snowflakes in winter.

* Students demand declaration of climate emergency and divestment from fossil fuel companies;

* College suggests turning off heating as a direct measure to help.

* Students reply: “This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion. *It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating*”

* Me: LMAO Surely that is exactly the point (on a global scale)…. and yet the irony of the reply appears to be lost on even the brightest and best….

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