Potential energy

Though there are no ready answers yet on how future generations will meet man’s escalating energy needs, BP’s Ross Pillari believes we will find solutions that are not only workable but also competitive.

The demand for energy is rising and the world’s population continues to grow. Some people hope to see the growth in demand met by a dramatic shift to renewable and alternative sources. At BP we think there will be innovation and new technology, and are working hard to expand the role of renewables and alternatives. But for the foreseeable future energy demand will still be satisfied largely by hydrocarbons.

There is a worry that oil supplies are limited and concern that continued growth in emissions will lead to an environmental challenge that, in the end, could only be answered by a dramatic slowdown in economic activity. Some believe that these problems will escalate to the point of crisis.

BP believes this is a mistaken view because it ignores a fundamental characteristic of human behaviour to respond to perceived risk by taking precautionary action and finding a different way forward. It is not our nature just to ignore the factors affecting our future.

Individuals and organisations will innovate and will find ways to mitigate risk. History demonstrates that they will act to change what may seem to be the inevitable course.

But we can and must do more. We must continue to meet the needs of today, while planning for the needs of tomorrow. Wise use of technology will help us deliver these needs both in the short and long term.

For instance, advanced seismic technology has allowed us to identify and evaluate subsurface formations that conventional seismic devices would not allow. These clearer images, especially of formations underlying salt structures, reduce exploration and development risks and costs. This is important since a significant portion of current and future deepwater resources, such as in the Gulf of Mexico, lie beneath salt canopies.

We also recently announced the launch of a new business: BP Alternative Energy. This will significantly increase our investment in alternatives and solar energy, to an estimated $8bn (£4.5bn) over 10 years.

BP already has 10 per cent of the global solar market, which is growing at 30 per cent a year, faster than any other form of renewable energy. But the new business will also include work on wind power, where we have begun with a series of wind farms on our own land in Europe. BP also owns industrial land in open, high-wind regions of the US, away from residential areas, providing the possibility for us to build our first large-scale US farm as early as 2007. We have identified sufficient sites in the US to accommodate wind turbines with a total capacity of 2,000MW.

BP Alternative Energy will include work on combined cycle gas turbines and cogeneration technology. Our projected investment in combined-cycle-gas-turbine power generation will be spent mainly in the US where the company already has significant co-generation capacity. We are finalising plans for a $400m unit at one of our major plants, which will deliver 100MW of power to the plant and 420MW to the local electric grid.

Perhaps most exciting to me is our work on the new and rapidly evolving technology of sequestration, taking carbon out of hydrocarbons, and using hydrogen to develop a carbon-free source of electric power.

Our investment in hydrogen fuels includes last year’s announcement to design and build the world’s first commercial project in Scotland. It will turn natural gas into hydrogen by stripping out carbon dioxide and pumping it into depleted oil reservoirs. Not only will we sequester the carbon dioxide, but this process will also extend the life of these fields by years and allow for increased oil production. The hydrogen will then be an energy source for a local power station and will generate 350MW of ‘clean’ electricity.

It has been observed that each time there has been a major shift in the world’s use of energy, that shift has been driven by the fact that the new source of energy is cheaper, more convenient or better performing. It is interesting to ponder whether that paradigm will continue to hold true, or whether other factors will play into the introduction and acceptance of new sources for energy in the future.

Will the public be willing to pay more or forego some amount of convenience for an energy source that is more sustainable? I am not sure of the answer to that question. I can say, though, that we are operating under the assumption that the paradigm will not be broken. We are operating under the assumption that future energy sources, while cleaner, will compete with energy sources of today in terms of cost, convenience, performance and acceptability.

Edited extracts of a speech by Ross Pillari, chief executive of BP America, at the National Council for Science and the Environment Conference in Washington