Green Power Insulation Renewable Energy Renewable Gas Renewable Hydrogen Renewable Methane

Not Just The Price

Gas storage is not just about price management – it’s about protecting the power grid when the sky is dark and motionless.

There is a plan to renovate and restore the UK gas storage facility at the Rough Field. There is the usual to-ing and fro-ing about whether central government should be underwriting or even directly financing this. It will be an energy storage facility of high strategic value to the nation, particularly because of the Great British Endeavour to knock back and lock out the Russians, through participating in a Europe-wide accord to sanction and deter energy imports from the east. Should it be considered a national asset, funded by the state ?

This discourse about ownership and costs misses a trick : it’s not just about the price of Natural Gas in international day-to-day and futures markets; and it’s not even just about the supply of Natural Gas in a tight winter scenario, or with unreliable trading partners.

Gas storage in an emerging era of high levels of renewable electricity generation is about compensating for variability of supply in green power.

It’s about using gas to balance solar and wind power when the sky grows dark and motionless, such as during high pressure weather systems in winter, solar eclipses, and long winter nights.

It’s about when there is a sudden need for gas-fired power generation across a wide geographical area, where the intensity of renewable energy resources hits a lull, and gas power is needed to brige the gap across the whole region.

Suddenly, there could be a massive demand for gas, on a scale that’s something like ten times the size of gas consumption on a bright summer’s day with a light-to-moderate breeze, or stormy autumn evening, across the whole of the European region. There is no market that could adapt that fast to increase provision of gas at speed : gas storage is basically a power grid survival mechanism, as batteries all have a finite size.

Without gas storage, we simply cannot increase the percentage levels of renewable electricity power generation in the grid supply, for there will always be calm, dark hours, days, or even weeks.

Without gas storage, we will rapidly hit a solar and wind power ceiling; no higher can we go, in percentage terms of supply, if we do not have reliable, voluminous, immediate quantities of power generation backup, dispatched perhaps within minutes.

Yes, the gas storage could be the storage of Natural Gas – for now. Into the future, it would need to be Renewable Gas. It might be costly to replace all Natural Gas boilers with hydrogen boilers, and so some believe that Renewable Methane should the only Renewable Gas. However, any resource of Renewable Gas should form part of the nation’s emergency gas storage, saved for the purpose of power generation to bridge the natural variability gaps in renewable electricity supply.

Yes, gas use avoided is cheaper than gas storage. Yes, there should be a national programme of building insulation, as a national strategic policy, centrally-funded, as at the moment, nobody is taking key responsibility for implementing building insulation. Lowering consumption will help with household bills, protection from Russian blackmail, climate change. But lowering gas consumption does not mean that we can do without gas storage. Lower gas consumption in homes and offices and public buildings will help make sure the gas storage facilities of the country are used for their most high-value purpose – the support of the power grid.

It may seem paradoxical, but insulation will actually help provide more energy when it’s needed most.

And in addition, increasing insulation, in order to lower individual building gas consumption, will actually prevent winter power blackouts.


Why are we building gas ships ?

Calum Watson at BBC Scotland rightly asks “Why are we building gas-powered ships ?

Two “problem-hit” “green” ferries are three years late, designed to be fuelled by LNG – Liquefied Natural Gas.

Of course, Natural Gas has a shelf life, a sell-by date, a leave-it-in-the-ground date. Because it’s a fossil fuel, and at some point, even though we might use Natural Gas as a “bridge fuel” to the fully renewable future, as some point we will need to stop pumping it up and burning it. The climate demands it.

So, why are we building gas-fuelled ships, then ? Well, that’s because Renewable Gas is a-coming in. For now, Natural Gas combustion produces around half the carbon dioxide per unit of useful end energy than coal or the thickest petroleum-sourced “bunker fuel” marine oils.

And in addition, as Calum Watson at BBC Scotland points out, burning Natural Gas produces far less air pollution than burning the treacle tar that comes out of the bottom of the barrel and the bottom of the petrorefinery fractional distillation columns – almost too heavy to vaporise.

The model of shipping gas halfway round the globe, compressed and chilled as LNG, in a network of efficient trading routes, is something that can put cheap associated Natural Gas to good use in energy markets – associated with petroleum oil, that is – co-produced, or by-produced when the oils and the condensates are pumped up.

The same system can in the future be used to trade Renewable Gas – Renewable Methane, synthesised from Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Carbon.

There’s no need to abandon gas-fuelled ships on climate change action grounds, when Renewable Gas is going to displace Natural Gas.

Calum Watson at BBC Scotland asks if hydrogen could be the shipping fuel of the future, but he rightly points out that if hydrogen were to be shipped in the same way as Natural Gas is now in the form of a liquid, the cryogenic demands on liquefying hydrogen would be extreme.

He discusses electric drive ships, and that’s going to be great for short hops – but for the long haul, shipping will still need energy denser material fuels. The question in my mind is if Renewable Methane as LRG – Liquefied Renewable Gas is the best option – as it is possible to synthesise fuels that are liquid at room temperature, starting with biomass and Renewable Hydrogen.

Combusting liquid Renewable Fuels made through synthesis might be shown to have the same kinds of air pollution implications as fossil marine fuels : perhaps Renewable Gas will work out to be the best choice for new ocean-going vessels. It won’t be the ammonia-made-from-hydrogen mentioned in the article – there are too many issues with using this in bulk. Renewable Gas, however, where it is Renewable Methane, will be almost identical to Natural Gas, which has a very high methane content.

Calum Watson at BBC Scotland ponders that, “it looks like shipyards will be building a lot more gas-powered ships – whether that will satisfy climate change concerns is another matter.” This is a valid issue when considering hydrogen made from Natural Gas – which is another dead end. But if we use, as he says, “The cleanest way of obtaining the gas is by splitting water molecules using electrolysis, a process which requires electricity”, and take Renewable Electricity as our power for this, then the product will automatically be climate sound.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part A

The Energy Change for the major oil and gas (and coal) companies will not come about because of protestors barricading themselves outside corporate headquarters and gluing themselves to things. It won’t come about because a wildlife or environmental charity organises a postcard campaign. It won’t even come about because the United Nations meets once a year to discuss Climate Change.

The transition out of fossil fuels and into renewable fuel sources as the primary input to the world’s chemical engineering plants and refineries is going to come about because of a range of asks from a number of different actors.

Here is the start of a few ideas about which players could kickstart deep carbon-busting Energy Change :-

1. The World of Chemical Engineering

Oil, gas and coal companies cannot dig up their raw product and take it straight to market. They have to process the raw materials before they can be used for chemical and energy purposes. Any energy system that is not centred on electricity is essentially a giant chemistry set, and companies that make products in their own plants purchase chemical engineering machinery and skill from other chemical engineering companies. That coker that sits at your refinery ? That came from a third party chemical engineering manufacturer. That gasification reactor ? Ditto. That gas sweetening unit ? Same again. Whilst it’s true that some oil and gas refiners have patented their own chemical engineering processes, they still use metal casings, pipework and reactors made by others.

Within the network of chemical engineering companies, all mutually interdependent, there are stirrings of concern about climate change, and it can be envisaged that some companies will turn green, and negotiate new relationships with refineries and petrochemical plants. They will offer greener, cleaner chemical processes. They will sell greener, cleaner feedstocks as input raw materials. Already, we have seen environmental regulation and attention to health and safety change not only operational practices, but also cause a switch in chemical engineering processes – such as, in some process chains, the use of hydrogen in processing hydrocarbons, instead of dangerous acids.

The focus on hydrogen is continuing to mount, as hydrogen can be used for a number of essential chemical engineering needs. With general concern about global warming rising up engineering boss agendas, it is therefore to be anticipated that third parties will increasingly offer Renewable Hydrogen-based processing units and workflow options to refineries and chemoplastics businesses.

The methane in Natural Gas is a vital fuel and input to chemical engineering, and so for parties urging efficiency with the use of Natural Gas, it can be seen that more supply and demand of Renewable Methane into petroleum refinery and petrochemical plants will likely arise.

There is a range of chemistry that can be done to modify hydrocarbon molecules to meet desired criteria, and the ask for Renewable Gas will not require revolutionary, untrialled change in chemical engineering. This basic fact will enable seamless adoption. When the chemistry in an industry uses any kind of synthesis, whether of and from gas fuels, liquid fuels, gas chemicals or liquid chemicals, Renewable Gas can be part of that. Some of the essential Renewable Gas and Renewable Gas-derived molecules are : Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Methanol. With these three, most of today’s and tomorrow’s chemical engineering can be done.

2. The World of Renewable Electricity Engineering

Companies that are involved in the deployment of renewable electricity, in the form of wind power and solar power, continue to find themselves on the cusp of massive expansion in energy production. Ramping up renewable electricity supply is not without hurdles, and there are gluts and gaps that need smoothing over. Power grids are investing in network batteries for hour-to-hour, day-to-day coverage as backup, but there will remain a need for week-to-week, month-to-month and season-to-season storage of the energy provided by renewable electricity.

This is where synthesised, synthetic gases come in. When power grid transmission operators and electricity distribution companies start to ask for green long-term storage, they will ask for Renewable Gas of one kind or another.

As synthetic gas storage becomes widespread, the fossil fuel companies, who will be facing continuing calls to “green up”, will all decide to get into renewable electricity and Renewable Gas, because adding clean, green power and clean, green energy storage to their asset portfolios will be an easy way to downgrade their emissions, and tick climate change action boxes for their investors.

3. Smaller Oil and Gas Companies

Already, we see smaller energy companies publishing their strategies to act on climate change by undergoing Energy Change. Some are more ambitious than others. Their actions on energy transition will doubtless eventually impact the actions of the much larger oil and gas majors.

Vattenfall (with Preem)–press-releases/pressreleases/2019/preem-and-vattenfall-deepen-partnership-for-the-production-of-fossil-free-fuel-on-a-large-scale
Equinor (formerly Statoil and StatoilHydro)
Total (with Saft)
Burning Money Energy Revival Low Carbon Life Peak Oil Renewable Resource Technological Sideshow

Australia’s Non-Green Stimulus

Back in the heady, long-gone days of 2009, The Oil Drum web log hosted a discussion about Australia being highly vulnerable to oil shortages :-

“Aleklett: Australia highly vulnerable to oil shortages : June 11, 2009 : ASPO International president, Professor Kjell Aleklett of the Global Energy Systems group at Uppsala University has been in Australia over the past week, presenting lectures in Adelaide and Sydney on peak oil…warned that Australia will be one of the first countries hit hard by oil shortages as oil production peaks within the next three years. Kjell Aleklett, a physicist from Uppsala University in Sweden, says Australia’s relatively underdeveloped public transport system leaves the country more vulnerable to a downturn in energy production. “Australia is very sensitive to such developments,” Professor Aleklett told the Herald. “Much of your industry and transit is dependent on oil, and supplies will decline.” Professor Aleklett addressed the NSW [New South Wales] electric car task force and the Federal Government’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics yesterday…”