Daily Archives: July 13, 2010

FT Energy Source

The idea of a wholly renewable electricity supply, using a system that spans Europe and North Africa, is gaining ground.

There is scepticism, of course, about the variability of wind and solar power, and the cost of deploying the infrastructure. But several studies in the past year have shown how a good geographic blend of sources might make this possible, and perhaps even cost-neutral – and replicable around the world. Big energy equipment vendors are forming consortiums around both the Europe-African super-grid and ‘Desertec’, the idea of a massive solar project in the Sahara desert.

One of the earliest proponents of European/North African collaboration to switch to 100 per cent renewable electricity, and the ‘super-grid’ to support it, is Gregor Czisch of Germany’s Kassel University.

Below, Czisch talks about his modelling of a transnational renewable energy system; why wind power would provide two thirds of energy in such a scenario; why renewables are better than nuclear, and how he views the reaction to his ideas, nine years later.

[This interview was carried out by Alessandro Colombo, an electrical engineer and patent official, and first appeared in Spanda Journal, published by the transnational NGO Spanda Foundation. ]

Your studies demonstrate the feasibility of a European electrical system supplied only by renewable sources. What are the main points of your proposal?

My proposal – derived from the results of my research – is to develop a large scale grid throughout Europe and Sahara – called super-grid – to interconnect wide spread different sites with electrical generators supplied by renewable sources, namely wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass.

In contrast with the smart grids, which represent a futuristic approach made of highly intelligent applications, the super-grid is already feasible with the technology available today, and serves to exploit in an optimal way the enormous potential of the renewable sources. [figure 1 - right]

To demonstrate this possibility, I carried out from 1997 till 2004 a technical and economical systemic study. The first preliminary publication was in 2001. I analyzed the potential and the temporal behaviour of the renewable sources in all different locations worldwide and the corresponding unitary cost of the equipment for production and transmission of renewable electricity including all costs for operation and maintenance. The data for Europe and its neighbourhood were then fed in a huge mathematical optimization to calculate the optimal distribution and dispatch of all generators and transmission systems.

The main result for the base case scenario – only allowing to use existing technologies at current market prices (around 2001) – is that the most efficient arrangement is a system where two thirds of the electrical supply are provided by wind power, which is available in all areas but with different daily and seasonal behaviours (e.g. in Northern Europe the strongest winds are in winter, while in Sahara in summer). The super-grid indeed compensates the fluctuations of electricity produced in different countries and therefore is foreseen – as a result of the optimization – to strongly interconnect the sites of production and consumption.

Kate Mackenzie

Say what you like about biofuels; they are certainly big. Growth in biofuels supply in 2011 will be 211,000 barrels per day, according to the IEA — a similar increase as is expected from Brazilian crude oil, which is expected to show the first significant yields from its massive deepwater pre-salt reserves next year.

Even against former Soviet Union production growth, it’s rather strong:

Of course, with non-Opec conventional crude production in overall decline, it’s perhaps not too hard to stand out in this field.

But in a move that will clarify the role of biofuels in non-Opec supply, the IEA is now reporting biofuels production separately to crude oil in its production statistics for the US and Brazil.

This, the agency says, will affect about 1.1m barrels per day of output, based on 2009 production levels.

Kate Mackenzie

Even a growing world economy isn’t enough to keep oil demand rising at ever-increasing rates, it seems.

The International Energy Agency, in its latest oil market report, predicts that the increase in oil demand will slow next year to a 1.3m barrel/day increase, from a 1.8m b/d rise in 2010.

The agency, which warned several times last year of a “supply crunch” due to falling investment in upstream production, is much more sanguine these days on the supply-demand balance.

Its new report notes some supply concerns, particularly around Iran, but says that investment in upstream production seems to be stable. “Whisper it quietly, but we might, just might, be in for some market stability for a while longer,” it says of its 2011 forecasts.

This decreasing rate of demand between 2009-10 and 2010-11 comes despite forecast on a rising rate of GDP growth; from 4.1 per cent in 2010 to 4.3 per cent in 2011. As the agency writes:

Despite economic recovery, oil demand growth slows to 1.3 mb/d next year from 1.8 mb/d in 2010, amid a continued structural shift away from oil in the OECD and the dual impact of improving end‐use efficiency and gradual phase‐down of economic stimulus in the non‐OECD.

Kate Mackenzie

BP share price 5-day chart

BP announced a few hours ago it had successfully placed a new capping stack over the lower marine riser pipe (LMRP) of its gushing Gulf of Mexico well, Macondo.

Investors, who have in the past week rewarded the company’s improved oil capture and new cap plans, are impressed, with shares more than 2.5 per cent higher in early morning trade.

Oil continues to flow from the well at pixel time (see image below right). Although the caps have been placed, their valves have not been sealed. BP will attempt to close them today, as a way to test the integrity of the entire well.

As the FT noted earlier this week, BP’s second-quarter results presentation on July 27 will be a pivotal point for the company.

But another sort of test is due sooner. BP’s statement says a “well integrity test” will begin today, now that the new cap stack is fitted. And closing the cap is actually part of it:

For the duration of the test, which will be a minimum of 6 hours and could extend up to 48 hours, the three ram capping stack will be closed and all sub-sea containment systems (namely, the Q4000 and Helix Producer) will be temporarily suspended, effectively shutting in the well. It is expected, although cannot be assured, that no oil will be released to the ocean for the duration of the test. This will not however be an indication that flow from the wellbore has been permanently stopped.

What are they testing? Well pressure, according to the latest briefing from BP’s Doug Suttles:

“…the purposes of the integrity test is to determine if we believe we have the flow contained within the casing of the well. So in this particular case, if we see high pressures it’s a good sign. It actually means that the flow and the oil is fully contained in the existing well.

And if not?

“If we see low pressures, then that would indicate that potentially oil is escaping out of the casing at some point. So in this particular test what we’re hoping to see is full shut in pressures. Which would indicate that the casing’s intact.”

So there is a hint that if the new cap might remain successfully closed for some time (though BP does reiterate that the relief wells “remain the sole means to permanently seal and isolate the well”).

However an anonymous technician quoted by the New York Times believes that keeping the cap sealed will probably be too risky; even if the pressure tests indicate good wellbore integrity:

“Do I want to make that bet that there’s sufficient inherent strength in that well path to keep that well contained?” said the technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the work. “Why would we take that chance?”

Either way, BP says that if the cap cannot remain closed, it will simply resume its various efforts to improve the collection of the oil and gas spewing from the well.

Related links:

The Oil Drum latest discussion thread
BP’s Kent Wells’ technical briefing video – installing the 3 ram capping stack

Kate Mackenzie

- Energy transitions, now and then

- Thunder Horse: A symbol of BP’s hubris

- BP’s critical week

- The case against the new well cap

- Six lessons from the BP oil spill

Kate Mackenzie

- BP investors look to bypass claims ruling - FT

- Obama renews ban on deepwater drilling - FT

- BP shares show faith in new well cap - FT

- Energy volatility spells headache for hedge funds - FT

- South Korean industries to invest $18.5bn in clean energy projects – Bloomberg

- Mitsui says ‘no’ to spill clean-up bill – UpstreamOnline

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