On March 5, U.S. Senator John Hoeven hosted a meeting at North Dakota State University, bringing together stakeholders from the public and private sectors to discuss how to advance energy innovation.
For anybody that follows energy, North Dakota is known for its vast resources in oil, gas, and wind. What may not be quite as obvious is the role that supercomputing plays in offering these resources to the marketplace.
The Bakken Formation: Strengthening Domestic Oil
A key component of North Dakota’s energy industry is the Bakken Formation, a geologic feature estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to hold more than 3 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil. While the oil in the Bakken is “tight” compared to conventional petroleum resources, it can be produced using alternative techniques — all of which depend on the physical and chemical nature of the underlying rock. The structure of the Bakken is not only compelling for petroleum engineers and geologists, but also places a premium on computational modeling and simulation. Lynn Helms, Director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, noted that while each topic — geology, engineering, environment, resource extraction and delivery – is important, the omnibus challenge is to integrate and optimize these elements into a single functional system.
Wind Energy: Fuel-Free Power
Wind power requires an understanding of the atmosphere and the ability to engineer devices to tap into that potential. It involves a detailed understanding of the local terrain and topography. Supercomputing can span this interface between the natural and built worlds, enabling everything from better turbine blades to wind forecasting, all while optimizing for regional conditions. By linking together an understanding of aero-acoustics, aerodynamics and planetary boundary layer flow, it is possible to lower the real-world cost of wind energy. These advances, in turn, provide a competitive advantage to the companies that adopt them. This is enhanced by the flexible, talented workforce found in North Dakota, as shared by Bill Burga, Director of LM Wind Power’s Blade Business Unit. The LM Wind Power Blade factory in Grand Forks — headed by Burga — is one of LM Wind Power’s most-productive plants in the world.
Electrical Transmission: Making the Connection
North Dakota’s proximity to the major Midwest electricity markets presents the state with an opportunity to export a high-value energy service. For both fossil and renewable electricity, transmission is the link that makes this export possible. Moreover, the intricacy of grid operations necessitates a detailed understanding of power flows, pricing and supply for transmission to be economically successful. Dr. Richard O’Neill, Chief Economic Advisor for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Division of Policy, reminded the audience that most of the analytical tools for the grid were built using techniques from 30 or more years ago, and that these tools cold be dramatically improved using modern computation. Tapping into the processing power of today’s fastest computers opens the door to analyzing these features quantitatively. This not only makes grid management more viable, but it also improves the economics of the entire supply chain — from generation to end use. As such, accurate simulations of the grid help both North Dakota and its neighbors.
Computing: The Final Link
The complexity of applied computing solutions demands an eco-system of partners, from subject-matter experts and code developers to factories and supercomputing facilities. Each element is required to create simulations that enable market-ready products. The roles of industry and government in that network are as clear as they are important. In the middle ground between technology commercialization and effective regulation is the computing offered by academia and research laboratories. For their parts, North Dakota State University’s Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology and the Computation program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory offer capabilities that make this connection.
This interconnection between partners — from industry to government — offers a blueprint for increased competitiveness, improved U.S. energy security and technological innovation.
About the Author:
Nalu manages the Laboratory’s low-carbon energy portfolio and is responsible for energy-related program development and strategic planning. The low-carbon portfolio emphasizes energy technologies—including combustion and engine research—and techno-economic analysis in support of both government and industrial sponsors. Prior to joining LLNL, Nalu was the Deputy Director of the Advanced Energy Systems Laboratory at Stanford University. Read full bio.