Power Generation Options for Remote Oil field Operations

A reliable source of uninterrupted power is essential for a remote oil field’s operation and backup power. Without a form of reliable power to ESPs, compressors, pump jacks, and other systems, shutdowns happen, equipment becomes damaged, and profits fall. Conditions impact worksite success, too, such as inhospitable conditions or being offshore, limiting operation efficiency. More so, it impacts the economic health of the operation, its safety, and the environment as well. Because these systems are off the traditional electrical power grid located in remote areas, it’s essential to obtain a more reliable solution for power and backup power.


Why Can’t the Main Grid Supply Power?

Oil field operations typically operate away from traditional infrastructure, making it impossible for reliable access to electricity. From locations such as the Permian to Niobrara, the most common locations used to source these materials are typically logistically limited. This includes offshore oil rigs.

The first limitation is current infrastructure in these locations. A lack of existing roadways and communication lines makes it nearly impossible to operate effectively. More commonly, these locations typically lack any access to electricity. To modernize and add these components, oil field operators would be forced to invest significantly. And, as a result, it is simply not financially feasible.

Even if such investments were possible, many locations are utilized for a limited amount of time. The nature of many locations simply means adding such investments – from utility poles to an established transformer system – does not make sense.


Generators – the Most Popular Power Source for Remote Areas

Generators remain the go-to solution for many operations. Specifically, diesel generators are used in locations where no grid is present. There are several key reasons for this.

  • They are typically less expensive compared to traditional gas-powered systems.
  • They are readily available, as is the fuel for them, keeping them ideal for lower fuel costs.
  • They provide a solid level of stability and reliability.
  • It’s possible to scale them – expanding their performance to handle new or more advanced needs over time.
  • Support and maintenance are readily available, making it possible to get them back up and running well if there is a problem.

Natural gas is a secondary option. To decide between the use of diesel or natural gas, a key decision-making factor relates to how long the site will be used. For long-term site use, it can be a better option to select a gas generator. These generators tend to be a preferred method due to lower fuel costs. For those locations where the location will be used for a short amount of time, the portability of a diesel generator offers a better solution.

Generators are a proven and reliable solution yet for environmental and economic reasons, companies are beginning to look at ways of combining generator power with alternative methods. With high transportation costs related to fuel access for both natural gas or diesel generators, they may not be applicable in all areas. There are numerous instances in which generators are used – such as for primary rod pumps or lift systems. In these areas, there may be better solutions available. These systems can be less efficient, especially if the company must rely on a third-party supplier to meet EPA requirements.


Microgrids – a Power Source Unto Itself

Microgrids can offer several benefits by overcoming the typical challenges of generators. They can replace the need for multiple generator installations. For example, the installation of a central power plant with built-in redundancy can provide the same amount of reliability as a traditional grid. This type of system can be powered in several ways including renewable options such as solar panels. Some are managed by distributed generators or batteries. Though each system is different and will have some limitations, the best options can run long term and offer a significant savings over other options.

More so, an oil field operator has the ability to select the right source of energy when setting up this type of system. This provides the flexibility to keep emissions and costs in line with goals.

Renewables are a component of microgrids, and these prices are falling. There is also a drop in central grid demand occurring, due to improved efficiency, solar installations, and people being more readily aware of their usage. As a result, the cost of a central grid is rising. This can help to make the microgrid more affordable and financially feasible for the organization.


Renewable Sources – Wind & Solar Power

The use of renewable sources is also an option. These choices are increasing with access. For most oil field operations, though, the access to wind and solar power is very location-dependent. That is, it is only available for the amount of time when there is sun or wind present. While the use of renewable sources remains beneficial, most projects will rely on a diesel, oil, or gas base-load power source. Storage of energy becomes critical here.

Still, the use of renewable sources remains beneficial. With the cost of electricity consuming as much as half of the operating costs of some locations, renewable makes sense. Wind is the ideal option here, but solar is growing in value and access as well. Canadian Mining & Energy magazine reported on a project to produce solar and wind-powered lighting for mining and oil operations to reduce dependence on diesel or gas fuel.


The Problem of Energy Storage

Perhaps the most important consideration for renewable source use is the availability of storage options. Storage of renewable sources is challenging in all operations because there are limited solutions available. There is a growing need for technological innovation to develop these storage systems. Most oil field locations rely on night and day production, making storage of wind and solar power essential.


The Likely Shift to Hybrid Solutions

What is the solution with so many options on the table? Most experts expect a hybrid solution to solve both requirements in these remote operations. For example, the combination of a diesel generator and solar solutions may allow for a way to reduce the cost of energy while shoring up the limitations on storage and access.

How much renewable energy sources integrate with generators will depend on a series of factors. These might include:

  • Incentives that encourage the use of these solutions and, therefore, encourage moving away from carbon systems
  • Improvements to the efficiency and cost of these technologies including storage solutions, solar systems, and others
  • Support from government agencies to help develop and improve upon existing hybrid systems.
  • Falling prices on solar systems will help to improve access

Right now, organizations are moving more heavily towards integrated systems, where both diesel and gas systems will integrate with renewables This will be a transition phase, where more and more power generation will move towards renewable sources as access to them improves and overall improvements occur.