Navigating erupting volcanoes is all part of the job for Simon Webbison at Ormat Technologies, a world-leading geothermal company that relies on data-driven insights to better understand the complex geology of renewable resources.
Geothermal energy is an integral part of the transition towards net zero with a much lower environmental impact than conventional sources, such as fuel or oil.
And while unlocking sustainable energy sources from the world’s geothermal hot spots can be complex, Ormat’s expertise is helping bring reliable, sustainable energy options around the globe.
“Our work is challenging, but highly rewarding and that’s what motivates our world-class team and me personally,”
says Simon Webbison, Vice President of Exploration and Resource Management at Ormat Technologies Inc.
Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcanic eruption, in May 2018, buried roadways and forced the evacuation of two thousand residents.
Subsequent lava flow caused Ormat’s Puna Geothermal Venture 38-megawatt (MW) power plant, located in Hawaii’s East Rift Zone, to temporarily shut down.
“We had to turn the power plant off for a period to make things safe, reducing the amount of renewable energy feeding the electricity grid, resulting in more diesel generation and higher power prices for consumers,” explains Simon.
“Seequent’s Leapfrog Geothermal gave us a much better understanding of the characteristics and behaviour of the subsurface both during the eruption and following it, ultimately helping to get the facility back up and running as quickly as possible.”
Ormat’s Puna geothermal power plant, during the May 2018 eruption of Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii
Bring global teams together with the power of a fast and agile workflow
Ormat operates in six countries, across 25 geothermal resources and with an extensive exploration portfolio of over 40 prospects.
“We’re a big global player in the geothermal energy technology field having built over 190 power plants with an installed combined capacity of over 3,200 MW of renewable electric energy,” says Simon.
Their current 995 MW geothermal generating portfolio spans the United States, Guatemala, Guadeloupe, Honduras, Indonesia and Kenya.
“Our focus helps transition electricity markets to more sustainable options, such as in Hawaii, and we are also actively growing in energy storage and solar power – which is an exciting place to be,” says Simon.
A big challenge for their technical teams is how to standardise workflows across multiple locations and time zones.
“How do we turn the mosaic of data coming in from all of our many projects into consistent data in the office for a more holistic global view?” asks Simon.
Using Leapfrog Geothermal as part of their workflow has helped standardise their approach.
“The software allows us to easily transform complex resource and reservoir data into 3D conceptual models to help quickly inform crucial decisions,” he says.
“And being able to visualise all of our different data together in one place means that stakeholders can clearly see, understand and collaborate on all our latest information.”
Leapfrog Geothermal gave data-driven subsurface insights to help get the facility back up and running as quickly as possible
Data-driven 3D models to better inform optimum well design
Ormat is a growth story and like every company on a high growth trajectory – there are hurdles between the sprints.
“We’re exploring and drilling in a lot of places, and often dealing with varying degrees of subsurface uncertainty and so we sometimes need to make crucial decisions on the fly,” says Simon.
Several recent exploration projects have focused on developing lower-temperature geothermal resources.
“With innovations that combine binary power plant technology and line-shaft pumps, we’ve been able to develop new geothermal systems,” he explains.
“But because we’re exploring fields and designing wells that need to be pumped, we have different considerations than geothermal developers did in the past.”
Designing wells for line shaft pumps that can move high volumes of fluid can often require a kick-off point deeper than wells that use submersible pumps.
A challenge is how to collate this new information in a succinct time frame to allow for good design ahead of drilling and enable fast decision-making without drilling rig wait time, which can cost a lot of money.
“Leapfrog Geothermal has made a significant difference for us in this regard,” says Simon.
“We can efficiently integrate our multidisciplinary data into 3D visualisations that better inform our optimum well design, factoring in things such as kick-off point depth decisions.”
“Also, we can link geothermal conceptual models more seamlessly into our numerical models – which are our predictive tools,” he says.
“Ultimately this helps us make more meaningful predictions of geothermal resource behaviour over a longer term than we could have in the past – which is really important from a sustainability perspective.”
An example 3D model of a Synthetic Geothermal System created in Leapfrog Geothermal to show the geology, temperature, wells with casing designs and feed zones.
Attracting talent with state-of-the-art geothermal tech
Ormat works quickly to upskill new people joining their team of around 1400 employees worldwide.
“We’re expanding fast and to execute on exploration campaigns have had to onboard a lot of people pronto, especially recently in the United States and Indonesia where our Geothermal Resources teams are based,” says Simon.
“Leapfrog Geothermal is the industry standard software and pivotal to how we do business,” he says.
A bonus is that they often find new recruits from within the geothermal industry are already familiar with the product suite.
“And even if they’re not, it’s quick to learn, user friendly and there’s good support so we’re able to rapidly get our teams up to speed and working efficiently on the tools.”
Ormat has a great track record with Seequent and appreciates the importance of being able to work in partnership to come up with innovative solutions.
“Seequent listens to our feedback and turns it into product enhancements that enable us to do our job better, move at a faster pace and help meet our objectives,” says Simon.
“Bringing in time-lapse drilling data, for example, has allowed us to optimise our knowledge of the well bore,” he says.
“And if things pop up while we’re drilling, we can make faster decisions on how to best progress the project.”
Simon shares more about the role of technology in the global push towards cleaner energy here on Inside Seequent