What oil price is best for energy transition?

It is possible to decarbonize all of global energy by 2050. But $30/bbl oil prices would stall this energy transition, killing the relative economics of electric vehicles, renewables, industrial efficiency, flaring reductions, CO2 sequestration and new energy R&D. This 15-page note looks line by line through our models of oil industry decarbonization. We find stable, $60/bbl oil is ‘best’ for the transition.

Our roadmap for the energy transition is outlined on pages 2-4, obviating 45Mbpd of long-term oil demand by 2050, looking across each component of the oil market.

Vehicle fuel economy stalls when oil prices are below $30/bbl, amplifying purchases of inefficient trucks and making EV purchases deeply uneconomical (pages 5-6).

Industrial efficiency stalls when oil prices are below $30/bbl, as oil outcompetes renewables and more efficient heating technologies (page 7).

Cleaning up oil and gas is harder at low oil prices, cutting funding for flaring reduction, methane mitigation, digitization initiatives and power from shore (pages 8-9).

New energy technologies are developed more slowly when fossil fuel prices are depressed, based on R&D budgets, patent filings and venturing data (pages 10-11).

CO2 sequestration is one of the largest challenges in our energy transition models. CO2-EOR is promising, but the economics do not work below $40/bbl oil prices (pages 12-14).

Our conclusion is that policymakers should exclude high-carbon barrels from the oil market to avoid persistent, depressed oil prices (as outlined on page 15).

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.

Global gas: catch methane if you can?

Scaling up natural gas is among the largest decarbonisation opportunities on the planet. But this requires minimising methane leaks. Exciting new technologies are emerging. This 28-page note ranks producers, positions for new policies and advocates developing more LNG. To seize the opportunity, we also identify c25 early-stage companies and 10 public companies in methane mitigation. Global gas demand should treble by 2050 and will not be derailed by methane leaks.

Pages 2-4 explain why methane matters for climate and for the scale up of natural gas. If 3.5% of methane is leaked, then natural gas is, debatably, no greener than coal.

Pages 5-8 quantify methane emissions and leaks across the global gas industry, including a granular breakdown of the US supply-chain, based on asset-by-asset data.

Page 9-10 outlines the incumbent methods for mitigating methane, plus our screen of 34 companies which have filed 150 recent patents for improved technologies.

Pages 11-12 outline the opportunity for next-generation methane sensors, using LiDAR and laser spectroscopy, including trial results and exciting companies.

Pages 13-15 cover the best new developments in drones and robotics for detecting methane emissions at small scale, including three particularly exciting companies.

Pages 16-17 outline next generation satellite technologies, which will provide a step-change in pinpointing global methane leaks and repairing them more quickly.

Pages 18-24 covers the changes underway in the oilfield supply chain, to prevent fugitive methane emissions, highlighting interesting companies and innovations.

Page 25-26 screens methane emissions across the different Energy Majors, and resultant CO2-intensities for different gas plays.

Pages 27-28 advocate new LNG developments, particularly small-scale LNG, which may provide an effective, market-based framework to mitigate most methane.

Shale growth: what if the Permian went CO2-neutral?

Shale growth has been slowing due to fears over the energy transition, as Permian upstream CO2 emissions reached a new high in 2019. We have disaggregated the CO2 across 14 causes. It could be eliminated by improved technologies and operations, making Permian production carbon neutral: uplifting NPVs by c$4-7/boe, re-attracting a vast wave of capital and growth. This 26-page note identifies the best opportunities.

Pages 2-5 show how fears over the energy transition have slowed down shale growth in 2019.

Pages 6-10 disaggregate the CO2 intensity of the Permian, by source and by operator, based on over a dozen models we have constructed.

Pages 11-15 argue why increased LNG development is the single greatest operational opportunity to reduce Permian CO2 intensity.

Pages 16-18 summarise advances in methane mitigation technologies and their impacts.

Pages 19-23 outline and quantify the best opportunities to lower CO2 from digital initiatives, renewables, lifting and logistics.

Pages 24-25 quantifies the sequestration potential from CO2-EOR, which could offset the remaining CO2 left after all the other initiatives above.

Our conclusion is to identify three top initiatives that companies and investors should favor. Industry leading companies are also suggested based on the patents and technical literature we have reviewed.