Primary energy is made up of power generation, transportation and chemicals. The power generation sector has taken first mover steps in the right direction and we are all aware of the number of offshore wind farms and the large industrial scale in photovoltaic investment.
Since nuclear fission-based energy is politically unacceptable, the likelihood of this coming to the rescue of the climate is low. Fusion is too far away from practical application.
The transport sector is lagging behind. The major stumbling block here has been the development of high-efficiency batteries. The other question is the potential demand for electricity generating capacity. Most car fleets generate as much if not more than currently installed capacity. The future reliance on lithium ion or cobalt based batteries is not a true solution. Lithium is rightly called a rare earth metal.
The questions that we, the oil and gas industry and science in general, need to address are how we best make use of what we have got to minimise carbon and other noxious emissions.
Governments are not prepared to use public funds to create the industry that will deal with cleaning the atmosphere. They therefore look to private industry to do this. The only way is to tax carbon emissions and credit this to the mitigators - a sustainable carbon trading scheme.
What are the possible mitigators? Cheap wind energy that is produced at the margin when the grids are satisfied should be a benefit to be stored. How can we efficiently store this? As I said before lithium and other rare earth batteries is not the answer.
We are also able to build micro-generators that use cuts in a river to drive a small turbine. It might only supply few homes, but the water can be used again and again downstream. Large tidal barriers are also within the realm of our possibilities. Other technologies are available and being built at scale. These are such as Carbon Capture and storage and Cryogenic Batteries.
These projects should be the future. However, unless they are built by public funds, the private industry cannot take them on without either a value for the emissions they reduce or a guaranteed electricity price for a long way into the future. Coming to this story from a tank storage viewpoint I see that we need to look to a future where liquid fossil fuels may be phased out. In these circumstances what should the industry’s response be?
Well, my view is that we need to think of the storage terminal as an asset to be exploited in this transition phase. This can be done by putting photovoltaic cells on top of tank roofs or on their periphery. Putting in wind generating capacity and minimising emissions through floating roofs.
The other use could be to store electricity. After all, that is what terminals do now. They store power in terms of liquid fuel. Terminals should become sites for electricity storage, be it in batteries or cryogenic storage tanks.
One thing that is certain and that is, that we will need to think outside the box and equip ourselves with new skill sets. We need to understand the transition and the economics of power and this means educating ourselves and hiring the right type of skills that we are certainly going to need.