Solar power meets the challenge

The oil and gas industry requires power for many applications in remote areas of Australia. From wellhead instrumentation, control and telemetry systems to pipeline protection and communications, solar energy has been used to provide reliable power to remote regions for over 20 years.

Reliable solar power systems require good solar sizing, good structural design and excellent environmental protection. However, keeping dust out and temperatures down while still providing adequate venting for batteries is a primary challenge. Systems also need to be designed to minimise onsite installation. Furthermore, the introduction of a new generation of heavy-duty gel traction batteries with lifetimes exceeding 12 years eradicates the need to service messy wet cell batteries.

Cathodic protection has been one of the larger demands for electrical power. Solar power is used to feed a converter which directs the correct amount of electrical current into the pipeline. The current is then used to maintain the pipe at a negative potential with respect to the earth which inhibits the process of electrolytic corrosion. With the gradual deterioration of coatings on underground pipelines, there is a steady increase in demand for electrical current.

Solaris Technology Managing Director Sandy Pulsford has been involved in manufacturing solar cathodic protection systems since 1989. The first systems were supplied to the SA Pipelines Authority and later sold to Epic Energy. During the 1980s and 90s, 22 systems were installed on the Moomba – Adelaide gas pipeline.

For the last 15 years, many large systems have been supplied to East Australia Pipelines and to Agility Management for the Moomba-Sydney pipeline. The current contract is for five 600 W output systems which will utilise solar arrays of 6.6 kW each. Other pipelines include the SW Queensland gas pipeline for McConnell Dowell, the SEA Gas pipeline and the Singapore natural gas pipeline.

In addition to cathodic protection, the Moomba oilfields require protection on the inside of the pipeline to prevent corrosion due to the high water content of some wells. This has been solved by injecting corrosion inhibitor into the pipe which coats the inside wall. Traditionally done by natural gas driven injection pumps, the growing demand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means this job is now done by a solar powered air compressor.

With oil prices at record highs and expectations that it will remain high, the demand for new oil and gas supplies has driven the need to optimise the output of wells. Telemetry, control and communications required to automate various pipeline operations is creating increasing demand for solar power. New pipelines planned for the next few years will ensure a steady expansion of solar infrastructure to keep pace.

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