Crystal ball

Overheard: Experts weigh in on what the energy industry will look like in 2050 at Houston summit

From fossil fuels to clean and sustainable energy, here's what experts postulate the industry will look like in 2050. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

There are a lot of things up in the air within the energy industry when you look at the next 40 years — clean energy, regulation regarding fossil fuels, carbon footprint, and so much more.

At the Society of Petroleum Engineers' inaugural SPE Dot Energy Leadership Summit, the big question was what does 2050 look like for the industry. Tasked with the discussion were three energy leaders — Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at TudorPickering Holt & Co., Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger, and David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs — on a panel moderated by Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston.

The panel, which took place on August 15 at MATCH, discussed all the variables and what their potential theories are for how time will change oil and gas. Of course, no one knows for sure. If they did, they wouldn't be sharing it, would they?

"It's very hard I think to capture all the things that will play out by 2050, and honestly, if I knew with any amount of certainty what would happen, I wouldn't be talking about it in public," Zhang says. "I'd be in a basement somewhere, making a company that would make a trillion dollars."

Fair enough. Here are some other overheard quotes from the discussion in case you missed it.

“I think we’ll face the fact that we’ve got to be totally clean and solve the emissions problem and do a complete full cycle. It’ll mean lots of innovation, but I certainly see the capability to get it done.”

David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs.

“When it comes to bridging the efficiency debate and the green and clean debate, that will be something that by 2050 we will have bridged.”

— Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. Currently, she says the industry is split. "Right now we are trying to optimize for two objectives. The industry is divided."

“I think that one of the challenges actually is that it’s an idea of ‘us and them,’ and energy is a ‘we.’ Everyone has a role to play.”

Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger. She emphasized that it's the energy industry — oil and gas is just one part, and it's where there's a lot of money. O&G does have opportunities for carbon neutral development.

“The opportunity for the oil and gas industry is to recognize the problems and then announce solutions itself. If the industry doesn’t, regulators will."

— Hall says on moving the industry toward a cleaner, greener future.

“In 50 years, we’ll find a way to survive, but it won’t be the same quality of life.”

— Zhang, when asked about the worst case scenario if the industry doesn't make big changes. She cites urbanization and a greater wealth gap as some things to expect.

"Stop saying 'oil and gas.' It's 'energy.'"

— Rodionov, when asked about bridging the gap between renewables and fossil fuels.

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Building Houston

 
 

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world, says this expert. Photo courtesy

The state of Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, has been intensely impacted by the effects of climate change as well as aging utility infrastructure. Innovative drone technologies help address the pressing inspection and mapping needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure across the country, primarily bridges and roads, railways, pipelines, and powerplants.

There is a significant need for high-precision inspection services in today's market. Additional work will result if the proposed infrastructure bill passes. The bill has $73 billion earmarked toward modernizing the nation's electricity grid. Drone —or UAS (unmanned aerial systems)— technological advances, including thermal imaging, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), IRR (infrared radiation and remote sensing), and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) are applied toward determining and predicting trends and are instrumental toward making our country safer.

"The newest advances in drone technology are not so much in the drones themselves, but rather, in the sensors and cameras, such as thermal cameras. Technologies such as LiDAR are now more cost-effective. The newer sensors permit the drones to operate in tighter spaces and cover more acreage in less time, with higher accuracy and fidelity", according to Will Paden, president of Soaring Eagle Technologies, a Houston-based tech-enabled imaging company servicing utility and energy companies.

Paden anticipates growth in the use of the technology for critical infrastructure including utilities, pipelines, power plants, bridges, buildings, railways, and more, for routine and post-storm inspections

"[Soaring Eagle's] ability to harness UAS technology to efficiently retrieve field data across our 8,000+ square mile area is unprecedented. Coupling this data with post-processing methods such as asset digitization unlocked a plethora of opportunities to visualize system resources and further analyze the surrounding terrain and environment," says Paige Richardson, GIS specialist with Navopache Electric Cooperative. "Our engineering and operations departments now have the ability to view 3D substation models, abstract high-resolution digital evaluation models, and apply these newfound resources as they work on future construction projects."

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world. The UAS (unmanned aerial systems) technology offers an environmentally cleaner option for routine and post-storm inspections, replacing the use of fossil fuels consumed by helicopters. The use of drones versus traditional inspection systems is significantly safer, more efficient and accurate than traditional alternatives such as scaffolding or bucket trucks. Mapping and inspection work can be done at much lower costs than with manned aircraft operations. These are highly technical flights, where the focus on safety and experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, is paramount.

There is much work ahead in high-tech drone technology services, especially for companies vetted by the FAA with high safety standards. According to one study, the overall drone inspection & monitoring market is projected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2021 to USD 33.6 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2021 to 2030. North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the drone inspection & monitoring market from 2021 to 2030.

Paden predicts the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) and data automation will continue to improve over the next 3-5 years, as more data is collected and analyzed and the technology is a applied to "teach it" to detect patterns and anomalies. He anticipates ML/AI will filter out the amount of data the end users will need to view to make decisions saving time and money for the end users.

Learn more at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit taking place in The Woodlands on October 25 through October 27.

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Alex Danielides is head of business development for Houston-based Iapetus Holdings, a privately held, minority and veteran-owned portfolio of energy and utility services businesses. One of the companies is Soaring Eagle Technologies.

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