In Ghana, infrastructure is keyNovember 18, 2021
King Taylor, president of Blueprint Engineering, talks to The Energy Year about challenges Ghana faces in transitioning from oil to gas and how the country can better supply gas to its industries. Blueprint Engineering is an indigenous company that provides engineering and project management works for the country’s energy industry.
Where does Ghana stand in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources?
Ghana’s power generation sector is underpinned by hydro. We have in excess of 1,000 MW of installed capacity of hydro through our Akosombo, Bui and Kpong dams. However, the country has finite hydro resources for power generation and our electricity demand is growing. Hydro power can no longer meet the growing demand of our industry and economy. To meet this demand, we will need thermal facilities. As of today, installed capacity of thermal power generation units in Ghana is more than 2 GW.
The whole world is moving toward cleaner fuels, but the transition cannot happen abruptly. It is not possible to switch the narrative to a purely green generation base right away. This would mean that we scrap all thermal plants and move to solar and wind farms with added hydro. In the meantime, the energy sector will go from oil-based fuels for power generation to much cleaner natural gas-based fuels to service the base load demand before we eventually get to the cleaner sources like solar and wind.
By that time, the technology will improve and conversion efficiencies will advance. This will allow for a smaller footprint and real estate area needed to convert to solar farms. We have built a couple of solar farms in Ghana, but we are basically using arable lands to build these solar farms, which puts them in direct competition with agriculture.
Currently, solar has efficiencies between 15 and 20%. If you take a unit of sunlight, solar panels convert only up to 20% of that into useful electricity. Combined-cycle thermal efficiency is about 50%.
What trends shape the country’s current gas production and consumption?
Our daily production of natural gas from the Jubilee, TEN and SGN [Sankofa and Gye Nyame] fields is almost 300 mcf [8.5 mcm]. We regularly get 50 mcf [1.42 mcm] per day from Nigeria through the West African Gas Pipeline. That is roughly 350 mcf [9.91 mcm] per day of gas that is aggregated in the country with just about 10-15 mcf [283,200-424,800 cubic metres] per day that goes to non-power customers. Almost everything goes to thermal plants.
There are a few non-power customers who are serviced by Ghana National Gas Company. Wangkang Group and Twyford Ghana Ceramics Company are two companies who take gas from Ghana National Gas Company for their industrial processing, but combined it amounts to only 15 mcf per day.
How can Ghana better supply gas to industries outside the power generation sector?
Natural gas usage in Ghana is limited to power generation. However, Ghana has a sizable industrial base that requires natural gas for fuels, thermals and other processes to drive production. Infrastructure is key. We need to invest in downstream gas infrastructure to augment it and reach all companies and industries that critically require gas for their operations.
The preferred fuel for all such industries is natural gas, but they don’t have access to the gas distribution infrastructure. Many industries burn liquid fuels, such as diesel, RFO [residual fuel oil] and HFO [heavy fuel oil], or pulverised coal to drive their processes. They need gas because it is cheaper and cleaner, reduces their carbon footprint and allows them to unlock more funding. Global investors are putting a lot of emphasis on cleaner fuels and reducing one’s carbon footprint.
How can gas be transported to meet industrial demand?
If you travel to the developed world, there are places where you cannot build gas pipelines. Customers are delivered CNG or LNG in cryogenic tanks by road. Bulk crude vehicles can deliver the required gas to these various industries. However, we do not have a single operational CNG truck in the country. We do not have a gas distribution grid in Tema. We do not have an LNG truck making deliveries. This entire market has not been developed because of the lack of infrastructure and logistics.
What kind of work is Blueprint Engineering doing for Aksa Energy?
Blueprint was contracted to build fuel supply infrastructure and systems for Aksa Energy’s 370-MW power plant in Tema, which runs on HFO, and is being modified to run on natural gas as HFO is too expensive.
Blueprint’s scope entails building a regulating and metering facility for Aksa Energy and a 5-kilometre pipeline from the plant. We will build a gas conditioning facility that involves filtration skates and associated piping infrastructure connected to the engine.
For this USD 4.8-million EPC project, we are the sole contractor. We should be finished in November 2022. The 5-kilometre pipeline from the power plant connects to an interconnection facility owned by Volta River Authority, which is linked to all thermal plants in the Tema power enclave. Next to it is West African Pipeline Company’s metering station.
What other projects is the company involved in?
We also did other projects involving gas maintenance and services for Ghana National Gas Company as subcontractors through Sinopec at the Atuabo gas processing plant. We are doing engineering studies for the development and construction of a gas facility in Tema for GNPC. It’s an interconnection facility that takes gas from multiple sources, combines the streams and delivers the gas to different categories of customers at different pressures.
We are looking into bigger projects. Building a 5-kilometre pipeline is no different than building a 100-kilometre pipeline. Beyond the workers, engineers and technical staff that will develop skillsets in the industry, we want Ghanaian businesses to benefit from the energy transition that we currently find ourselves in.
What goals should services companies have in the hydrocarbons sector as it transitions from oil to gas?
One must build capacity for delivering oil-related projects while building capacity for the frontier gas industry. People with oil-based expertise can be trained to take up gas-based challenges. At some point you must build your tool and equipment base to execute a gas project while keeping some oil-based capacity. It’s a transition; there is a trade-off. It’s an investment in the future.
How did the company leverage international collaborations to build its capacity?
We have a strategic partnership with a Milan-based gas systems manufacturer and EPC contractor company called Pietro Fiorentini. We partnered with them to augment our capacity to take on skilled EPC jobs and have reliable access to an equipment supplier. By collaborating with them, we develop our local skillset within Blueprint.
When we have projects, it is easy for us to choose the right people. We often choose ones we have worked with before and have a relationship with. We assemble the team and hit the ground running. The core engineering team develops documents for tendering. All pre-contract activities are performed by us.
What is Blueprint Engineering’s current strategy?
We want to increase our upstream presence and focus on the west of the country. GNPC is doing a seismic study on the Voltaian Basin, but nothing has happened, and around the Saltpond Basin. The latter has a petroleum system that began producing oil 30 years ago, but the volume is small. With new technologies we could unearth a reasonable potential.
We are in negotiations with the Petroleum Commission to sign a multi-client agreement to perform 3D-seismic data acquisition in the Saltpond Basin. For this, we have partnered with a Norwegian company called Exploro Geoservices, an expert in ecoservices and geoscience. The initial reference data suggests that the geological structure is similar to a structure they worked on in Brazil. The process of gathering and interpreting data will take over a year. By the time we do two or three studies, our local team should be able to execute small-scale projects.