Technology, Innovation & Decarbonisation in the Energy Sectors

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Cross-industry collaboration essential to usher in new era of decarbonization through digital twin technology


Digital twins deployment has accelerated in recent years, with technological innovations such as AI, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality all driving the shift towards a new era of digital analytics. Digitalization is key to achieving net-zero targets, with successful decarbonization ultimately requiring a cross-industry approach with multiple stakeholders collaborating on common goals.

This was among the key messages of the Digital Twin USA conference which closed on October 5th, a two-day online event organised by Cavendish Group and attended by executives and leaders across the oil and gas industry.

Speakers from companies such as Schlumberger, Shell, Chevron, BP, TotalEnergies and Saudi Aramco discussed how the industry is turning to digital twins to solve a range of issues, such as reducing unplanned outages and maintenance, monitoring operations and workflows, improving efficiency and reducing emissions.

The oil and gas industry is turning a corner when it comes to leveraging data, and digital twins and the merging of  the physical and digital worlds have almost unlimited potential to unlock opportunities to improve efficiency and decarbonise.

Maintenance of oil and gas physical assets is moving from a predictive model to a prescriptive one, where AI and machine learning drive decisions and make ‘intelligent’ and actionable recommendations.

Against that backdrop, the US is leading in the digitisation revolution.

Energy security and reliability have risen to the top of the agenda as fossil fuels continue to maintain a central role in the energy mix amid an escalating energy crisis, and as the role of the US in the global LNG market becomes more prominent, leading to companies rapidly scaling up their digitisation efforts amid a push to decarbonise operations.

“Sustainability has become one of the biggest drivers for operations and business transformation” for companies in recent years, Lourdes Reyes, Regional Business Development, Americas at Schneider Electric said.

“Oil & gas operations alone contribute 10% of global emissions leading to increasing pressure to decarbonise operations and to take net zero commitments with deadlines as soon as 2050, 2030 or even sooner.”

“Digital is key to addressing these challenges, and the technology exists today in order to achieve sustainability goals and stay profitable,” she said.

“We see digital integrated into every aspect of our business. Our core digital strategy aims to increase asset value, modernise the value chain and enhance employee and customer experience” Frank Cassulo, Chief Digital Officer at Chevron said. 

‘We’re turning a corner when it comes to data. We’ve yet to even fully realise what potential that data can drive in our industry,” he added.

“We see a lot of foundational capability being put in place today, such as AI and machine learning, and we’re exploring the capabilities of blockchain and distributed ledger. We see the acceleration in this space picking up.”

Emission tracking is a priority for decarbonising the energy sector and Chevron is implementing key technology to tackle emissions in its operations, including an LNG carbon footprint tool, he said. 

The conference heard how having reliable, ‘clean’ data and breaking data silos is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed by companies that are considering investing in these solutions.

A key challenge in digital twins is also how to “cluster information and knowledge to start creating value” Salla Eckhardt, Director, Digital Building Lifecycle & Innovation, Centre of Innovation at Microsoft said.

“There needs to be a meaning for how we create, record and manage data so digital twins don’t become a veneer for something that’s from the past century.”

“We need to start looking at digital twins as more proactive, predictive and preventative tools for avoiding executing the same processes and mistakes from the past,” she said.

With 70% of digital projects failing because of a lack in user acceptance, training employees and ensuring digital literacy across all business units involved is another aspect that must not be overlooked by companies.

Addressing potential cybersecurity risks arising from increased digitisation is a further major challenge faced by the industry.

“Harmonising data and managing behaviour change are among the biggest challenges we’ve faced in our digital twin programme,” Jim Schneider, Solution Manager at Chevron said.

At the same time “the beauty of working in a digital world is that changes have a much lower cost compared to traditional oil and gas projects,” he added.

“The power of a digital twin, especially when you have live and static data combined, is to contextualise information. Using AI and machine learning, you can run simulations and extrapolate when and how a machine is going to fail,” Ken Nguyen, Digital Program Manager,  Capital Projects, bp said. 

“The key to implementing a digital twin is to separate the data from the visual representation. That enables you to be flexible as to how you present the data, regardless of the chosen technology” he added.

At the same time, as technologies evolve many new applications are being developed by companies to address a range of needs.

Oil and gas is still going to be an important part of the energy mix in future but it has to come from higher quality fields, better producing and more sustainably operating assets” said Kongsberg Digital’s CEO Shane McArdle.

At the same time, “while there is a focus on Energy security the energy transition is still here, and we see investments in hydrogen picking up as well as in big CCUS projects,” he added.

“The high oil and gas price allows the energy industry to invest in more expensive, riskier green solutions.”

Against that backdrop, “Digitisation is a huge trend, and is becoming much more pervasive and scalable,” he said.

US-based Cityzenith is partnering with cities including New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago to deploy its Urban Digital Twin software which allows data collection on specific areas and buildings to understand how to reduce emissions.

“We have data at city scale that tell us where are the biggest opportunities and at individual building scale, to tell us how to specifically decarbonise and monitor that project to success over time”, Cityzenith’s CEO Michael Jansen said.

The company’s core product, SmartWorldOS is a system of systems tool which can be adapted to different uses, including asset management and decarbonisation.

Cityzenith is also developing two new web-based products designed to allow different users to build digital twins.

The first one, TwinUp allows architects to import all their building projects into a common virtual earth model. It’s like InstagramPro for Architects meets SimCity, allowing architect to create on online shareable portfolio of digital twins of their own design projects that they can share with their building owner customers for asset management over the lifecycle of the project.

TrustedTwin is aimed at building owners and allows them to aggregate all asset management and dynamic data in one portal and to monitor and search for any information about anything in their buildings, while in the office or on the go.

US company XSB has developed SWISS, an AI-based tool that transforms static engineering documents into interoperable, reusable, and machine-readable model-based data that reduces time cost and risk throughout the product life cycle.

“Engineering documents are stuck in the 1990s, with companies often still relying on static PDF documents. PDF is a poor container for data, and creates great difficulties in consuming the information like requirements, tables, equations, and more. This leads to project delays, errors, risk and frustration” said Andrew Bank, Strategy & Business Development at XSB / SWISS.

“Our long term vision is to evolve this digital model data into an AI digital assistant that answers questions for you” he said.

Another exciting application is the one developed by Cintoo: its cloud-based system allows to turn 3D point cloud into high resolution 3D mesh, so that the data is shareable, collaborative and distributable among all stakeholders.

The technology “sits at the converging point between digital twin and reality capture addressing the issue of using data in a collaborative way,” Cintoo’s CEO Dominique Pouliquen said.

Meanwhile Ansys, a global leader in engineering simulation, has developed proprietary digital twin technology that delivers high-fidelity, real-time data of operational assets.

“Developing new technologies to meet ambitious environmental goals is time-consuming and often-cost-prohibitive. Digital twins illustrate challenges before the occur, breaking down barriers to new energy production concepts,” said Anchal Jatale, North America Energy Team lead at Ansys.