Energy Shortfalls

powerlines_6.jpgReuters is reporting today (Dec. 1, 17) that Sweden will need an additional 2.6GW of power generation capacity by 2040 if production capacity is to keep up with demand. This is due, largely in part, to the planned shutdown of some of Sweden’s nuclear plants.

Germany, too, has been faced with a daunting task of providing energy during their total transition away from nuclear power which was sped up after the 2011 nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan. Germany’s rather unfortunate solution has been to restart, and even construct new coal-fired power plants; significantly increasing Germany’s carbon footprint.

Sweden and Germany are not alone. Already mentioned, Japan has had to take drastic measures in power supply to be able to maintain a relatively stable network since most of its nuclear power plants remain offline.

Using renewables may seem like a great idea to help combat the gaps left by nuclear, but there isn’t enough capacity in place to provide a full replacement. What’s more, many sources of renewable energy are weather-dependent or dependent on other uncontrollable environmental factors.

While individual countries alone assess their power needs and make the decisions on the future of nuclear energy, they are often not alone in solving the problems faced by decommissioning. Efforts have been underway for many years already to connect grids with one another, creating a continent-wide super-grid capable of making the most use of available (renewable) power resources. With sufficient interconnection Sweden would be able to benefit from a solar power plant in Spain, or wind farms closer to home in Denmark and Germany, when their plants are able to produce more than can immediately be consumed domestically.

In short, though there is a looming shortfall which we cannot deny; there is a will and a means to help mitigate the effects and help boost renewable energy production.


Who are the large players in the energy industry?

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Where would the world be without energy? You certainly would not be reading this article right now. From the production and supply of electricity to jet fuel and heating oil, our lives depend on energy. So too, do we depend on the companies that are responsible for supplying and providing that energy. When we think of an energy company we often include our utility company, but also the gas station and perhaps even the oil companies. The latter companies are known the world over because of their sheer size and the exposure they have in providing us with that crucial element; energy.

Below we take a look at some of the largest names in energy production, that is to say companies that are active in the he production and sale of energy, including fuel extraction, manufacturing, refining and distribution. The ranking has taken place based on market capital for these publicly traded companies. Most large energy companies are public in order to compete and thrive in the energy economy. That’s not to say that there are many larger, small energy companies that are still privately held; but the below list counts the giants.

Exxon Mobil

Based in the US and known for its Exxon, Mobil and Esso brands around the world, this energy behemoth is based in Irving Texas and generates more revenue than any other publicly held corporation in the world.

Royal Dutch Shell

The 6th largest company in the world by revenue, Royal Dutch Shell is an Anglo-Dutch corporation which was formed by the joining of Royal Dutch Petroleum and the Shell Transport and Trading Company. Headquartered in The Hague, the company’s registered office is in London.



A US company takes spot 3 on the list, with chevron beating out France’s Total and Britain’s BP, though this is a highly contested spot. Headquartered in California, the company is one of the successor companies to Standard Oil, and is active in more than 180 countries and known aborad largely by the Texaco brand. 

The Microgrid Imperative

Microgrid.jpgThis year Microgrid conference started with a list of people who have suffered from power outages this year. The outages were caused by damaged power lines and were incredibly costly to remedy. This highlighted the clear need to find a better method of providing the public with electricity.


So far, microgrids have not been flying off the shelves. Nevertheless, adoption of this system is growing every year despite some clear challenges that have prevented people from wanting to get involved with them. Microgrids need a variety of specialist technology and equipment and those using them needs to abide by a number of regulations and policies. They are also reasonably pricey. Furthermore, the technology that powers these microgrids is not standardized.


The main adopters of microgrids so far have been military bases, universities, schools and hospitals. This is because these markets each have their own individual motivation for adopting this technology. For example, clean energy microgrids can help universities achieve their goals of sustainability. Meanwhile, a microgrid could provide better cyber security and energy independence for a military base or greater energy stability for a hospital.


There are a few projects taking place across the US that show the effectiveness of using microgrids but these are rare at present. This is despite the fact that there is growing proof that the current grid system in the United States is in dire need of renovation and is vulnerable in a variety of different ways. But, there is hope that utilities might start to recognise that microgrids could be a non-wires alternative thanks to their capacity for shaping loads and thus eliminating the problem of costly transmission upgrades.


Doug Staker, a VP with Demand Energy Networks (DEN, an Enel company) said  “One of the things about grid-connected microgrids is we have the ability to create load with the storage at night and then we are able to take and time shift and manage that load to manage the building load or manage that network load”.


He continued by explaining that if you flatten a load, the overall efficiency is improved and thus the need for these expensive upgrades becomes greatly reduced.


There are also resiliency issues in the current system in the US. These could potentially be solved with the adoption of microgrids. When there is a serious storm or a forest fire in a remote part of the country, falling trees can take out power lines and their poles. Once these are destroyed, the effect is multi-day outages.


In this situation a microgrid could continue providing power to a gas station, police station and hospital while the outage is fixed. At the very least this would keep the town in question functioning on a basic level while full functionality is being restored.


Staker concluded by saying, “I think you are going to see more and more utilities look to build that infrastructure or do like Con Ed did with us and incent private developers to go out and build them.”



Chinese Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

green-technology-frontiers-carbon-capture-and-storage-ccs-14-728.jpgChinese development of CCS project was spurred in 2005 through the formation of GreenGen, mentioned later, and the EU-China Near Zero Emissions Coal (NZEC) agreement. The latter was formed with the aim of demonstrating advanced, near zero emissions coal technology through carbon capture and storage (CCS) in China and the EU by 2020. To support this, a UK-China bilateral NZEC initiative was formed with an ambitious three phase process with the intention of commissioning a demonstration plant in 2014. Project players include nine Chinese partners (GreenGen, IET, THCEC, DTE, DCE, ZJU, NCEPU, WHU and TPRI) and four UK partners (IMP, DB, Alstom and Shell).

Shareholders from the energy sector including five power companies, two coal production companies and one investment company set up GreenGen, to promote high efficiency, low environmental emission plants. The group is developing a pilot IGCC demonstration project in the Tianjin Binhai New Development Zone. Many are also collaborating with international players to develop CCS such as the Huadian group and Duke Energy.

It is estimated that CO2 could be used to simultaneously recover more than 40 million barrels of oil and more than 12 gigatonnes of CO2 could be stored. The two sites with the most potential for both oil recovery and CO2 storage are Bohaiwan and Songlio of 18 billion barrels and 9 billion barrels respectively, and a storage potential of 5.4 gigatonnes and 2.4 gigatonnes.

For 90% of large stationary emitters it is estimated that a storage option is within 100 miles and for 85% within 50 miles. This includes 2,300 gigatonnes of onshore CO2 storage capacity in deep saline formations (2,290 gigatonnes), coal seams (12 gigatonnes), oil fields (4.6 gigatonnes) and gas fields (4.3 gigatonnes), and 780 gigatonnes of offshore storage.

However, re-combustion capture and the use of oxyfuels have the most potential due to their expected lower capital costs, levelised. CO2 could also be used for energy intensive industries such as iron and steel, ammonia, cement and ethylene production. The Chinese government is expected to introduce a target to reduce the country’s energy intensity by 20% in its eleventh five year plan. This roughly equates to a 306 mega tonne reduction in CO2 emissions.

The world’s newest nuclear power plants

Nine-Mile-Point-Nuclear-Plant-cropped.jpgThe optimism surrounding nuclear power that existed in the 1960s, 70s, and into the 80s was quickly replaced with scepticism and distrust after a number of serious and very high-profile nuclear incidents. With the latest incident being the 2011 tsunami which crippled several reactors in Japan and led to the catastrophic failure of containment and the release of radioactive materials, development of nuclear technology has again slowed to a crawl.

However, there is still development and there are still new nuclear projects forging ahead as the existing fleet ages and replacements become increasingly urgent. Though the disasters have left their scars, they have also brought about a new awareness for safety and lessons learned can be applied in new as well as existing plant construction.

One of the latest nuclear power plants nearing completion does away with the notion that the plant must be on land entirely. Nuclear reactors have been used on ships since early in the technology’s life, though mainly to produce power for the ships. And while there have been some plants located on ships to produce power to be used on-shore, Rosatom’s designs for ship-based nuclear power plants are the first that are set to be mass-produced.

Elsewhere, European countries Finland and France are putting the newly designed Evolutionary Power Reactor design to use in new-build nuclear power plants at Olkiluoto and Flamanville. First marketed as the European Pressurised Reactor, the EPR is also being deployed in China where it is likely to see the design’s commissioning debut after significant delays in Finland and France.

Elsewhere in Europe, Slovakia was left with a shortfall in power after joining the EU and the forced closure of two soviet-era reactors which failed to meet EU safety standards. To continue to help provide power to the grid, Slovakia is also expanding its nuclear fleet with the addition of a third and forth Russian-designed reactors to be deployed at the Mochovce plant site, the first of which will come online in 2018.

While the nuclear power-plant boom has turned into a trickle, there is still plenty of opportunity for development and there are many new plants coming online around the world for many years to come.

Japan and its Exploration of Flammable Ice

Japan has never had a simple relationship with the energy sector. Indeed, Japan imports a huge percentage of its energy, due to it having almost no resources of its own. In 2016, the country spent $28.9 billion on gas alone. To make matters worse, the nation’s multiple nuclear reactors, which were once a source of pride and joy, now sit dormant due to the fear of a repeat Fukushima disaster.

But, it is not all doom and gloom for Japan. Japanese scientists are exploring a new technology that may solve the country’s energy strife and dramatically reduce their dependency on foreign resources. This innovative solution comes in the form of ‘flammable ice’ (gas hydrates), which Japan’s ocean bed apparently has in abundance.

This new source of energy is a mixture of water and natural methane that has been frozen as a result of high pressure and low temperature. Typically it can be found under ocean floors and in the Arctic. But, no-one, as of yet, has succeeded in extracting it for commercial purposes. If this could be achieved, however, it would change the energy game, as it is believed that gas hydrates contain more energy than all the other fossil fuels in the world put together.

Naturally, Japan is trying to extract these gas hydrates and they are pouring billions into the effort. And with good reason. Being able to exploit a resource that can be found in its own territory will significantly increase Japan’s energy security. It will also reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and subsequently lower emissions. Natural gas is proven to be considerably greener than coal and other fossil fuels.

So, what exactly is flammable gas? As mentioned, it is a combination of water and natural methane and it looks just like ice. The astonishing thing about gas hydrates is the staggering quantity of natural gas that is contained in just one cubic metre. Per cubic metre of flammable ice there is 164 cubic metres of methane. But, the methane is hard to extract. Which is a shame because it is estimated that there is over one trillion cubic metres of the stuff under the floor of Japan’s ocean. This would be enough to satisfy Japan’s energy needs for over a decade.

Of course, it will come as no surprise to learn that Japan is not the only one with its eyes on this energy gold. China is also looking to exploit this resource and successfully managed to extract some gas hydrates back in May of this year. If any country manages to find an economical way to extract the gas from these gas hydrates “it would reshape the energy world” claims Christopher Knittel, professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. There are still a number of hurdles to be jumped in the form of technology but advocates of the new energy source are optimistic.

But, the mining of flammable ice doesn’t come without some potential environmental risks. The process could destabilise the seabed, which in turn could cause a tsunami, although Dr. Koji Yamamoto, leader of the research group for field development technology at MH21, thinks that the possibility of this happening is low. Another concern is that the methane could be released into the air by accident. This would be disastrous as methane is over 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide as far as its function as a greenhouse gas is concerned.

While there is all kinds of speculation as to how flammable ice will change the world, it looks like we won’t know anything for a while. Originally the Japanese government set the late 2020s as their target to have commercial production up and running but they have recently concluded that this date may have to be pushed back around a decade.



BP and Shell Need to Up Their Game to Combat Climate Change


Oil and gas giants BP and Shell are reportedly failing to do their bit towards combatting climate change and this is putting shareholder capital at risk.


The companies have been described as “dragging their feet” by ShareAction, a non-profit that promotes responsible investment. The damning description is backed by claims that neither BP nor Shell has taken appropriate steps to reform its business model in order to comply with the general transition towards a low carbon economy.


This statement directly contradicts another report, which says that a number of businesses across Europe, including Shell, have entrenched the issue of climate change into their company strategies.


Nevertheless, ShareAction is speaking loud and clear on this issue and has encouraged shareholders to take action as well. They are advised not to leave the problem dormant and to engage with boards and management in order to see the issue resolved.


The non-profit further suggests that investors in both BP and Shell should insist on seeing fully fleshed out plans as to how the companies plan to reduce their total lifecycle emissions. The companies should also be prepared to disclose how they plan on incorporating any future climate legislation that is to be passed within the jurisdictions in which they operate.


If the companies fail to correctly implement policies that would encourage the use of renewable energy and wean the public off its dependence on fossil fuels, it will put millions of savers at risk. Indeed, many pension portfolios feature either Shell or BP and so a plunge in share price could be disastrous for those who count on these companies in their savings.


ShareAction’s Senior Campaigns Office, Michael Chaitow, has noted that Shell and BP are operating conflicting policies. On the one hand they are openly backing the Paris Agreement but on the other, they are simultaneously planning for actions that could directly contravene it.


In response to the claims lodged against it, BP has said that it is going to do its best to rise to the challenge of aiding the transition to a lower carbon future whilst still providing reliable energy to a world that is growing in population every day.