24 Jan Changing The Conversation About Energy Innovations
If you’re interested in keeping up to date with energy innovations, you might want to subscribe to this new video series.
The Energy World is A’Changing
For us consumers, our energy systems appear pretty stable. In fact, I’m still doing the same little household energy efficiency improvements that I remember my Dad doing almost 40 years ago.
Back then, our home had a rotary dial household thermostat. You rotated the dial to the approximate temperature you wanted, and the furnace then worked to maintain that temperature. It was not dynamic: at night, you manually had to lower the temperature, and if you forgot, the furnace would run periodically all night. I remember the day when Dad bought a new programmable thermostat and we finally buried the ‘who left the furnace running all night’ debate.
In 2018, I bought a 30 year old house that featured, you guessed it, the original thermostat, a mercury-glass tube builders grade POS from Honeywell. Just like what Dad replaced the previous century. The week we moved in, we ordered a shiny new Ecobee WiFi-enabled thermostat. It reacts to incoming weather, the presence of our phones, has multiple comfort settings, and even talks to Siri on HomeKit. The irony is that Gibson’s Building Supplies still sells the exact same style of rotary dial thermostat, vintage 1960, from Honeywell.
For most of us, that’s been the extent of our personal energy change in half a century. Many of us installed slightly smarter (well, considerably smarter) thermostats and perhaps more efficient light bulbs. The vast majority of us do not have solar panels on our roofs. There’s no big battery in the garage. Our cars and F150s are not battery electric. Planes still use jet fuel. Our toys, such as power boats and jet skis, are all based on fossil fuels.
The reality is that energy systems are actually innovating wildly. It’s as if the consumer is the handle of a whip, and the system is the far tip. The handle might not be moving much, but the business end of the whip is just cracking.
Here’s just a few areas where innovations have been making a profound but not always visible impact on our energy systems:
Japan has just received its first shipment of hydrogen from Australia. The hydrogen was manufactured with steam conversion of brown coal, of which Australia has loads, and was chilled to its liquid state of -253 degrees. Hydrogen is being positioned as a replacement baseload fuel for power generation.
Goldman has just pumped an impressive $250m into Hydrostor, a Canadian energy storage company that converts clean solar and wind energy into heated compressed air which when released, generates grid quality power.
Alberta has committed $1.24 billion to launch two commercial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects by 2025. Numerous companies are preparing engineering and geologic proposals to secure a project.
The nuclear power industry has been developing ever more reliable small scale nuclear reactors, the kind that might be found on a nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier. These reactors reliably generate clean low cost power and are well suited to remote island economies, and northern communities that lack solar and wind resources.
Digital innovations are unlocking new business models for energy, such as track and trace of molecules. Tracking specific oil molecules allows markets to price cleaner products at a discount (the difference made up with carbon credits), or dirty products at a penalty.
At a very practical human scale level, entrepreneurs are figuring out how to deliver the autonomous oil well, the ultra clean drilling mud, high quality carbon credits, satellite-based asset surveillance, augmented reality for the front line worker, predictable pipeline operations, smart pipes, smart tools, and Uber for everything.
The Gap in Conversation
The problem, as I see it, is the looming gap between the reality of innovation in energy, and society’s general perception that energy is not innovating and not changing, or at least, not changing fast enough.
We need to close that gap and quickly, for a number of reasons. Society needs to be better prepared to embrace energy innovations that have a specific consumer component. Capital markets need to better price risk in innovations, and to direct funds more surgically to promising short term developments. Decision makers and regulators need to accelerate their approvals of new energy investments. Young people need to see the energy industry as innovative, high tech, and a promising place of life-long career development.
Personally, I’ve been passionate about the opportunity for the energy industry to refashion itself for several years now. My weekly article series, for example, focuses on digital innovations in the industry, and my weekly podcast includes regular interviews with digital innovators. My first book set out the scope of the digital transformation opportunity in oil and gas, and my new book will describe how to accelerate digital adoption throughout the entire petroleum value chain.
It’s been a good start, but it needs to go faster.
To add to the challenge, the environment for engaging in this conversation has materially changed in the past 2 years. The pandemic has largely shut down in- person conferences, to be replaced by a rapidly improving on-line conference experience. Consumers have spent more and more time on line, and have driven the rise of video streaming services as part of an incredible shift of habits to video.
At the same time, the metaverse creates a vast new opportunity to engage virtually, which will require copious amounts of video. Home studios with quality cameras, mics, green screens and lights can very nearly replicate professional TV studios, and at a very reasonable cost.
The solution is Energy Innovations, a weekly video series that I host, consisting of interviews and discussions with innovators in all aspects of the energy industry. I’m putting my handy home studio to work with the assistance of the celebrity video conference service Zoom, to create high quality video conversations on topics as varied as new energy products, financing, business models, cyber challenges, and even crypto.
Here’s a typical interview guide, which is focused on carbon capture and storage, for an upcoming episode:
- What is carbon capture and sequestration?
- What is the history of CCS? How novel or risky is CCS?
- Why is CCS considered ‘innovative’?
- Is there more than one way to execute CCS?
- How mechanically does it work? What does CCS need by way of:
- Feedstock (CO2) supply?
- Infrastructure (pipelines, gathering, measurement)
- Energy supply?
- Geology and resource for sequestration?
- What does CCS require by way of policy and commercial structures to enable it to be viable?
- Acceptable use case and reservoir (regulator)?
- Long off take agreements?
- Capital market support? Financing
- Economic mechanism (carbon price, carbon market)
- Why is CCS an attractive concept in places like Alberta?
- Large quantity and long life feedstock supply?
- Existing infrastructure for capturing and transporting CO2?
- Technical know how to design and execute projects?
- Commodity market know how to finance such projects?
- What technical unknowns are there, or is it just a case of engineering at this stage?
- What are the pros and cons of such projects?
Lights, Camera, Action!
I encourage you to tune into Energy Innovations, created by EnergyNow Media. It’s aimed at energy companies (to encourage their interest in innovation) financiers (to encourage investments) regulators (to promote approvals) young people (to inspire their interest in the industry) and entrepreneurs (to stimulate their creativity).
Better still, consider if you have a story to tell about innovation in energy and whether this video series is a suitable forum for you to bring your story to the conversation. And if it is, give me a call!
Check out my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, coming soon in Russian, and available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.
Sign up for my next book, ‘Carbon, Capital, and the Cloud: A Playbook for Digital Oil and Gas’, coming March 15, 2022.
Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course on Udemy.