It only takes a cursory look through the blog roll here to see that to date there have been two primary topics of discussion; ‘Education for Business’ and ‘Financial Independence for wealth.’ Hardly two interests that you would expect to find under a website or company with ‘Industries’ in its name.
Education frankly (as the web traffic highlights) isn’t a sexy subject, and personal finance is a deeply polarizing subject, particularly when we weigh up personal values in concert with the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have nots’. My personal interest in finance actually has far less to do with having more of it, than the ability to leverage it as a tool – to use it for bigger and better … ‘Industrial’ things!
However in recent times, bigger things have taken centre stage – and at the foundational level we get to the matter of ‘Energy’.
There’s many reasons! The fact that the cost of petrol / gasoline in Melbourne is at $1.80/Litre (~$4.867 USD/Gal) is merely the starting point. Perhaps the biggest reason behind this post has to do with the vast amount of politically and activist driven ignorance behind misguided ideologies, not to mention decades of protests and demands whilst the very same people have contributed very little to any sort of solution beyond the mindless thoughtless mantra of ‘well we have to do something …’, ‘Governments need to do something …’, etc, etc.
A Bit of Back Story.
Like countless freshly minted engineering undergraduates, I put some (many, many) of my early after-hours free time into researching electric vehicles. But this had nothing to do with figuring out whether a soulless, battery powered lunchbox could simply limp to work, spend a day charging, and then limp you home. I Spent my time looking at what it would take to make a high performance, fire breathing, electric juggernaut.
The math didn’t lie! It was possible. Everything is possible … on paper anyway. Massive power and speed? Easy! Range? Well … that’s where the problems started to surface.
The Oil & Gas industry has all but been demonised in recent times, but the reality is – there is very little substitute for liquid energy. Its dense, light, easy to transport, quick to fill and more so … its reliable!
You see, gasoline, petrol, Kerosene, diesel … pick your hydrocarbon of choice, will have about 11.6KWH of energy per kilo. For a 38.7Ltr (10 Gal) tank this works out to about … 337KWH of energy. Needless to say the batteries at the time, and still today, simply don’t have this energy density, and charging time matters. Everyone knows this, its nothing new. By the time you factor in efficiencies, you’re still looking at close to 100-120KWH … it’s a stonking amount of energy!
But the real issues start to surface when we get into marketing and political hype. I’ll say it here … “Electric cars are not ‘Green’”.
Just because a car might use batteries and an electric motor does not make them ‘green.’ Industry has been using electricity and electric motors for the last century, and ask yourself when you last heard someone say ‘Industry is green’ … waiting … you haven’t!
Because we all know where the actual source of energy comes from … a powerplant.
Things have actually changed.
Using a term like a power plant isn’t entirely accurate any longer. We have things like wind farms, solar farms, hydro, and other unreliable sources of power.
Let me say it now; I’m not against these sources, but I am against the hype that surrounds them, and some of the simplicities attached to them.
The ‘concept’ of going green and ‘saving the planet’ is not about actually replacing coal, and oil & gas. Its about the need to replace and produce no less than triple the current energy demand that exists currently. Let’s use the Australian Market as an example.
Australia’s Energy demand is in the order of 624GWH (per day) from a range of sources; about half of which comes from renewables. (Yup … I was surprised too). But we also consume about 1 Million Barrels of Oil per day too; which should work out to about 1,320GWH of additional energy per day. So at the napkin analysis level, renewables have a long, long way to go.
But that’s before you take into account what it would look like to upgrade the grid, add storage as well as actually have the market place adopt electrified vehicles. Unfortunately this is where the fantasy comes to a slow and painful end.
Because total electrification … just isn’t feasible.
When activists start yelling nonsense about shutting down or banning (giggle) hydro carbon fuel sources, the public conversation doesn’t go too much past the usage of cars, forgetting that planes use kerosene, trucks use diesel, ships use the heaviest fuel oil fractions – each of which has been instrumental in giving us the lives we are able to live today. We also haven’t mentioned bitumen for roads, naptha fractions for plastics and textiles, as well as lubricants, and gases for industry … well we just did!
Electrification of long-haul logistics would require a battery (or capacitor) that can charge in minutes, not hours, ships would have to be re-designed to remain buoyant with the immense weight of batteries – likely at the expense of cargo capacity and planes …
The Airbus A350-1000 can travel from Sydney to London or New York Non-Stop, courtesy of high efficiency turbofan engines, but yet still has room for a callosal 125 tonnes (160,000 litres) of aviation grade kerosene.
An electric plane of the same capability and performance, simply wouldn’t take off with batteries.
What about hydrogen?
Well, as far as white whales go … hydrogen is the whitest whale. You see hydrogen, despite being the most abundant element in the universe is nearly non-existent on earth (as H2). In fact, nearly all hydrogen (on earth), the social little reactive element that it is, is bound to something, like … sugar, organic compounds, water, alcohol, acids … you name it. But it barely exists on its own. In fact, as the lightest element in the universe, free hydrogen literally floats off into space when not contained.
The next thing is hydrogen … practically hates itself. It’s so light and hard to compress, that there is more hydrogen in a kilo of water, (~111 grams), than a litre of ‘Pure’ hydrogen at 700 bar (6.2 grams). By the time we swap fuels over, the same plane would have a fuel tank volume of >600,000 litres for only 38 tonnes of ultra-compressed hydrogen, instead of the status quo. Re-designing the entire aviation industry to suit would be something that would take decades, not just to achieve but to make profitable, not to mention airport infrastructure.
Then there is the whole idea of safety … there is a reason airships use helium rather than hydrogen … particularly after the Hindenburg.
There are also further issues about where the hydrogen comes from; water or from … you guessed it, natural gas feed stocks … hydrogen is a feel-good game, not a realistic pursuit … yet. We talked about tripling capacity where it only factored in the phase out of current generation and replacement of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Industrial pursuits like hydrogen and water desalination only raise the energy demands further.
At this point, Solar also isn’t the saviour for energy. Sure – some countries have endless clear skies, but solar does have a life span. Today’s solar cells ‘Will’ degrade and end up in land fill … until the costs of chemically recycling them becomes profitable for someone to do. Until that time the very minerals that go into semi-conductors to help them achieve the magic that is; will surely end up leaching into the soils and ground water …
What about wind?
There is more than enough kinetic energy in the atmosphere to power the world, but scale also has had its problems. Turbines now are gargantuan marvels. Sheer utter materials and engineering perfection, turbine blades so large they require the largest and heaviest cranes to assemble … but where does the scale stop?
Regardless of the size, rotor tip speeds need to remain sub-sonic, but at speeds approaching 300m/s, (1,000km/h) even the mighty wind turbine is subject to problems. One of the major issues has been blade erosion – where dust and other airborne particulates literally eat the blades away, reducing their efficiency, output and their lifetimes.
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This has for the time being all but majorly shifted the economics of wind. Simply speaking they cost much more to maintain and replace eroded components than was anticipated and as we go bigger, we need to go stronger. Going stronger is complicated, and so forth. Finally, there is the waste issue. What do we do with all of those turbine blades?
Perhaps the most visible problem with wind is when the wind speed gets too fast. They are designed and built for a range of conditions, but we only have to look at what happened in Texas 2021 for some social context – regardless of what various news sources suggest (and the agendas therein) wind was exposed to the worst possible conditions. Even a search for images of frozen turbines shows a myriad of pictures with ‘Misinformation’ plastered all over them, so let’s go back to social evidence. Aircraft wings are subject to conditions called icing. Ships are subject to icing … wind turbines are no different. When ice forms, the added and often asymmetrical weight is more than enough to cause catastrophic damage, and that’s not if the turbine isn’t toppled in the first place – and it has happened. Point being … when the wind isn’t strong enough, no power. When its too strong … no power. When its way too strong … there might not be any power for a long time.
Various head lines point the finger at the (legacy) energy companies for not being ready to supply energy to the grid leading to the cascading load shedding … but isn’t this what we claim to want in the first place … to ‘not need’ oil and gas companies in the first place?
Hardly fair to blame the very infrastructure you want to get rid of for failing when its needed … but that’s my cynical side coming out again.
Needless to say this entire topic is highly contentious and far too over simplified to be handled in a single post such as this. There are also a host of existing and developing technologies that haven’t been discussed, nuclear for one. Fusion is just one subject which has promised the holy grail of energy for the last 50-60 years whilst still being 10-20 years away, whilst it simply speaking is the most complicated kettle to boil water in history.
And that’s where we end up again.
How do we spin the wheel? For decades … since the adoption of the steam boiler, reliable energy has come from the ability to spin the wheel; to control the conditions with such predictability that we can provide just the right amount of output to match demand perfectly.
And renewables … just don’t! as long as the earth continues to spin, solar only works for 50% of the year at best. Wind has its days where it’s output drops, hydro in many places is subject to geography and can be seasonal.
As we’ve seen, when it comes to energy and the need to use ‘less’, the reality is that we simply need more … much, much more than we use now.
Is there a solution?
Well … as much as many uneducated activists want to send us back to the stone age, making noise whilst offering no real value to the potential solutions, whilst others silently work to a workable solution, I say the following with tongue heavily in cheek … the science & math does suggest a solution exists, a solution that works 24/7 with negligible fuel or environmental costs after construction, However … so far that solution only exists as a theoretical study, and with no empirical or experimental data to validate it (yet) as well as reasons regarding professional reputation and intellectual property … that is literally all I can and will say on it.
However, for the time being, when it comes to the quality of life we all have and get to enjoy on a day to day basis, as well as emerging markets and economies around the world, the demand for energy will only continue to rise – and with that Oil & Gas isn’t going anywhere.
Without it, the world and your life as you know it would be far, far less comfortable than what it is today, and that is the inconvenient truth!