As companies adjust in anticipation of the energy transition, many are wondering what form of renewable energy will ultimately become more useful than another. Several experts advocate for certain forms of renewables, and several also argue that all of them will be needed for the transition to occur. Pump Engineer recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kristo Naude, Subject Matter Expert and Senior Engineer, to discuss pressing issues including the diversification of energy sources, and technological advances in the industrial world.
By Angelica Pajkovic
After some time, Naude and his wife decided to immigrate to Canada. Career-wise, he continued to focus on utilities. He occasionally worked with rotating equipment such as turbines, generators, and fans, but for the most part, his work centered around pumps, condensers, and compressors.
Naude moved to Calgary, Alberta with no experience in the oil & gas industry, yet he very quickly became an essential member of the community when he took a role at Colt Engineering.
He helped resurrect a boiler feed pump as one of his first projects, and from then on continued working with safety pumps, compressors, and condensers, ultimately taking the position of senior engineer and earning the SME title. Over the course of his career, he has learned a lot about industry trends and developed insights on the energy transition.
Passion for the Industry
Kristo Naude obtained a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1986, and an MBA through the University of Stellenbosch Business School in 1998. After completing his engineering degree from the University of Pretoria, he completed two years of military service before beginning an engineering position with Eskom, a power utility in South Africa. This was a substantial first role, as in the late 1980s Eskom was generating over 60% of the power on the entire African continent.
Climate change and the environment have been front of mind for quite some time across multiple industries. “Things nowadays seem to be all upended as the industrial sectors are facing several ongoing challenges. While I typically believe that sooner or later, things sort themselves out, these days, I am not so sure,” Naude noted. It is easy to empathize with Naude’s concerns. It is evident that the worldwide effort to combat the effects of climate change is very heavily weighted on renewable energy sources. While the additional effort may have a positive effect, Naude cautions that an overreliance on renewables would be unwise.
“Renewables will work, as long as they are not the only source of energy society will rely on. It is impossible to rely on all-renewables. There seems to be a lack of critical discussion on the issue, making the current efforts in place appear unbalanced.”
Despite the clear need for environmentally friendly energy solutions, Naude makes a valid point; efficiency and effectiveness are factors that should not be ignored in the energy discussion. When considering alternative approaches, Naude offers insight into the ways in which diversifying energy sources may be the most efficient solution.
Diversification of Sources
Through his extensive career experience, Naude has become extremely familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of multiple types of energy sources. He explained that the load demand on some fuel types is cycled at a higher rate now than in the past. With certain fuel types, this is doable. However, this does not apply to every fuel type: “Nuclear runs baseload all the time, so its load demand cannot be altered much; coal is more flexible. Natural gas, especially the simple cycle gas turbines, can quickly ramp up and down. Solar and wind, obviously, are only available until the fuel source runs out of steam.” With such varying degrees of accessibility and flexibility associated with these energy technologies, they are not all dependable.
“The solution to more efficient and greener energy is firm,” stated Naude. “We need to have an appropriate blend of all available fuel sources, in balanced amounts, to yield a stable energy grid.”
Naude cites the Pareto principle when discussing the feasibility of an energy grid solution. Typically, the Pareto principle states that roughly 80% of consequences result from 20% of causes. Applying this principle, it might be possible to resolve 80% of the energy issues with 20% effort. This theory applies to energy balance as well, according to Naude. “The main issue with implementing a more diverse and balanced grid is the cost; it would be challenging to create a truly diversified energy grid without expending a huge amount of capital. This calls for compromise between multiple energy stakeholders and political players,” Naude continued.
“I hope that diversification of energy sources can remain a long-term goal, and I would like to see a greater focus on technological innovations in the short term.” Innovation requires participation from all sides of the industry, including monetary and political motivations.
Economics, and Energy
Politics and economics inevitably play a role in the energy industry. Multiple promising energy plants have been shut down despite having another 10-20 years left, because the companies and governments involved cannot afford the backend cleanup payments. Nonetheless, there are a few instances in which a plan for more renewable energy has been carried through successfully. “One obvious example would be the shift to CFL and LED lighting in the past 20 years. It is one of the reasons that the power demand has somewhat stabilized,” said Naude.
The main obstacle preventing other similar innovations from being made is human error and conflicting interests. “Often, myopia sets in, and people fixate on one kind of issue. They do not look for alternative solutions, which just goes to show that everyone is focused on a certain agenda: their own agenda.” For example, Naude recalled an incident when project managers and staff of an EPC company wanted to install a booster pump in a boiling condensate line. As a subject matter expert with years of experience, Naude was aware that there had been several industrial accidents resulting in fatalities as a result of transients in condensate piping. Such transients would be possible with the booster pump configuration that was being planned. “Despite this fraught history, each person on the call had their own goals and agenda (schedule and budget), so coming up with a safe and reliable solution was very difficult,” he said.
For Naude, the best solution is always to ask the subject matter experts. Engineers are better equipped to solve technical problems than politicians or economists ever could be. “If we are able to come together as a team, I believe it will be easier to expand on ideas and move forward with more viable solutions.”
Naude believes that responsible decision-making and technological innovation can solve almost any problem. He is always up for an engineering challenge, whether in his work or in his personal life. To emphasize that thinking outside of the proverbial ‘box’ can lead to unique and viable solutions, he described one situation where his pool pump was costing him an extraordinary amount in electric power bills. “When circulating the pool water, the pump is designed to take the water on a roundabout route before bringing it back to the pool.
So what useful work does the pump actually do? Fundamentally, nothing. All energy is spent to overcome friction.” Irritated by the obvious waste of energy, Naude promptly began planning a variable frequency pump retrofit for his pool. Once installed, he had reduced the electrical current draw of the pump from 11.6 Amps down to 0.6 Amps, dramatically reducing his monthly energy costs. While this solution is often passed by due to the high initial cost of purchasing a variable speed pump rather than a regular pool pump, the amount of energy saved balances out the upfront cost within 8-9 months. It is certainly a much better long-term solution despite the higher initial cost.
“Through this example, it is shown how responsible decision-making and technological innovation can solve a problem. But, how does this translate to bigger issues within the energy and pump industries?” said Naude. He explained that one solution would be to take more time when making important decisions. “Sometimes, the wrong decision is made when forced into a corner, or to save money. It would be best to revert to a simpler time; when there is a technical problem, the conversation should revolve around technical facts and the laws of physics. Technical specialists know these things intimately. This specialist is called in to examine the so-called ‘corpse’ when an adverse condition occurs, conduct the ‘post mortem,’ and figure out what happened, leading to the solution.” It comes down to science, and Naude hopes that more companies will be able to prioritize real science over profit.
“Renewables and green energy are an exciting new field, but they must be utilized responsibly and balanced equally with older technologies that we know work, as well as newer technologies that increase efficiency,” he concluded.