Oilsands operations can be part of the climate change solution

U of C research group says boosting SAGD cogeneration would accelerate GHG reductions.

Climate leadership?

That may already be an Alberta advantage—straight out of the province’s oilsands industry.

According to two major new studies by the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) Initiative, a readily available and proven technology—already used in many oilsands projects—is a credible answer to Alberta’s climate objectives.

That technology is cogeneration, or the combination of heat and power technology, and it’s an essential part of the process for oilsands steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) projects.

According to CESAR, a University of Calgary initiative focused on energy systems advancement:

  • Widening the use of cogeneration at oilsands SAGD projects would cut more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Alberta’s electrical grid, and at a lower cost, than simply replacing coal with stand-alone natural gas-fired power; and
  • Awarding oilsands companies temporary GHG credits for investing in cogeneration, and reducing Alberta’s overall GHG emissions, would also reduce GHG intensity of SAGD production to a level equal to, or lower than, conventional oil.

“Over the next 14 years, much of the province’s electricity generating infrastructure will be replaced,” remarks CESAR director David Layzell, “but if this is done with stand-alone thermal power generation technologies, at least 50 percent of the energy in the fuel will be discarded as waste heat.

“SAGD cogeneration may be a better alternative, since it can use more than 70 percent of the energy in the fuel,” he adds. “With SAGD cogeneration, oilsands operations can be part of the solution to the climate change challenge—not just part of the problem.”

SAGD cogeneration could also stabilize electricity prices in Alberta, and provide a reliable source of base load and backup power for the expanded renewable energy platform that Alberta is advocating as part of its Climate Leadership Plan, according to CESAR.

“SAGD cogeneration represents a ‘made-in-Alberta’ solution to the government’s desire to drive coal off the grid and increase the role for renewables in the province,” notes Layzell. “Most jurisdictions in the world do not have an industrial heat demand that could use the waste heat from thermal power generation. Alberta does, and it is SAGD.

“We in CESAR hope that these reports will be a catalyst that brings government and the power generation and oilsands sectors together for the benefit of the environment and the economy.”

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