The fast changing technology landscape has lent significant dynamism to the way businesses are being run in recent times. Developments in the city gas distribution (CGD) business are no different. Innovative solutions are enhancing competition in the CGD space, where players are striving to expand their market share by adopting state-of-the-art applications to improve their services, especially crucial aspects such as operational safety. In the CGD business, there is a plethora of technology solutions catering to operational safety. Optics is one technology that is offering new applications such as infrared camera-based imagery.
Infrared cameras’ potential in CGD
While infrared cameras are many decades old, their application in the CGD business is yet to gain popularity. The technology has proved its worth with regard to predictive applications, particularly in pointing towards imminent electrical and mechanical faults. Essentially, an infrared camera converts invisible infrared radiation into a visible image. The underlying principle for this technology is known as “infrared thermography”.
In CGD, it holds significant potential as it can detect gas leakages in the scanned area, and also provides a real-time “visual” of the same. The company deploying the application can save these images and maintain archives. An analysis of this archived data can help avert serious incidents and reduce the probability of their reoccurrence.
One of the most important features of an infrared camera is the ease of isolating the impact area (the area where the leakage has taken place) from the rest of the system. The real-time visualisation facilitates exclusion of areas that do not require action, resulting in cost and time savings. Besides, while inspecting the system, measurements can be carried out remotely, as the infrared camera has the capability of detecting gas leaks even from a distance. The non-contact instrument can also be used at locations that are difficult to access. Detection identified at an early stage reduces the emergency response time, effective time, resources and personnel management.
Companies such as FLIR are key manufacturers of these infrared cameras. With a wide scope for application, these instruments can change the way gas companies carry out surveillance and maintenance of their asset base.
- Strict regulations and protocols that govern CGD companies are to trace, document, fix and report gas leaks, providing a strong case for greater adoption of this technology.
- Installation of infrared cameras helps in predictive maintenance, a trend that is becoming a new normal in the oil and gas value chain. Any minor change in the condition of pipeline structures can be visualised in real time to enable quick and adequate response.
- Early detection of failures can prevent a possible systemic breakdown, which can lead to a loss of property and also life, at times. Containing the scope of damage and “localising” it by preventing its spread helps in saving loss of life and property.
- Significant attention has been given to the CGD sector in the past couple of years. The eighth and ninth rounds of auctions held by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board to award fresh geographical areas were received with much enthusiasm. While progress in 136 new areas awarded under these two rounds has large variance across the country, the eventual expansion of the CGD network presents a strong case for having effective and innovative applications for ensuring safety.
Infrared cameras have the potential for greater adoption in many industries, including natural gas distribution. The technology is easy to use and maintain, and has significant cost benefits over its life cycle. Increasing thrust by the government to move towards a more gas-based economy provides a strong ground for the deployment of such innovative solutions.