SHARK WEEK: 4 Times Energy Production Intersected With Sharks

Basking Shark

Photo of a Basking Shark. An offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland was cancelled partly due to the discovery of hundreds of these protected sharks in the area.

In the spirit of shark week, here are 4 (and a half) times sharks and energy production have converged.

1. SHARKS KILL OFF AN OFFSHORE WIND FARM: In 2013, ScottishPower cancelled an offshore wind farm off the west coast of Scotland because of hard rocks, giant waves, and the presence of hundreds of protected basking sharks in the area.  Article here. The largest basking shark ever caught was found in the Bay of Fundy, Canada – in 1851 at 12.3 m long (about the length of a school bus) weighing 19 tons (source).

2. TIGER SHARKS GET A FREE LUNCH: Researchers are unexpectedly finding land-faring migratory birds in the stomachs of tiger sharks in the gulf of mexico. The hypothesis?  The bright lights of offshore oil platforms are disorientating night-flying birds causing them to crash into the rigs or drop into the water, where they become shark food.  Article here.

3. BASKING SHARKS AS INSPIRATION FOR INNOVATION:  Industrial design student Anthony Reale has created a 40% more efficient hydroelectric turbine inspired by the design of the basking shark where a pressure differential allows the shark to filter zooplankton and small fish solely with passive water flow. Article Here

4. OFFSHORE OIL OFFERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WATCH A GATHERING OF GIANTS: 80 km off the coast of Qatar there is a huge aggregation of whale sharks observed in the Al Shaheen offshore oil field.  The 9 offshore platforms have been covered with corals and sponges forming an artificial reef attracting lots of fish to spawn in the area. The whale sharks have figured this out, and the enormous aggregation of whale sharks here is matched by only a handful of other places in the world.  The phenomenon was first photographed by an oil worker in 2007 who took a shot of more than 100 whale sharks.  Now, this is an opportunity to learn more about the oceans biggest creatures – a research team is involved in tracking the whale sharks and estimating their population size.  Photos and research description here.

4½. SWORDFISH ATTACKS: (Only counts as ½ a point because a swordfish isn’t a shark…)  Although a swordfish isn’t a shark, the numerous swordfish attacks on offshore oil facilities off the coast of Angola begs to be included in this post.  In 2014 a swordfish attacked an BP offshore oil facility puncturing a hose preventing the crude oil from being loaded to an oil tanker.  This exact site was also hit by a sword fish in 2009.   Also, in 2010 a whole school of swordfish punctured oil hoses used to load tankers owned by French oil company Total.  Article here.

Any other examples you can think of where sharks and energy production converged?

Shark Week Basking Shark Comic

Couldn’t resist adding this illustration of basking shark – © 2013-2014 wachey.  See original & more from artist at


Frugal Geothermal – The Cost of Generating Electricity By Source


Cost To Generate Electricity By Source - Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Geothermal, Biomass, Wind, Solar, & Hydroelectric

The cost (LCOE in USD) to produce a Megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity from different generating technologies. Each dot represents the average cost, and the highlighted bars show the minimum and maximum costs due to regional variation across the US. Several categories have multiple bars that represent different technologies in each field. From bottom to top: Coal is broken into conventional coal, IGCC & IGCC with CCS; Natural Gas is broken into Conventional Combined Cycle, Advanced Combined Cycle, Advanced CC with CCS, Conventional Combustion Turbine, Advanced Combustion Turbine; Wind is broken into onshore and offshore, and Solar is broken into Solar PV and Solar Thermal. Data source: EIA Annual Energy Outlook – 2014. Can be accessed at – Table 2

The above plot displays the cost (in USD) to produce a Megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity from each generating technology.  Each dot represents the average cost, and the highlighted bars show the minimum and maximum costs due to regional variation across the US.  Some categories have multiple bars because the data set contains generation costs for different technologies within that category.  For example, Coal is broken into Conventional Coal, Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), and IGCC with CCS.

The scope of electricity generation cost is astounding!  On average it costs 5 times more to generate electricity from solar thermal power than geothermal power.  It costs 2.5 times more to generate electricity from an offshore wind farm than an onshore one 0  though there is an enormous variation in the cost of operating an offshore wind farm.

I suspect natural gas was the first source that jumped into your mind when thinking about cost-effective electricity generation. It is remarkable how profitable geothermal electricity is! (to be fair there is limited capacity in producing geothermal electricity at this low cost).  It is also interesting that conventional coal generation (bottom bar) is cheaper than IGCC (mid bar), reminding us that IGCC exists for environmental not economic reasons.

When comparing sources it is important to note that the top three sources (Hydroelectric, Solar, & Wind) are non-dispatchable (ie. the output cannot be changed to follow demand), whereas the rest of the sources are more valuable because they are flexible in responding to demand  (dispatchable).

Specifically, the data we see plotted above is the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) – a static that estimates the cost of building and operating a generating plant for a period of time (here it is 30 years).  LCOE includes capital costs, fuel costs, operations & maintenance, financing costs, etc.  It is certainly not sufficient in comparing different generation technologies (you can read about why here & here), but it does provide us with some insights.  The data originates from EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook – 2014.  When compared to an additional measure (the levelized avoided cost of electricity – LACE), LCOE can be helpful in determining the economically viability of a new electricity generation project.  For more information visit .


A Brief History of Oil Production In the Middle East (1965 – 2013)


World Oil Production (1965-2013)

There is so much information to glean from looking at past oil production numbers!  The history of oil production in the middle east (the orange curve) is especially interesting because of the large fluctuation.

Three of the largest oil producers in the middle east are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, and all of these countries are members of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).  OPEC was formed by countries to coordinate policies on oil and keep the seven large petroleum companies at the time from taking advantage of them.  The large fluctuation in middle eastern oil production is primarily a result of OPEC countries using their vast oil reserves to affect politics and economics. 

From the beginning of the data set (1965) until 1973 oil production in the middle east was booming, with exponentially growing production numbers.  Then in 1973 OPEC made a political move, causing this trend of growth to break, and oil production numbers to level off.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria led a surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur.  In response to the Soviet Union supplying Egypt and Syria with weapons, the United States decided to provide Israel with weapons and supplies.  OPEC retaliated by cutting oil exports to the United States, causing the 1973 US “oil shock”. This move caused oil production in the middle east to level off until 1979.

Following 1979 there is a dramatic decrease in middle eastern oil production.  Initially the downturn is due to decreased oil production in Iran and Iraq.  In 1979 The Iranian revolution caused a decrease in Iranian oil production.  This decrease was intensified by the destruction of many oil sectors in Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 – 1988.  The shortage of world oil supply resulted in widespread panic and shock, which caused oil prices to skyrocket.   These extravagant oil prices stimulated rapid growth in oil suppliers throughout the world, causing oil prices to eventually fall back down in 1982.  In order to keep oil prices from falling, OPEC countries reduced production dramatically – implementing a production quota for each country.  These quotas on oil production is what we see reflected in the 5-year decline from 1980 – 1985 in middle eastern oil production.

However, Iran and Iraq were in the middle of a war, and kept exceeding their production quota to fund their military.  This forced Saudi Arabia to reduce production again and again to keep the price of oil high enough.  Finally, in 1986, Saudi Arabia threw in the towel, and increased oil production dramatically to take back their share of market control.  Middle eastern oil production continued to increase as OPEC re-established new production quotas, the Iran-Iraq war ended (1988) and demand in the industrialized world increased.

Data Source:

Oil production data was taken from the ‘Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 – Historical data workbook‘ – BP and can be accessed here: