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NEWS & INSIGHT | article

Unlocking net zero through digital transformation

12 August 2022 6 minute read

Greater digitalisation is needed across the entire energy sector in order to improve processes and operations, according to Steve Roberts, Head of Offshore Energy 4.0 at the Net Zero Technology Centre.

Faced with the energy transition, the oil and gas sector needs to embrace digitalisation to enable greater opportunities to integrate, consolidate and optimise operations, and ultimately realise our net zero ambitions. Progress has already been made by organisations applying digital solutions to their operations, processes and decision making. Concepts such as digital twins and predictive maintenance technologies are being increasingly adopted to improve operational efficiency and reduce downtime of offshore assets.

However, establishing a coordinated whole system approach across the industry has been slow.

The energy industry has over 50 years of data but it has been hindered by poor quality, inaccurate or missing information. Valuable data has often been restricted or hard to find. Multiple data formats exist, making it difficult to import, amalgamate and interpret them.

Industries such as finance and healthcare are leading the way in implementing cashless commerce, wearable medical devices and blockchain-based medical records. Digitalisation has enabled them to extract actionable information from multiple and diverse datasets to enable better customer experiences and optimise their service delivery.

The energy sector has been slow to harness the potential of digital and data – but to meet the demands of the energy transition, it needs to drive digital transformation.

Digital technology in action

The implementation of digital technologies creates a wealth of data points which need to be managed and analysed in order to bring value. If we take offshore asset maintenance scopes as an example, the inability to combine and assess incompatible datasets creates unnecessary duplication and the need to repeat time consuming and costly site visits.

It is estimated that around £204mn/y is currently spent in the UK conducting site surveys and accessing information to facilitate offshore repair and maintenance operations. This could be halved by enabling operators and suppliers to take back control of the information and reusing the data in smarter, simpler ways.

The Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) was created as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal, with £180mn of UK and Scottish government funding to maximise the potential of the North Sea. It aims to develop and deploy technology to accelerate an affordable net zero energy industry. More than £211mn has been co-invested with industry in technologies from effective well plugging and abandonment, to asset integrity, to autonomous robotics and renewable power systems.

At the NZTC, our OE4.0 programme progresses the development and trialling of digitally based technologies that optimise and enable remotely controlled operations, empowered by data, robotics and autonomous systems. It is through the development and deployment of these solutions that smart, fully digitised assets are created.

One such technology is being delivered by EServ, a leading software-as-a-service solution. It provides contextualised digital twins to address the specific issue of onsite survey 3D scanning equipment creating raw data in multiple formats. Eserv’s solution, currently being trialled, will enable as-designed and as-built data to be collected, controlled, configured and communicated seamlessly through the operator’s entire business, directly reducing survey costs and associated project timelines while improving asset visualisation.

This year, NZTC is also progressing four projects through its Net Zero Technology Transition Programme that will move the needle on data and digital adoption across the energy sector.

These projects will:

  • Demonstrate standards that are needed to enable data catalogues to be more easily established and shared across the industry.
  • Create basin-wide digital links between energy assets and services.
  • Enable the simulation of different scenarios to assess interdependencies for planning an integrated energy system.
  • Build a data hub with associated data catalogues to develop and enable the expansion of robotics and autonomous systems use in the offshore environment.
  • Retrofit assets with additional smart, digital technologies to optimise their operations.

Technology Enabled Frontline Workforce Assistance project
Another such project is the Technology Enabled Frontline Workforce Assistance, a game-changing initiative led by NZTC, mixed reality specialist VISR Dynamics and the UK energy business Centrica. Together, with the support of Microsoft, the consortium explored the potential of mixed reality in four areas:

  • To enhance worker navigation across large complex sites.
  • To eliminate paper-based information processing.
  • To present live digital data and information to operators in context to machinery.
  • To enable offsite experts to provide remote support to frontline workers.

The project uses VISR’s VERTX platform combined with Microsoft’s HoloLens to digitally connect the workforce with the plant or asset. It replaces task wayfinding and paper-based information processes with a digital system representing state-of-the-art worker augmentation powered by a bespoke workflow and safety management engine capable of providing step-by-step instructions and ensuring safety processes for even the most complex of tasks.

The technology gives onsite technicians real-time access to expert onshore guidance and visual support during inspection and maintenance.

VISR’s VERTX platform has been successfully tested on and offshore and is proven to reduce downtime and travel requirements, and support optimised asset maintenance projects. The technology has the potential to reduce emissions by 2% and deliver cost efficiencies of approximately 35%, which could equate to annual savings of £2.1mn for a typical offshore asset.

Industry alignment
While individual projects and technology developments are key to building a modern, digitalised and integrated offshore energy sector and beyond, a collaborative whole system approach is vital.

The Offshore Energy Data Strategy (OEDS) Taskforce, set up in 2021, was funded by NZTC, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), and the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) to identify ways to maximise the opportunity and impact of digitalisation for the offshore energy sector. The taskforce outlined where and how different organisations should coordinate their digital and data strategies to establish an integrated offshore energy sector.

The publication of the OEDS report in June 2022 was a big step forward in aligning data and digital strategies across the sector. The report identified clear strategic and workstream recommendations to create the conditions for better data sharing and digitalisation initiatives.

The report acknowledged that creating a collaborative and interconnected digital ecosystem within the energy sector will help reduce emissions and enhance efficiency whilst accelerating growth in offshore wind, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), hydrogen, and wave and tidal generation. Without this coordination and common approach, adopting digital solutions to enhance operating efficiency and reduce emissions will be much slower.

Establishing a legal framework

There is currently no legal framework in place for sharing data reliably and securely within the energy sector. To tackle this, NZTC and industry partners are establishing a Data Trust, a proof-of-concept project that will put in place the technologies and the legal framework for sharing data reliably and securely across the industry – with an initial focus on oil and gas well plugging and abandonment (P&A) projects.

Creating a legal entity and digital technology framework to manage commercially sensitive project data will be a truly game-changing concept, where data value can be harnessed by wider industry and not just by the individual organisation that owns or manages it.

The Data Trust is also complemented by NZTC’s Offshore Energy Data Architecture (OEDA) project, which will demonstrate the standards needed to enable data catalogues to be more easily established and shared across the industry, creating a strong foundation for industry to build on.

Stewarding the monumental shift in how we process, manage, interpret and share data to unlock its immeasurable value is being driven by the recently formed Offshore Energy Digital Strategy Group (DSG). The DSG, comprising regulators and industry contributors, will advocate cross-sectoral coordination and standards, building on existing work and driving the adoption of improved data sharing practices across multiple industries.

Momentum to overcome the barriers to digital innovation across the energy sector is gathering pace. Successful digital transformation will provide the foundation for developers, operators and the supply chain to confidently make decisions to support the infrastructure planning and optimisation required to create an integrated offshore energy sector.

Other industries have already demonstrated how the application of digital tools and technologies that enable leveraging data at scale can revolutionise processes and the efficiency of operations – the energy sector needs to catch up.

Written by Steve Roberts and published in New Energy World Magazine here

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