As power returns, Texas energy firms slowly emerge from deep freeze

(Reuters) – Texas energy firms on Friday began to prepare for oil and gas production after days of frozen shutdowns as electric power and water service slowly resumed at darkened oilfields and refineries.

It will take several days for oilfield crews to deice valves, restart systems and begin oil and gas production. U.S. Gulf Coast refiners face five- to seven-day restarts with low water pressure continuing to hamper operations even as power is being restored, said people familiar with the matter.

Millions of people across Texas shivered in the dark this week after a severe winter storm laid siege to the state, with demand for natural gas spiking and supplies needed to power electric generators and heat homes drying up.

Estimates vary, but the unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to analysts. Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

The freeze offs, which can occur when water in the gas turns to ice, led utilities to call for conservation measures from California to West Virginia.

Ford Motor Co halted production in Kansas City, Missouri, because of a lack of natural gas. Mexico, which imports large volumes of natural gas from the United States, experienced blackouts in northern states bordering Texas, with some factories reporting billions in losses on limited natural gas supplies from Texas.

Texas on Wednesday ordered gas producers to halt exports needed by state utilities through Sunday, sparking Mexico to call the U.S. envoy to press for natural gas supplies. But in the U.S., the move did not appear to affect deliveries beyond Texas’ borders. California’s power exchange and the MISO, an exchange that handles 15 U.S. states, both said they had not seen any impact.

More natural gas will soon be flowing. Chevron Corp and ConocoPhillips have begun restoring shale output, and Chevron will prioritize natural gas production. Texas oil and gas regulators and a DiamondBack Energy executive also reported that power was being restored to west Texas, where oil production was shut by record snowfall and power outages.

“The majority of our Permian and Eagle Ford volumes remain offline,” said Conoco spokeswoman April Andrews, referring to the two major Texas shale fields.

Conoco, the top U.S. independent oil producer, is ready to bring back full operations across its U.S. operations outside of Alaska once power and other infrastructure outages end, she said.

VRA leverages technology to drive down power cost

The Volta River Authority will be investing heavily in technology from next year to improve power efficiency.

The process when successful will translate into a low cost of generating power, thus bringing down electricity tariff.

After addressing stakeholders at its 10th stakeholders interface in Accra, Chief Executive of the VRA, Emmanuel Antwi-Darkwa told Joy Business that Ghanaians will experience a more efficient power supply at cheaper cost.

The VRA in the last few years has been able to reduce its legacy debts and accruing some revenue from power generation.

Mr. Antwi Darkwa told stakeholders that the institution has made progress in diversifying its operations to make use of modern technology.

“The VRA is going under transformation which will inure to the benefit of consumers. We are going to leverage digitization to ensure that there is more efficiency and thereby reducing our cost of operations.

“I believe that this will benefit the consumer at the end because we can be able to provide electricity at cheaper cost”, he said.

Mr. Antwi Darkwa stressed further that despite some challenges faced by the VRA due to debt from government institutions and high cost of generating power, it will not seek financial bail-out.

According to him, the Economic Recovery Plan that is being implemented by the authority is working as scheduled.

Chief Executive of the State Interest and Governance Authority, Stephen Asamoah Boateng speaking on the performance of the VRA noted that discussions are underway for the government to start getting some dividend.

The interface is to apprise key stakeholders of the authority’s operational and financial performance in 2019.

Source: Ebenezer Sabutey

EV: What is electric vehicle?

The announcement that the UK is to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, a full decade earlier than planned, has prompted hundreds of questions from anxious drivers. I’m going to try to answer some of the main ones we’ve had sent in to the BBC.

How do you charge an electric car at home?

The obvious answer is that you plug it into the mains but, unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

If you have a driveway and can park your car beside your house, then you can just plug it straight into your domestic mains electricity supply. 

The problem is this is slow. It will take many hours to fully charge an empty battery, depending of course on how big the battery is. Expect it to take a minimum of eight to 14 hours, but if you’ve got a big car you could be waiting more than 24 hours.

A faster option is to get a home fast-charging point installed. The government will pay up to 75% of the cost of installation (to a maximum of £500), though installation often costs around £1,000.

A fast charger should typically take between four and 12 hours to fully charge a battery, again depending how big it is.

Ban on new petrol and diesel cars in UK from 2030

How much will it cost to charge my car at home?

This is where electric vehicles really show cost advantages over petrol and diesel. It is significantly cheaper to charge an electric car than fill up a fuel tank.

The cost will depend on what car you’ve got. Those with small batteries – and therefore short ranges – will be much cheaper than those with big batteries that can travel for hundreds of kilometres without recharging.

How much it will cost will also depend on what electricity tariff you are on. Most manufacturers recommend you switch to an Economy 7 tariff, which means you pay much less for electricity during the night – when most of us would want to charge our cars.

The consumer organisation Which estimates the average driver will use between £450 and £750 a year of additional electricity charging an electric car. captionWill the UK be ready for a 2030 ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars?

What if you don’t have a drive?

If you can find a parking space on the street outside your home you can run a cable out to it but you should make sure you cover the wires so people don’t trip over them.

Once again, you have the choice of using the mains or installing a home fast-charging point.

What about public charging points?

Many local authorities are putting in street charging points. Look out for lamp posts with a blue light on them. These will have plugs where you can get power.

Lots of new electric cars now have apps installed that will direct you to the nearest charging point. If not, there are a host of websites and downloadable apps that will do the job.

There are already more than 30,000 charging stations in the UK, according to the electricity company EDF. This means there are already more public places to charge than petrol stations. Around 10,000 new charge points were added just in 2019.

And you should expect that number to increase rapidly. Today, the government announced a £1.3bn investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging points across the country.

Public charging points are pretty easy to use, but there are a number of different operators and you often have to be a member to use them.

Some charge a flat fee each month for access; some offer pay-as-you-go charging.

Typically, you’ll need to use a swipecard or your mobile phone to unlock the charging point. This will allow you to connect the charging cable from your car to the charging point.

A few manufacturers, most notably Tesla, offer access to “superchargers”. These allow very rapid charging indeed, you might get an 80% charge in just 30 minutes – about the time it takes to go to the loo and buy and drink a cup of coffee.

These used to be free to Tesla owners, but now most have to pay to use the Supercharger network.

New charging points are going in all the time
image captionNew charging points are going in all the time

How far can an electric car go?

As you might expect, this depends on which car you choose. The rule of thumb is the more you spend, the further you’ll go.

The range you get depends on how you drive your car. If you drive fast, you’ll get far fewer kilometres than listed below. Careful drivers should be able to squeeze even more kilometres out of their vehicles.

These are some approximate ranges for different electric cars. 

  • Renault Zoe – 233km (145 miles)
  • Hyundai IONIQ – 193km (120 miles)
  • Nissan Leaf Acenta – 225km (140 miles)
  • BMW i3 120Ah – 233km (145 miles)
  • Tesla Model 3 SR+ – 354km (220 miles)
  • Tesla Model 3 LR – 498km (310 miles)

It is worth noting that electric vehicle range is expected to steadily increase as battery technology improves.

How long does the battery last?

Once again, this depends on how you look after it. 

Most electric car batteries are lithium-based, just like the battery in your mobile phone. Like your phone battery, the one in your car will degrade over time. What that means is it won’t hold the charge for so long and the range will reduce.

If you overcharge the battery or try to charge it at the wrong voltage it will degrade more quickly.

Check out whether the manufacturer offers a warranty on the battery – many do. They typically last eight to 10 years. 

It’s worth understanding how they work, because you won’t be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car after 2030.

The foul-smelling fuel that could power big ships

An enormous engine, the height of three floors, growls loudly at a test centre in Copenhagen. Nearby a team of engineers supervise it from a control room resembling a ship’s bridge.

Usually such an engine would be propelling a large ship across the sea, but this one is being prepared to take part in a ground-breaking project.

Engineers want to see if they can make it run on liquid ammonia.

Ammonia has long been a key component in fertiliser, cleaning products and refrigerators.

But in the search for new cleaner fuels, the foul-smelling substance has emerged as a frontrunner to power ocean-going ships

MAN engine being shipped through Copenhagen
image captionThe test engine had to be shipped into Copenhagen

Around 90% of all goods traded globally are transported by sea. But ships are gas guzzlers. Marine transport produces around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to halve emissions by 2050, from 2008 levels. That requires a substantial shift to green technology. 

Brian Soerensen, a research and development chief at Man Energy Solutions, says several fuels are being explored: “One of the options we believe will be ammonia. Methanol could be another one, biofuel could be a third.”

Ammonia has an advantage as it contains no carbon, so can burn in an engine without emitting carbon dioxide.

By early 2024, Man Energy Solutions plans to install an ammonia-ready engine on a ship. The first models will be dual-fuel, able to run on traditional marine gas oil as well.

Graph of energy released per litre consumed of various fuels

While it is less energy-rich than today’s marine fuels, liquid ammonia is more energy-dense than hydrogen, another zero-emission fuel.

Hydrogen has already powered cars, planes and trains. It’s cheaper to produce than ammonia, but harder to handle as it has to be stored at minus 253C. Ammonia becomes liquid below minus 34C and at higher temperatures if under pressure.

“Ammonia sits very nicely in the middle,” says Dr Tristan Smith, an expert in low carbon shipping from University College London. “It’s not too expensive to store and not too expensive to produce.”

There are challenges. Burning ammonia can create polluting nitrous oxides, therefore the exhaust needs cleaning up. It is also toxic, so requires careful handling and storage.

However, safety know-how and some port infrastructure are already in place, says Mr Soerensen, because the fertiliser industry is well-established.

“It’s being transported seaborne today. We know how to handle ammonia on board a ship, not as a fuel, but as a cargo.”

Viking Energy
image captionViking Energy will be engineered to run on ammonia and liquefied natural gas

Meanwhile, Norwegian shipping company Eidesvik plans to install ammonia fuel cells on a vessel by late 2023. Like batteries, these generate electrical energy to power a motor. Project partner Prototech has already begun developing a test version.

The supply ship, Viking Energy, will sail round-trips of 345 miles (555km). The hybrid vessel will also use liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Vermund Hjelland, vice president of technology and development at Eidesvik, says fuel cells are more efficient and cost-effective, for such short, predictable routes. “You can have smaller tanks and get more kilowatt-hours out of the same amount of fuel.

“The picture is different compared to a super-tanker,” he adds. “It very much depends whether weight is an issue.”

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More Technology of Business

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Around $55bn (£42bn) of ammonia is manufactured annually, mostly for fertiliser. But the industry has a heavy environmental footprint, accounting for 1.8% of global CO2 emissions. Fertilisers can also harm water and air quality.

Manufacturing ammonia requires nitrogen and hydrogen gases. Often this hydrogen is extracted from natural gas (methane). The process releases carbon and needs lots of power.

New, cleaner ways to make ammonia are emerging. One method, blue ammonia, involves capturing and storing the carbon. More promising, green ammonia, eliminates the use of fossil fuels altogether.

Haldor Topsoe, green ammonia plant
image captionThis test plant in Denmark is developing a more environmentally friendly way to make ammonia

In the heart of rural Jutland, western Denmark, research is under way at a brand new pilot plant in Foulum.

Haldor Topsoe, which makes catalysts used in the production of ammonia, together with scientists from Aarhus University, is aiming to make ammonia from water, air and renewable electricity.

“Those three feedstocks you can find in many places around the world,” says Pat Han, Haldor Topsoe’s director of research.

“Instead of utilising fossil energy… we simply take wind and solar energy, and within minutes, we have a liquid fuel at the other end,” says Mr Han.

Inside a transparent box, the size of a shipping container, sits a maze of pressure gauges and insulated silver pipes.

Haber Bosch process diagram

“We use electricity to electrolyse water and generate hydrogen. And then we’re using air to add nitrogen to the system,” explains Behzad Partoon, a postdoctoral researcher from Aarhus University. Later these gases will be combined to make ammonia.

New technology called a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) streamlines these steps, by combining the nitrogen purification system with the hydrogen production process,

“We’re going to save more energy and reduce the energy intensity of ammonia production,” says Mr Partoon. “It makes the whole process much cheaper.”

Now they’re testing the technology’s stability over longer periods of time and making adjustments, before scaling up to industrial quantities of production.

Currently power comes from the grid. “It’s not far from reality with real green energy,” says Anne Mette Frey, an associate professor at Aarhus University. “Everything is set up.”

Haldor Topsoe, green ammonia plant
image captionAmmonia can be made from water, air and renewable electricity

Green ammonia is being developed elsewhere, including in Australia and Chile.

There are other potential uses including cleaner fertiliser production and the storage of surplus wind and solar energy.

Haldor Topsoe expects green ammonia to be commercially available as early as 2022 or 2023.

But marine transport may face other hurdles. A Global Maritime Forum report, suggests that meeting the IMO’s 2050 goal, by shifting primarily to green ammonia fuel, would need more than a $1 trillion of investment.

Dr Tristan Smith, one of the report authors, says that is achievable. As renewable electricity and technology costs come down, green ammonia will become more competitively priced, he says. “By the late-2020s, maybe mid-2030s, we will have some relatively low prices. But that could still be more expensive than oil.” 

Man Energy Solutions’ Brian Soerensen believes governments will have to help drive the transition. “A certain amount of emission tax will have to be in place.”