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How IoT is giving the energy industry a power boost

When you think of the energy industry, you generally think of oil wells, pumps, mining equipment, and oil tanks. Increasingly, IoT sensors and analytics software can be added onto this list, but not olives, salad, and cinnamon, no, that is another list (and do not mess that up, either!). IoT has the potential to help yield considerable savings for utilities and energy companies.

This could help them better maintain equipment, increase production, manage supplies, avoid outages, and identify safety hazards. This is particularly appealing given the fact that oil prices have remained depressed since the beginning of 2016.

Let us take a look at how IoT is changing the operations of commercial energy companies.

Comprehensive data capture

As per a 2016 Ernst and Young survey of 75 oil and gas companies, 68 percent of them had invested more than $100 million in data analytics in the last two years, according to The New York Times. Comprehensive data capture can help to provide millions of dollars in savings for oil and gas companies by eliminating a significant number of well outages and increasing crude output.

Conoco Phillips, a leading energy company, has installed sensors across its shale fields in the Eagle Ford basin in south Texas. According to the company, the data it was able to collect and analyze from the installed sensors enabled it to cut in half the time taken to drill fresh wells.

Using the data obtained from hundreds of IoT sensors, the company’s personnel were able to modify the weight positioned on a drill bit and the speed of the drill bit. This helped to hasten the extraction process. According to the company, if this technique is applied to all the wells that it plans to drill in the Texas basin, the IoT sensors would be able to provide literally billions of dollars in savings.

The company has started using data analytics in the Eagle Ford basin and has seen immense possibilities for the application of IoT sensors. The company uses both custom and off-the-shelf programs, together with data repositories for its data analytics program.

Detection of wear and tear

Earlier this year, Dell unveiled the Edge Gateway 3000,  a new series of servers specifically designed for IoT-based environments. These servers execute data analytics-related processing at the edge of the network. An automation company called Emerson proposes to offer the Dell servers to oil and gas, chemical, and power companies.

Dell

The target application is for monitoring the conditions surrounding control valves. By using IoT sensor data, the company can detect wear and tear on rotating equipment or pumps. It also proposes to collect predictive indicators and vibration data for this purpose. If you want to see an incredible movie on some of this, just watch “Deepwater Horizon,” which was a spectacular movie (though it does take place on an oil rig, it is still relevant).

Automation for increased efficiency of management

The company WellAware says that its IoT platform can assist oil and gas companies to achieve record levels of operating efficiency and savings. The WellAware platform is made up of network infrastructure specifically built for remote oil fields apart from analytics tools.

A company called Welder Exploration and Production has reported using WellAware on a significant number of wells. By way of deploying IoT-based infrastructure, the company has been able to replace a manual gauging process with an automated process, saved about $340,000 in costs and decreased downtime by about 50 percent.

Given the fact that data is obtained in real time from wells, the company’s trucks make fewer trips and the associated wear and tear on those trucks is also reduced.

Monitoring and predictive analytics

IoT sensors help provide a real-time view into energy production and can help move away from centralized energy generation. This can allow companies to get a remote view of the state of health of solar panels and wind turbines.

This kind of remote monitoring can help maximize the output and uptime for these devices. For example, consider the situation where a solar panel has been installed in a desert and has been fitted with IoT-based sensors. In real time, you can understand the state of health indicators for the panels and also its production numbers. Thus, IoT can give a leg up to efforts enabling renewable energy and decentralized energy production.

Smart grid and smart meters

IoT smart sensors can help in optimizing energy distribution and usage. For example, smart thermostats fitted with IoT sensors can automatically switch off high-power devices during times of peak demand. Thus, blackouts and brownouts can be averted.

Smart meters can help track energy in a lot more precise manner. They have the ability to take more than 17,000 readings every year.

More data means that better optimization can be done. With an accurate picture of how consumer consumption of data varies, utility firms will have the ability to obtain significant savings. Also, smart meters can help implement time of use type of tariffs. Time of use tariffs not only enable energy efficiency but also give an incentive to customers to adapt their energy usage habits accordingly.

Improved customer experience

IoT is not just about producers getting a real-time view of energy produced or distributed. IoT is also making a difference at the customer end. There are smart station devices that are geared toward enabling consumers to better manage their residential consumption, which means they can save money — and that is always positive. There are some devices that allow you to set a monthly budget with the temperature automatically adjusting according to that. Thus, IoT can help improve the quality of the customer experience.

Intelligent management of assets

IoT is bringing sterling advances in financial and technical management of grid-connected assets. The assets belonging to a utility are diverse, generally complex, spread over wide geographic areas, and are costly to monitor, install, and replace. Asset management has generally relied on visual inspection and pre-designed schedules for preventive maintenance.

However, condition-based maintenance as opposed to preventive maintenance, has been growing in importance and relevance over the years. Ideally speaking, asset management should be a continuous process rather than relying only on preset preventive maintenance schedules. This is where IoT can make a big difference for utilities.

IoT has already made significant inroads into the the utilities and energy industries. In the years to come, with the emphasis on smart-grid analytics and automated asset management, this trend is only poised to become even more prominent.

Photo credit: Wikimedia