How Microgrid Technology Can Make Oil and Gas Drilling More Energy Efficient

Oct. 16, 2014
Here’s an irony. The United States is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. Yet the oil and gas industry suffers from a kind of energy shortage. This creates a big opportunity for remote microgrids.

Here’s an irony. The United States is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. Yet the oil and gas industry suffers from a kind of energy shortage.

Oil and gas drilling rigs often cannot easily – if at all – access the electric grid because they are located in remote outposts of North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and other energy rich states. That leaves them dependent on diesel generators to power their drilling operations and camp sites.

With more than 2,000 rig sites in North America, this creates a huge market for remote microgrid technology, according to Doug Moorehead, president of Earl Energy, which has offices in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Conventional diesel systems come up short on several fronts for oil & gas exploration and production, not the least of which is their environmental profile. Diesel is one of the heaviest polluting generation fuels. So bringing more energy efficiency to the operation reduces air emissions.

But there are straight dollars and cents reasons, as well, for the oil and gas industry to improve power performance at its drilling sites.

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“There is a very strong commercial case for them to adopt new technologies for energy efficiency,” Moore said in a recent interview.  “Energy efficiency for them has a very strong market play.”

Earl Energy thinks its ‘FlexGen’ hybrid system is just the technology for the job. It improves fuel efficiency and reduces costs through use of battery storage and smart controls and software.

The ‘FlexGen’ system also makes it easier for oil and gas exploration (E&P) and production sites to use cleaner natural gas to supplant all, or some, of their diesel use – while increasing speed and performance, according to Moore.

Diesel is often preferred at drill sites because of the speed at which it brings generators to full power. Natural gas is slower.  By way of analogy, think of the time it takes for a car to reach cruising speed on the highway versus a school bus.

Earl Energy’s system, which is now being demonstrated at a 1.2 MW E&P operation in Wyoming, allows natural gas to bring the generator up to speed quickly, he said. It does so though use of high-powered, dense ultra-capacitors.

“We talk about a better-than-diesel performance from natural gas,” Moore said. “Our technology is a great enabler to give customers the energy and the economics of using natural gas as a fuel source, without sacrificing the speed and power they get from a diesel-based fuel rig.”

Another bragging right of its technology, according to Earl Energy, is that it is fuel neutral, designed to get the most out of any energy source. And no special integration is required to get the system up and running at a remote site – it plugs into the existing generator, monitors frequency and voltage and kicks in and takes over for the generator, when needed.

The ‘FlexGen’ system is just the start in bringing greater energy efficiency to oil and gas drilling, according to Moore. Earl Energy also has developed a way to capture the energy from the recovery stroke of an oil pump. This is like the technology now being used to harness the energy created when gravity pulls an elevator down. The Earl Energy system recovers the energy of the recovery stroke of the pump, and then uses the power for the pump’s work stroke, Moore said.

What’s the big play here? It goes beyond the microgrid or petroleum industries. Today’s oil and gas recovery boom is giving the U.S. economy a tremendous boost. Improving the efficiency of the rigs increases their longevity, lowers maintenance costs, and reduces the frequency of replacing equipment. The oil and gas industries have been trumpeting their ability to bring cheap energy to America. It appears that microgrid technology can make it even cheaper.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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