Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Energy’ Category

Is this the day that solar and wind changed the W.A. grid forever?

Renew Economy, 22 February 2019

The Australian Energy Market Operator has been fretting about the increase in the penetration of rooftop solar for some time now, and perhaps most of all in Western Australia, one of the world’s biggest “stand alone” grids, where the solar uptake is accelerating rapidly.

The state now has more than 1GW of rooftop solar on its main grid, which is located in the south-west corner of the state, and which is known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS).
That makes rooftop solar the biggest source of electricity by capacity, and the uptake is growing at 35 per cent a year, according to AEMO.

It also has a growing amount of large-scale wind and solar capacity, as construction resumes following a three-year hiatus engineered by the previous Coalition government, and reforms are made that will facilitate access for renewables to the grid.

The isolated nature of the SWIS, both in its physical characteristics and some say in the culture of many in the industry, makes W.A. a fascinating case study.

And rooftop solar is particularly attractive because the west gets gets a lot of sun, and because consumers are finally being asked to pay the true cost of the fossil-fuel based grid, which was hugely subsidised by the government that has decided it can no longer foot the $500 million a year cost of making the electricity bills appear slightly more palatable.

But that rapid switch to rooftop solar is creating a very big “duck” curve that the grid operator is having to learn how to manage, as are others around the world where solar is a growing share of production.
The duck curve relates to the fall in demand in the middle of the day – driven by the uptake of rooftop solar – and the “ramping” needed to catch up with grid demand as it rises quickly as the sun sets in late afternoon, early evening.

The operator says that on October 18 last year, it was forced, for the first time, to call in “backup load following ancillary services” – broadly the equivalent of the directions that AEMO has grown accustomed to issuing in South Australia and more recently Victoria.

The operator said this was the result of volatile wind output, which delivered swings of up to 50MW in short time periods during the morning, compounded by variations of up to 100MW in the output from rooftop solar in the late morning as cloud cover moving across the south-west corner and Perth in particular.

At 11.30am, local time, the operator called on 50MW of Backup LFAS Down and 50MW of Backup LFAS Up, for a period of 3.5 hours to meet what it expected to be a volatile load profile. AEMO says it was justified because – as the arrow is pointing to in the above graph – a band of clouds around 1pm reduced solar PV output and caused a 300MW increase in demand, and its passing caused a 250MW reduction in demand in the next time interval (1.30pm). The back-up call was not costly – around $36,000 – although a second back-up call, on December 26, at 1am, caused on this occasion by rapid changes in wind output, was imposed for 8.5 hours (35.5MW) and cost around $81,000.

AEMO says the increasing level of penetration of rooftop PV and other renewable generation is going to increase the amount of volatility experienced on the power system going forward, and the number of directions. AEMO boss Audrey Zibelman addressed this issue at a symposium at UNSW this week, when she said that in Western Australia there is sometimes “too much rooftop solar that is not managed”, causing voltage to drop at a distribution level, and leading to curtailment of rooftop solar output.

“We have to start introducing the solutions now to make sure it works – otherwise we will be in the unenviable position of saying we can’t do any more,” Zibelman said. Those solutions include a shift to “orchestration”, which will allow networks owners and grid operators to use smart inverters to help manage distributed solar output. Battery storage, demand management and aggregated systems through smart controls of devices such as pool pumps could also do the trick.

“We want to be able to use all these investment, in a way to provide a private benefit and a public benefit and integrate then into the system,” Zibelman said. “It’s important for markets to be able to reward people to do that so that they are getting payments for the service. We have to get cracking.”

Is this the day that solar and wind changed the W.A. grid forever?

‘What about the plug?’ Australia’s electric car infrastructure stalled by policy paralysis

The Guardian, 4 February 2019

Why has it taken so long just to move past the bare minimum needed to support what is now an expanding sector?

Most electric car owners will charge at home or at work but one in three will still be reliant on public charging stations. Last September, Sylvia Wilson became the second person in the country to drive around Australia in an electric car. The entire 20,396 kilometre trip took the 70-year-old 110 days in her Tesla S75 and cost just $150.90.

Her success served as an answer to critics who have long argued “range anxiety” – the worry about whether an electric car’s battery will die out of reach of a charging station – is a factor stopping more people buying electric cars. “The reality is that if you can see the lights on or that the kettle works, then you can charge. Even in the remotest places, you can still charge the car. In a way there are more places to charge an EV [electric vehicle] than there are a fossil-fuel car,” Wilson told Guardian Australia at the time.

While Wilson showed what’s possible with existing infrastructure, industry insiders and engineers have been left wondering why it’s taken so long for Australia just to move past the bare minimum needed to support an expanding electric car sector.

Behyad Jafari, chief executive of the Electric Vehicle Council, says the failure to so far provide this infrastructure – from charging stations and uniform standards for components, to the tools needed to maintain each vehicle – is a symptom of political paralysis that has taken hold in Canberra. “Let’s be clear here, these aren’t electric vehicle problems, they’re Australian policy problems,” says Jafari. “In the absence of that, companies are left wondering, well what the hell do we do?”

According to modelling commissioned by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, most electric car owners will charge at home or at their place of work but roughly one in three will still be reliant on public charging stations. With just 783 charging stations around the country in 2018, compared with 6,400 petrol stations, building the infrastructure to support the widespread take-up of electric vehicles will cost $1.7bn.

Tim Washington is a director of Jetcharge and a cofounder of Chargefox, one of the biggest companies in Australia which supplies and installs charging stations across the country.

Washington says most of the infrastructure needed to support the mass uptake of electric cars is already in place, because most people living in a city only drive up to 30 kilometres a day. “Public charging stations are a visual signal to the public that you are now able to charge the car. People are very used to seeing petrol stations and they have confidence in buying a petrol car because they have a petrol station,” says Washington. “People immediately think service station-style charging stations. That’s just not the case. A lot of the charging infrastructure is invisible infrastructure. It’s not apparent to the public eye to where the vast majority of charging stations are. “They’re in homes, in basements, in commercial building car parks, in public car parks – in all the places where you don’t see a traditional fuel source – and that’s all that required for a healthy uptake of electric vehicles.”

The problem for companies like his, Washington says, is that the infant nature of the industry and the way people will use the technology makes it a risky investment. “One of the troubles for public infrastructure providers is that you invest all this money to encourage people to come to electric, but once you invest this money, people will charge at home,” Washington says. “It’s classic market failure.”

To get around this, state and local governments have so far been eager to support the building of new charging stations, but often the support they can provide is limited by their resources and their authority.
Instead, help must come from Canberra which for the last few years has been slow to respond to the growth of the new industry – despite some recognition of its potential. Indeed, one of the recommendations in the select committee report on electric vehicles released this week is that the federal government work with “operators in the charging infrastructure industry to develop a comprehensive plan for the rollout of a national public charging network”.

Last October the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor, announced $6m to support Chargefox in building a network of ultra-fast charging stations along the highways that link Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, and four around Perth. These stations have the ability to take recharge times from eight hours down to 15 minutes in some cases.

While it was a welcome announcement, the government has so far failed to address other infrastructure issues that aren’t the most obvious – or headline grabbing. An early example involved the humble plug. With no clear standard in Australia, global manufacturers had no guide for how to build their cars for the local market. In some ways it risked repeating what happened at federation when each state mandated its own rail gauges, making it impossible to take a train across state lines in one continuous trip.

“It had been an understood issue for quite a number of years before but then there hadn’t been any action,” says Jafari. Instead, industry players themselves had to organise to decide on a voluntary standard that was later communicated in a technical document released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. While it was a good news story for the industry, it should never have been left to get that far.

Now researchers such as Professor Iftekhar Ahmad from Edith Cowan University are looking ahead to stop future problems before they happen. “Electric cars will increase what’s called high peak-to-average demand. When the owners go home and plug in, we’ll see high peak demand during those hours,” says Ahmad. “The current distribution network is not designed for high peak. When you think about putting so much load on the network, the infrastructure lifetime can be shortened and also it can put too much stress on transformers.”

While several fixes have been proposed, Ahmad says the problem can be overcome with proper planning.
“It has to be well planned,” he says. “It’s not currently happening in a coordinated fashion and the perspective from the government [and] the utilities is that there’s not enough cars in the market to think about it.
“It will happen, there is no stopping it. If you go to Beijing or Europe, you will see them everywhere and if enough planning can be done, electric cars have a huge potential to complement our renewable energy system.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/04/what-about-the-plug-australias-electric-car-infrastructure-stalled-by-policy-paralysis

Fracked Shale Oil Wells Drying Up Faster than Predicted, Wall Street Journal Finds

DeSmog, 10 January 2019

In 2015, Pioneer Natural Resources filed a report with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, in which the shale drilling and fracking company said that it was “drilling the most productive wells in the Eagle Ford Shale” in Texas. That made the company a major player in what local trade papers were calling “arguably the largest single economic event in Texas history,” as drillers pumped more than a billion barrels of fossil fuels from the Eagle Ford. Its Eagle Ford wells, Pioneer’s filing said, were massive finds, with each well able to deliver an average of roughly 1.3 million barrels of oil and other fossil fuels over their lifetimes.

Three years later, The Wall Street Journal checked the numbers, investigating how those massive wells are turning out for Pioneer.
Turns out, not so well. And Pioneer is not alone.Those 1.3 million-barrel wells, the Journal reported, “now appear to be on a pace to produce about 482,000 barrels” apiece — a little over a third of what Pioneer told investors they could deliver. In Texas’ famed Permian Basin, now the nation’s most productive shale oil field, where Pioneer predicted 960,000 barrels from each of its shale wells in 2015, the Journal concluded that those “wells are now on track to produce about 720,000 barrels” each.

Not only are the wells already drying up at a much faster rate than the company predicted, according to the Journal’s investigative report, but Pioneer’s projections require oil to flow for at least 50 years after the well was drilled and fracked — a projection experts told the Journal would be “extremely optimistic.”

Fracking every one of those wells required a vast amount of chemicals, sand, and water. In Karnes County, Texas, one of the two Eagle Ford counties where Pioneer concentrated its drilling in 2015, the average round of fracking that year drank up roughly 143,000 barrels of water per well.

A Billion Missing Barrels

And while Pioneer has become one of the most active drillers in the Permian, it’s hardly alone in booking projections that the Journal found were dubious. “Two-thirds of projections made by the fracking companies between 2014 and 2017 in America’s four hottest drilling regions appear to have been overly optimistic, according to the analysis of some 16,000 wells operated by 29 of the biggest producers in oil basins in Texas and North Dakota,” it reported. “Collectively, the companies that made projections are on track to pump nearly 10 percent less oil and gas than they forecast for those areas, according to the analysis of data from Rystad Energy AS, an energy consulting firm.” “That is the equivalent of almost one billion barrels of oil and gas over 30 years,” the Journal added, “worth more than $30 billion at current prices.”

The problems the Journal focused on will be familiar to those who’ve turned a critical eye to shale reserves in the past: The most productive areas, or “sweet spots,” are smaller than first expected and companies predicted that wells would dry up slower than they have. DeSmog launched its latest series covering shale’s financial woes in April 2018 and our coverage extends back over a half-decade.
For the Journal, the take-aways were financial. “So far, investors have largely lost money,” the newspaper pointed out, adding that a review of 29 drillers showed companies have spent $112 billion more than they earned from drilling in the past decade. “Since 2008, an index of U.S. oil and gas companies has fallen 43 percent, while the S&P 500 index has more than doubled in that time, including dividends.”
The industry’s defenders argue that spending money now to make money later is simply how business works — this year’s “losses” are actually investments in future profits. But because shale drilling is relatively new, even the experts are left guessing about how much oil will be flowing from the wells 10, 20, or 30 years after fracking — and investors have become frustrated as shale drillers have largely failed to turn the corner and start racking up profits instead of continuing to operate in the red.

“The industry’s only hope of paying off debt and rewarding equity investors is for oil prices to rise high enough for long enough that they can generate consistent cash flow without breaking the bank on capex [capital expenditures],” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute. “But they’ll have real problems — sweet spots are getting depleted, wells are declining faster than they’d hoped, pipelines are still constrained causing deep discounts in some markets, co-produced gas is close to worthless, and any sustained rebound will boost the cost for drilling services (i.e., higher prices mean higher costs).” “Plus,” he added, “investors need to worry about long-term cleanup costs.”

Calling in the Experts

And the pressure on the experts charged with preparing oil and gas production estimates for drillers is enormous. As the first shale wells get older and more production history rolls in, engineers have developed models they say can make better predictions — but the Journal suggested those tools haven’t been widely adopted. “Why aren’t we doing this?” one engineer demanded repeatedly after John Lee, one of the most prominent reserves experts in the U.S., gave a talk in Houston in July about making more accurate shale projections. “‘Because we own stock,’ replied another engineer, sparking laughter,” the Journal reported.

The Journal’s reporting frequently cited Rystad Energy, an independent oil and gas consulting firm, as the source of more conservative projections — but, as DeSmog has previously reported, Rystad isn’t the only large independent firm to find troubling indications that shale wells are on track to produce only a fraction of their “proved” reserves. Wood Mackenzie, another major oil consulting firm, studied the Permian’s Wolfcamp shale, where early projections predicted that production from a five-year-old well should be declining at a rate of 5 to 10 percent. Those wells, the firm found, are actually declining by roughly 15 percent a year — a significantly larger drop than expected and an ominous sign for any companies projecting wells can last 50 years.

And fracking giant Schlumberger — which like Halliburton specializes in performing hydraulic fracturing jobs on wells other companies drill — has begun calling attention to a problem with much more immediate impacts: The sweet spots are getting too crowded. For years, the industry has said that it can minimize impacts by drilling multiple wells from the same well pad — but in parts of the Permian, wells drilled later on or near existing well pads have proved roughly 30 percent less productive compared to the first well drilled.

“[T]he well-established market consensus that the Permian can continue to provide 1.5 million barrels per day of annual production growth for the foreseeable future is starting to be called into question,” Schlumberger’s CEO Paal Kibsgaard said in an October 2018 earnings call. “At present, our industry has yet to understand how reservoir conditions and well productivity change as we continue to pump billions of gallons of water and billions of pounds of sand into the ground each year.” Kibsgaard warned that similar problems are beginning to show up in the Eagle Ford as well.

The Long-Term Costs of a Boom and a Bust

Karnes County is still the most active part of the Eagle Ford, with 562 drilling permits issued last year. After a heady oilfield boom, oil prices plunged in 2015 and 2016, leading to the layoffs of thousands of workers and royalty checks drying up. This past year, drilling has re-emerged, albeit at a slower pace. “It’s not a boom, but there’s a resurgence here in the Eagle Ford,” Rick Saldana, an energy company superintendent told the Houston Chronicle in October.
Investors have faced a rocky ride. Sanchez Energy, the Eagle Ford’s third largest driller, has now been warned twice by the New York Stock Exchange that it will be de-listed if its stock price, now at roughly $0.26 a share, doesn’t soon rise above $1.

But other impacts of the boom and bust cycle run deeper. In nearby Dilley, Texas, a former oilfield man-camp, built to house Eagle Ford workers, was turned into the “the South Texas Family Residential Center” in December 2014 by a private prison company. It’s now the nation’s largest immigration detention center for families, housing up to 2,400 people, half of them children.

And while over the past decade, Wall Street and other investors poured billions into fracking — the Journal tallied $112 billion more spent than earned from production at 29 major drillers — the U.S. more broadly has failed to seriously invest in a rapid transition away from climate-changing fossil fuels. That leaves the U.S. at risk of being left behind as the rest of the world focuses its efforts to innovate on renewable energy prospects that don’t dry up like oil wells. Bethany McLean, a financial journalist famous for first breaking the Enron story, recently told Fortune about conversations she’d had with major private equity investors as she researched her new book Saudi America. “They are all trying to figure out when we’ll be able to see the end of the oil age, because as soon as that happens, the price of oil will go into secular decline (as it did with coal),” she said. “Other countries, namely China, are frantically investing in renewables. For us to crow about our oil wealth, and not focus on renewables, is for us to miss the opportunity to be leaders in the world as it’s going to be.”

https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/01/10/fracking-shale-oil-wells-drying-faster-predicted-wall-street-journal

Chasing China: Chile drives Latin America’s electric vehicle revolution

Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2018
A massive cargo ship docked in the Chilean port of San Antonio at the end of November. It carried it its belly the first 100 electric buses from China that Chileans hope will revolutionise their public transport system.
Read more

We finally have the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, but global climate action is still inadequate

The Conversation, 18 December 2018
Three years after the Paris Agreement was struck, we now finally know the rules – or most of them, at least – for its implementation. The Paris Rulebook, agreed at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, gives countries a common framework for reporting and reviewing progress towards their climate targets. Yet the new rules fall short in one crucial area. While the world will now be able to see how much we are lagging behind on the necessary climate action, the rulebook offers little to compel countries to up their game to the level required.
Read more

California is first state to mandate zero-emission bus fleet

AP News, 15 December 2018
California moved Friday to eliminate climate-changing fossil fuels from its fleet of 12,000 transit buses, enacting a first-in-the-nation mandate that will vastly increase the number of electric buses on the road. The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to require that all new buses be carbon-free by 2029. Environmental advocates project that the last buses emitting greenhouse gases will be phased out by 2040.

Read more

At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts

The Guardian, 17 December 2018
I remember well the first institution to announce it was divesting from fossil fuel. It was 2012 and I was on the second week of a gruelling tour across the US trying to spark a movement. Our roadshow had been playing to packed houses down the west coast, and we’d crossed the continent to Portland, Maine. As a raucous crowd jammed the biggest theatre in town, a physicist named Stephen Mulkey took the mic. He was at the time president of the tiny Unity College in the state’s rural interior, and he announced that over the weekend its trustees had voted to sell their shares in coal, oil and gas companies. “The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in destructive practices,” he said.
Read more

Australia’s LNG export surge fuels domestic supply concerns

Financial Times, 13 December 2018
Australia overtook Qatar to become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas last month following a $200bn decade-long investment to ship the fuel to Asia. But the export boom has come at a cost. The country is now facing a looming domestic gas shortage in its most populous states, leading prices to skyrocket and concerns over security of supply to increase.

Read more

VW Says the Next Generation of Combustion Cars Will Be Its Last

Bloomberg, 5 December 2018
Volkswagen AG expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026. Traditional automakers are under increasing pressure from regulators to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to combat climate change, prompting Volkswagen to pursue a radical shift to electric vehicles.

Read more

Qatar Announces OPEC Exit Days Before Pivotal Oil Cuts Meeting

Bloomberg, 3 December 2018
Qatar said it will leave OPEC next month in a move that threatens to fracture the group’s unity just as it tries to maintain a global coalition to control the oil market. Qatar, a member since 1961, is leaving to focus on its natural gas production and has informed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries of its decision, Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi told a news conference in Doha on Monday. A spokesman for the group declined to comment.

Read more

css.php