Innovative technologies are changing the way city gas distribution (CGD) companies do business. In this respect, digitalisation has emerged as a niche area in the gas segment. From the adoption of digital technologies to the installation of smart meters and telemetry devices, deployment of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and use of dashboards, analytical tools and innovative software, CGD companies are increasingly incorporating smart solutions to improve their operational efficiency. Going forward, these smart solutions will hold immense potential and are expected to see higher uptake. Smart Utilities takes a look at some of the key remote monitoring solutions adopted by CGD companies…
The downward pressure on commodity prices continues to be a significant issue and the outbreak of Covid-19 has further exacerbated the situation. In order to survive in the current market situation, oil and gas companies have to increase the pace of technology adoption. Major exploration and production companies in the oil and gas sector have already increased the adoption of digital technologies. Digital adoption has become important to not only sustain operations during Covid-19 but also for undertaking operations and maintenance, and maintaining liquidity.
GAIL Limited is in the process of implementing a 5,000 km long pipeline, with every 200 km of the pipeline being monitored by digital technology. The state-owned natural gas company is also interacting with other public sector undertakings for keeping itself abreast of other areas of digitalisation. Treading on similar lines, Cairn Oil and Gas is deploying technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud computing. It has also started using data-driven technology for reservoir management and predictive analysis for reducing the downtime of equipment while digitally connecting all the oilfields to monitor the performance of wells. Meanwhile, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has deployed neural networks for collecting data related to the reservoirs. The use of digital solutions has helped ONGC in maintaining production at near-normal levels.
The outbreak of Covid-19 and the resulting work-from-home situation has expedited the adoption of technological solutions across companies. What was supposed to be implemented sequentially is now being implemented parallelly. Digital technology supports social distancing, allowing employees to work efficiently from remote locations. Digital tools do more than enable communication and collaboration. They allow engineers and operators to plan and monitor operations remotely, automate manual tasks, streamline processes, and support operational integrity and process safety. Cloud computing, advanced analytics, remote monitoring, mobile apps, etc. are some of the technologies currently in use within oil and gas companies.
Metering plays a crucial role in the CGD sector. It ensures accurate measurement of gas consumption, which is billed for revenue collection. This helps in the proper reconciliation of accounts. Meters are installed at compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. However, the existing metering technologies and equipment are prone to human error, and wear and tear. Incorrect meter readings lead to leakages, which create gaps between the gas supplied and consumed.
A number of CGD players have started adopting smart metering solutions to improve service delivery. An emerging metering trend in the CGD segment is smart prepaid gas meters. These meters not only measure the gas consumption (through gas flow) but also use wireless communication to connect to a local or wide area network that enables infrastructure maintenance, remote location monitoring, and automatic billing by the CGD company. Besides, these meters have a valve to stop the gas flow when the credit in the prepaid account reduces below a certain level.
There are several innovative smart metering solutions available. Automated meter reading solutions offer a plethora of benefits to CGD companies such as enabling rapid deployment, ensuring better reconciliation between distribution points/ loss tracking, providing insights through the dashboard, promoting energy conservation, and guaranteeing end-to-end data security.
Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) has successfully deployed prepaid smart meters, supplied by Genesis Gas Solutions in partnership with Tata Communications’ LoRaWAN internet of things network. With this, IGL has become the first company in the country to deploy this technology. These smart meters have enabled customers to monitor their gas use accurately on a real-time basis. As a result, IGL has eliminated human errors in manual meter reading, thereby optimising its capacity planning and improving operational efficiency.
SCADA is one of the most crucial operational technology solutions for the CGD network. It has been deployed by major CGD operators in the country with a threefold objective of ensuring safety, reliability of service, and cost-effectiveness in the pipeline network.
Over the past few years, the CGD network in the country has expanded at a rapid pace. The pipeline network is quite complex and needs to be monitored continuously through automation and control systems. One of the key operational monitoring technologies is SCADA. A SCADA system typically consists of a human-machine interface, supervisory (computer) system, remote terminal units, programmable logic controllers and communications infrastructure. Its application in the CGD network helps in solving problems of data acquisition, monitoring and control, scheduling and management. Furthermore, its varied applications such as predictive maintenance through analytics, distributed industrial control and timely detection of leakages for safety shutdown make SCADA indispensable to the functioning of CGD operators.
Many CGD companies have installed SCADA systems and are using them extensively for their gas operations. The largest producer of crude oil and natural gas in the country, ONGC has deployed SCADA systems to remotely monitor, control and manage its geographically dispersed production and drilling facilities, oil basins, processing plants, forward bases and other assets. Similarly, IGL has deployed SCADA systems to process, monitor and control parameters such as temperature, flow rate, and gas pressure at its CNG stations. For piped natural gas supply, sectionalising valves are monitored from the central control room (to maintain flow pressure) and this is carried out through an integrated SCADA system. In addition, GAIL (India) Limited operates a state-of-the-art centralised SCADA system for real-time monitoring and controlling of cross-country natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas pipelines. Considering the importance of SCADA for its operations, GAIL has implemented an additional firewall in the SCADA-IT (enterprise) interface to strengthen the security of the system. Adani Gas Limited’s network is completely SCADA controlled while Gujarat State Petronet Limited’s gas grid is equipped with the latest bidirectional gas transmission technology to enable a two-way gas flow.
Other technologies that are finding an increasing number of takers, looking to monitor their assets with greater precision and in real time, are enterprise resource planning (ERP), terminal automation systems, geographic information systems, satellite surveillance solutions, etc.
ONGC has deployed ERP as a part of the Information Consolidation for Efficiency Project for enabling the standardisation of business processes. Under this project, a complete ERP package comprising 23 modules such as mySAP Oil and Gas Upstream (for joint venture accounting and for the management of production sharing agreements and offshore logistics), mySAP Product Lifecycle Management and mySAP Strategic Enterprise Management have been installed in over 500 offices. Further, ONGC has set up 3D virtual reality centres called Third Eye for real-time supervision of oil and gas fields.
The way forward
Bringing together numerous applications and creating a unified data stream could have a significant impact on the industry. Effectively integrating and deploying digital technology across the oil and gas sector has the potential to reduce costs and drive efficiencies, both critical for navigating the immediate effects of Covid-19 and the long-term implications of energy transition.