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

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oil and gasHere’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 earlenergy2speed 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.

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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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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Elisa,
    Whilst I applaud energy efficiency in all its manifestations, I cannot stress enough how wrong it is for oil and gas drilling to occur at all…
    Here’s an irony if you will. The United States is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. Yet the oil and gas industry pose a clear and present danger to civilisation on this planet we call home. If we don’t do everything we can to wean ourselves from the fossil fuel teat as fast as we possibly can, we run the risk of wrecking the very things we value most.
    If anything, we should be glad the price of oil and gas is high – too long has it been undervalued. Fossil fuels have underpinned our rapid rise in living standards and are at the base of our society.

    In years to come, people everywhere will echo the words of Prof Ken Deffeyes ex-geologist from Shell “our grandchildren are going to look at us and say you burned all of that oil?”. One litre of petrol contains the stored energy that would sustain four adults for a day, yet we burn it as if there were no tomorrow. If we are not more careful, that is exactly what we will achieve…

    “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein


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