Qnergy: reliable remote power to mitigate methane?

This short note profiles Qnergy, the leading manufacturer of Stirling-design engines, which generate 1-10 kW of power, for remote areas, where a grid connection is not available. The units are particularly economical for mitigating methane emissions, with a potential abatement cost of $20/ton of CO2-equivalents avoided.


750,000 bleeding pneumatic devices around the oil and gas industry are the largest single source of methane leaks, with each medium-bleed device leaking an average of 1.5T of methane per year, comprising 35% of the oil and gas industry’s total emissions (chart below, data here).

We have screened the US onshore space, operator-by-operator, acreage position by position, to see who most urgently needs to replace bleeding pneumatics (chart below, data here, note here). But how will they be replaced?

The challenge is power. An 8-well pad will typically require 2kW of electricity, which is low because the pneumatic pressure of natural gas is used in control and actuation of valves. The power demands rise to 4kW if compressed air is used in lieu of methane. Compressed air is reliable, easy to retrofit and does not cause warming when it bleeds into the atmosphere. But a compressor is needed, and the compressor needs to be powered (below).

Qnergy’s Powergen product uses a Stirling engine to generate electricity from heat. It is fuel agnostic and can run on waste heat or in-basin gas.

The PowerGen product was launched in 2017 and its adoption has been growing at a 300% CAGR. The company now also manufactures and sells compressed air pneumatic devices, which will be powered by its Stirling engines. The 5,650 series generates 5.7kW of power from 1.4mcfd of gas inputs (implying c30% thermal efficiency).

NASA has accredited the design as the most reliable ever invented for a heat engine. One of the first units has now run for 24,000 hours without requiring maintenance (equivalent to driving a car to the moon and back 2x). Design life is estimated at over 60,000 hours (7-years). The engine runs between -40C in Alaska and 60C desert installations. Each unit is also remotely monitored, with live support, for preventative maintenance and to detect issues.

Total cost of ownership for Stirling’s Powergen is cited as the lowest cost power solution to replace bleeding pneumatic devices: costing $100k for Qnergy unit, $150k for a microturbine, $320k for a combination of renewable power and fuel cells, and c$380k for a thermo-electric alternative.

Emissions reductions from each Qnergy Powergen unit saves 325T of CO2e-emissions per annum, while powering each unit will emit 25T of CO2e, for a net saving of 300T/CO2e. At a total cost of $100k, this implies a CO2 abatement cost of $20/ton over a c15-year life of a Qnergy Powergen unit.

For our published screen of companies in methane mitigation, please see our data-file here.

For Qnergy’s latest presentation, see the video below, and please let us know if we can helpfully introduce you to the team at Qnergy.

Digitization after the crisis: who benefits and how much?

Digitization offers superior economics and CO2 credentials. But now it will structurally accelerate due to higher resiliency: Just 8% of digitized industrial processes will be materially disrupted due to COVID-19, compared to 80% of non-digitized processes. In this 22-page research report, we have constructed a database of digitization case studies around the energy industry: to quantify the benefits, screen the most digital operators and identify longer-term winners from the supply chain.


Pages 2 outlines our database of case studies into digitization around the energy industry.

Page 3 quantifies the percentage of the case studies that reduce costs, increase production, improve safety and lower CO2.

Pages 4-6 show how digitization will improve resiliency by 10x during the COVID-crisis, stoking further ascent of energy industry digitization.

Page 7 generalizes to other industries, arguing digitization will accelerate the theme of remote working, esepcially in physical manufacturing sectors.

Pages 8-9 screen for digital leaders among the 25 largest energy companies in the world, based on our assessment of their patents, technical papers and public disclosures.

Pages 10-11 identify leading companies from the supply chain, which may benefit from the acceleration of industrial digitization; again based on patents and technical papers.

Pages 12-22 present the full details of the digitization case studies that featured in our database, highlighting the best examples, key numbers and leading companies; plus links to delve deeper, via our other research, data and models.

Do Methane Leaks Detract from Natural Gas?

Some commentators criticize that methane leaks detract from natural gas as a low-carbon fuel in the energy transition. Compared with CO2, CH4 is a 25-125x more potent greenhouse gas (depending on the timeframe of measurement). Hence, leaking 2.7-3.5% of natural gas could make gas “dirtier than coal”. However, for an apples-to-apples comparison, we must also consider the methane leaks from coal and oil. Natural gas value chains have the lowest methane leakage rates of the three.


When combusted, natural gas emits >50% less CO2 than coal, at c320kg/boe versus as much as 850kg/boe. Generating 1MWH of power from natural gas emits 0.35T of CO2, versus 0.85T for coal (chart below, data here).

But it has been criticised by some commentators that natural gas value chains leak methane. Methane is a 120x more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It degrades over time, due to hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere. So its 20-year impact is 34x higher than CO2 and its 100-year impact is 25x higher. Therefore, if c2.7-3.5% of natural gas is “leaked” into the atmosphere, natural could be considered a “dirtier” fuel than coal (chart below, model here).

Is this comparison apples-to-apples? After tabulating EPA disclosures, we find that the US underground coal mining industry emitted 1.4MT of methane in 2018. This is because natural gas often desorbs from the surface of coal as it is mined, and can thus be released into the atmosphere. For comparison, 250M metric tons of coal were produced from underground mines in 2018, out of 700MT total coal production. In other words, for every ton of underground coal production, the methane leakage rate was 0.6%, equivalent to around 33kg/boe (chart below, data here).

For comparison, similar EPA disclosures imply that the methane leakage rate in the upstream US oil and gas industry ranges from 0.1% through to 1.1%, with an average of 0.26% (chart below). The data are available here, by basin and by operator.

The US upstream methane leakage rate also appears to be much higher for associated gas in oil basins than non-associated gas in gas basins. The Marcellus is the lowest-leak basin in our sample at 0.1%, versus the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford at 0.4-0.5% (chart below, which also correlates the leakage rates with the number of pneumatic devices).

The fairest comparison must also add in the methane leaks from gas gathering, processing and distribution to end-customers (chart below), in order to capture the methane emissions expected across the entire gas value chain. This takes our estimate for total US methane leaks to 0.6% of commercialised gas. Leading the industry, we find the total end-to-end value chain taking Norwegian gas to European consumers leaks around 0.23% of the methane (note here).

Converting back into energy-equivalent units is the most comparable metric, to assess the methane leakage rates of different energy resources. The average ton of coal mined under the US contains 23mmbtu of energy (11,584btu/lb). The average ton of oil contains 40mmbtu and the average ton of gas contains almost 50mmbtu. In turn, this is because greater molar portions of oil and natural gas are from hydrogen molecules, which are very light, but generate energy when they are combusted into water vapor. Dividing through, we calculate the methane intensities below.

Looking most broadly, we find the total emissions profiles of commercialising piped natural gas will tend to run at 25kg/boe (chart below, model here), the total emissions profile of producing coal will tend to run at 50kg/boe (model here) and the total emissions profile of commercialising oil will tend to run at 60kg/boe (model here). This is deeply favourable for the credentials of natural gas as a low-carbon fossil fuel. It adds to the favourable credentials for combusting natural gas versus other fossil fuels.

None of this is to exonerate leaks in the natural gas industry, which remains an urgent challenge for upstream producers to resolve. We are excited by the opportunity and have recently screened companies in the supply chain that can help mitigate methane (chart below, note here, screen here).

What producer impacts? We have also screened the leading and lagging operators around the industry, as ranked by their methane leaks, and after looking across 750,000 bleeding pneumatics that need to be phased out (chart below, data here).

Across all of our research, we find very strong credentials for natural gas as the fuel for the energy transition. All of our research into gas opportunities is linked here; and our work into LNG is linked here.

Remote possibilities: working from home?

The COVID-19 crisis will structurally accelerate remote working. The opportunity is explored in our 21-page report. It can save 30% of commuter journeys by 2030, avoiding 1bn tons of CO2 per year, for a net economic benefit of $5-16k per employee. This makes remote work a materially more impactful opportunity than electric vehicles in the energy transition.


Remote work currently saves c3% of all US commuter miles, which comprise 33% of developed world gasoline demand (pages 2-4).

Remote work could save 30% of all commuter miles by 2030, structurally accelerating as the COVID-19 crisis changes habits (page 5).

Remote work, thus screens as more impactful than electric vehicles, as an economic opportunity in the energy transition (page 6).

Ecconomic benefits are $5-16k pp pa. Our numbers are conservative. They under-reflect productivity and wellbeing improvements in the technical literature (pages 7-8).

We stress test our numbers, looking profession-by-profession across the entire US labor force, and considering new technologies (pages 9-13).

Direct energy impacts save 1bn tons of annual CO2. Impacts on oil, gas and electricity demand are quantified, including evidence from the COVID crisis (pages 14-17).

Hidden consequences are more nuanced: reshaping mobility, urbanization and online retail habits (pages 18-21).

COVID-19: what have the oil markets missed?

This 15-page note outlines our top three conclusions about COVID-19, which the oil markets may have missed. First, global oil demand likely declines by -11.5Mbpd YoY in 2Q20 due to COVID-19. This is over 15x worse than the global financial crisis of 2008-9, and too large for any coordinated production cuts to offset. Second, once the worst of the crisis is over, new driving behaviours could actually increase gasoline demand, causing a very sharp oil recovery. Finally, over the longer-term, structural changes will take hold, transforming the way consumers commute, shop and travel. (Please note, our oil supply-demand numbers have subsequently been updated here).


Pages 2-7 outline our new models of global oil demand and US gasoline demand, underpinning a scenario where oil demand likely falls -11.5Mbpd in 2Q20, and -6.5Mbpd YoY in 2020. In a more extreme downside case, declines of -20Mbpd in 2Q20 and 10Mbpd in FY20 are possible.

Pages 8-10 illustrate how gasoline demand could actually increase in the aftermath of the COVID crisis, once businesses re-open and travel resumes. The largest cause is a c25% potential degradation in developed world fuel economy per passenger, as lingering fears over COVID lower the use of mass transit and vehicle load factors.

Pages 11-15 outline our top three structural trends post-COVID, which will persist for years, transforming retail, commuting, leisure travel and the airline/auto industries.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us, if you have any questions or comments…

How to decarbonize gas value chains?

Gas value chains present the largest and lowest cost decarbonization opportunity on the planet, commercialising zero carbon energy for an incremental cost below $1/mcfe ($17/ton of CO2). This compares with end gas prices of $4-14/mcf and other CO2 mitigation options up to $800/ton. This 15-page report outlines how to optimize a decarbonized gas value chain, securitizing forestry-based carbon commitments in an actively managed carbon fund.


Pages 2-4 outline why natural gas is the optimal fossil fuel for a decarbonized value chain, requiring the reforestation of 15-60% less land than other fossil fuels.

Pages 5-8 present the economics for forestry projects, with a breakeven cost of $50/ton, of which $15/ton is cash cost and $35/ton is capital cost.

Pages 9-11 explain how to securitize forestry carbon credits into gas sales agreements, obviating the $35/ton capital costs and creating a dedicated CO2 fund.

Pages 12-13 compare the costs of our decarbonized gas value chains against other decarbonization options, at $15/ton versus $300-800/ton for alternatives.

Pages 14-15 suggest opportunities for active managers to optimize carbon funds, sequestering more CO2 and disbursing “profits” to the funds’ limited partners.

The future of offshore: fully subsea?

Offshore developments will change dramatically in the 2020s, eliminating new production platforms in favour of fully subsea solutions. The opportunity can increase a typical project’s NPV by 50%, reduce its breakeven by one-third and effectively eliminate upstream CO2 emissions. We have reviewed 1,850 patents to find the best-placed operators and service providers, versus others that will be disrupted. Overall, the theme supports the ascent of low-carbon natural gas, which should treble in the energy mix by 2050. This 22-page note presents the opportunity.


The offshore oil and gas industry’s progress towards ‘fully subsea’ developments, without any platforms or surface infrastructure being necessary, is reviewed in detail in pages 2-5, covering key projects and milestones from 1985-2000.

30% economic savings in both capex and opex are quantified line-by-line, across c50 cost lines, in pages 6-9.

1.5x NPV uplifts and 4pp IRR uplifts are quantified by modelling a representative fully greenfield gas-condensate project on pages 11-12.

CO2 emissions can be virtually eliminated by a fully subsea development solution. Pages 12-13 add up the impacts of higher efficiency, power from shore, fewer materials and the elimination of PSV/helicopter trips.

The key engineering challenges for fully subsea systems, which remain to be resolved, are summarized on page 14.

Who benefits from the trend toward fully subsea systems, is described from page 15 onwards after reviewing 1,850 patents around the industry. This includes both the leading service companies and operators (primarily Equinor, but also TOTAL, Shell).

The leaders in subsea compression technology are assessed on pages 16-17.

The leaders in subsea power systems are described on pages 18-19.

The leaders in next-generation subsea robotics are assessed on pages 20-21.

Others are disrupted, as is described in detail in page 22.

Covered service companies in the report include ABB, Aker, Eelume, GE, Kraken, Oceaneering, OneSubsea, Saipem, Siemens, Technip-FMC, Wood Group, the PSV and helicopter sector, and c20 early stage companies in next-generating subsea robotics.

Ten Themes for Energy in the 2020s

We presented our ‘Top Ten Themes for Energy in the 2020s’ to an audience at Yale SOM, in February-2020. The audio recording is available below. The slides are available to TSE clients, in order to follow along with the presentation.


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Updated 2nd April, 2019.

Thunder Said Energy Policy for the Processing of Data Governed by GDPR

Thunder Said Energy may collect, process or handle Personal Data relating to its customers or prospective customers (“customers”) in the European Economic Area (“Personal Data”).

Thunder Said Energy’s relationship with its customers is governed by our terms of use (above), privacy policy (above), and potentially other commercial agreements. It is also legally bound under the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (“GDPR”) in its collection, uses, and processes around Personal Data.

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Please contact [email protected] if you would like an executed version of this Policy, or for answers to any GDPR queries arising from thie policy.

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2. Subprocessing. Thunder Said Energy does not currently work with any subprocessors. If we were to do so in the future, subprocessors would be required to provide at least the same level of protection as is described in this Policy. Thunder Said Energy would remain liable to its customers for any actions by its subprocessors that impact any rights guaranteed under the GDPR.

3. Written Instructions. Thunder Said Energy only processes Personal Data in accordance with the terms set out in this Policy, its Privacy Policy (above) and other written terms agreed with its subscribing customer. These documents set out the subject-matter, duration, nature, purpose, types of Personal Data, categories, obligations and rights relating to such Personal Data.

4. Transfers to non-EEA Countries. Most of the Personal Data collected by Thunder Said Energy will be collected via its US-website. Where Personal Data are disclosd Thunder Said employees in the EEA, they may be transferred to Thunder Said Energy’s office in Connecticut, United States. Every effort will be made to ensure the transfer is fully secure. Personal data is not expected to be transmitted to other destinations, beyond the United States and EEA.

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8. Personal Data Breach. In the event of a Personal Data breach under GDPR, Thunder Said Energy will notify its applicable customers without undue delay after becoming aware of the breach. Such notification(s) may be delivered to an email address provided by Customer or by direct communication (for example, by phone call or in-person). The customer is responsible for ensuring any email address provided by them is current and valid. Thunder Said Energy will take reasonable steps to provide information reasonably required.

9. Deletion of Data. Thunder Said Energy will delete or return all Personal Data to a customer, following the termination of the customer’s relationship, unless it is required to retain it by applicable laws and compliance policies. Thunder Said Energy reserves the right to charge a reasonable fee to comply with any customer’s request to return Personal Data.

10. Governing Law. This Policy shall be governed by the governing law (and subject to the jurisdiction(s)) of the relevant Agreement and otherwise subject to the limitations and remedies expressly set out in the Agreement.
If you have any queries about this Policy please contact [email protected]

Decarbonized power: how much wind and solar fit the optimal grid?

What should future power grids look like? Our 24-page note optimizes cost, resiliency and CO2, using a Monte Carlo model. Renewables should not surpass 45-50%. By this point, over 70% of new wind and solar will fail to dispatch, while incentive prices will have trebled. Batteries help little. They raise power prices by a further 2-5x to accommodate just 3-15% more renewables. The lowest-cost, zero-carbon power grid, we find, comprises c25% renewables, c25% nuclear and c50% decarbonized gas, with an incentive price of 9c/kWh.


Pages 2-4 illustrate the volatility of wind and solar generation at today’s grid penetration, providing rules of thumb around intermittency.

Pages 5-6 illustrate the strange consequences once renewables surpass 25% of the grid, including curtailment, negative power pricing and financing difficulties.

Pages 7-9 quantify and explain how much curtailment will take place in a typical grid as renewables scale from 25% to 40%, 50% and 60% of gross generation, using a Monte Carlo approach. The model shows when and why curtailment is occurring.

Pages 10-20 quantify and explain the costs of batteries, to backstop renewables as they scale from 25%, to 40%, 50% and 60% of the grid, while avoiding curtailment. Real world conditions are not conducive to competitive battery economics.

Pages 21-23 quantify the residual reliance on natural gas. Amazingly, even our most aggressive battery scenarios only permit 10% of gas-power capacity to be shuttered. Low-utilization gas is costly. High-utilization gas is less costly. And the economics of decarbonized gas are superior to any renewables plus batteries combination.

Page 24 concludes that natural gas will emerge as the ‘best battery’ to backstop renewables, estimating the most likely shares in an optimal power mix.

Electric Vehicles Increase Fossil Fuel Demand?

It is widely believed that electric vehicles will destroy fossil fuel demand. We find they will increase it by 0.7Mboed from 2020-35. EVs only start lowering net fossil fuel demand from 2037 onwards. The reason is that 3.7x more energy is consumed to manufacture each EV than the net road fuel it displaces each year; while the manufacturing of EVs is seen growing exponentially. The finding is a strong positive for natural gas, as outline in our new 13-page note.


Pages 2-3 outline our oil demand forecasts out to 2050, reflecting the rise of electric vehicles and six other game-changing technologies.

Pages 4-5 lay out the energy economics of producing electric vehicle batteries, based new, granular details from the recent technical literature.

Pages 6-9 model the exponential rise of electric vehicles, and how rapidly increasing manufacturing energy could outweight slowly increasing fuel savings.

Pages 10-13 consider pushbacks to our thesis, including the use of renewable technology, battery innovations or vehicle autonomy.