Accelerated Adoption: Natural gas sector picks up pace with smart automation

Natural gas sector picks up pace with smart automation

A significant percentage of the Indian populace uses wood or charcoal in kitchens, leading to the depletion of natural resources and pollution through emission of greenhouse gases. In the industrial context, too, the dependence on traditional fossil fuels is very high. Accelerated adoption of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas is being seen as key to India playing its part in climate change control. As the Government of India actively promotes clean fuel for domestic and industrial applications, Sujeet Gohil, director, sales, Energy Industries, ABB India, talks about how the company, a thought and action leader in energy solutions, is bringing its global expertise to help expedite the process.

What is the need for clean energy in India?

Aside from our role in general, in helping the world fight climate change, India is committed to the global community, as a member of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21), to reduce emissions by at least 33 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030. This is an enormous task, a key enabler for which would be clean cooking fuel. Human activity is a predominant contributor to climate change. In India, a human activity to control is the use of wood or charcoal for cooking and traditional fossil fuels in industries, in order to effect change through responsible human behaviour.

Will the switch to natural gas fuels really make a major impact?

ABB has wide-ranging involvement in the global clean energy effort. At the most strategic end, this includes industry participation – ABB is a member of the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance (ECH2A), an alliance exploring hydrogen as a superior clean energy alternative; and Peter Terwiesch, president of ABB’s Process Automation business, of which energy solutions is a key component, is a member of the executive council at ECH2A. But we also look at enabling everyday transformations, such as converting ferries and yachts into clean energy-powered vessels.

Our commitment to sustainability is evident from our 2030 sustainability strategy target of “actively enabling a low-carbon society as well as working with our customers and suppliers to implement sustainable practices across our value chain and life cycle of our products and solutions”.

From this experience of ABB in enabling sustainability worldwide, one key insight is that every single effort matters. And, given the widespread prevalence of fossil fuels, especially in cooking, our opinion is that the clean fuel effort in India will ensure real results in controlling emissions of greenhouse gases.

How easy will it be to make this transition to clean fuels?

If structured right, LPG and natural gas use can be a major game changer. One can just look at the series of initiatives, programmes and policies that the Government of India has announced in the recent past to appreciate the role of natural gas in meeting the clean cooking fuel agenda.

Amongst the most visible initiatives is the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, a social welfare scheme. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 1, 2016, with the target of distributing 50 million LPG connections to BPL families, this scheme indicates the government’s resolve to replace traditional, inefficient, polluting sources of cooking fuel with LPG and thus also effectively contributing to elevating the quality of life for a number of households.

Can the adoption of LPG and natural gas really be accelerated rapidly?

LPG and natural gas are quick wins for energy ubiquity. People require them since they address wide-ranging energy needs. The focus, therefore, is on how projects can support this increased demand, and on wider implementation.

With our fast growing population, India is an energy-intensive market. While LPG has achieved a high degree of maturity in adoption and infrastructure, the focus needs to move to forms of natural gas now, whether liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG) or biogas. We definitely see the need for aggressively pushing LPG into rural markets and bridging the deficit in natural gas, especially LNG, to meet increasing demand as two focus areas in the short to medium term.

What can be done to make the process faster and more efficient?

To ensure that LPG and natural gas play an integral role in the clean cooking fuel effort, it is important to plan quick inventory movement and evacuation, minimising the sitting cost of inventory. Digitalisation and analytics, including that of data integrated on consumption points, will be key to understanding demand trends and planning for them from a seasonal volume and geographical distribution perspective. Logistics and inventory tracking and analytics will be key to reducing time and gaps in forecasting, optimally managing distribution from terminal to consumer.

For LNG, it is essential to opt for regasification, with refrigerated products being gasified and compressed to make them easier to send to the hinterland and remote areas. Current natural gas pricing trends make it commercially challenging for operators to adopt, what and a well-structured policy, in addition to regasification, will help.

Of course, technology has an essential role as well; depending upon constantly evolving demand, this could be in the form of land-based terminals or floating storage regasification units. Industries are looking at control systems solutions to monitor energy spikes, peak hours, weekend use, wasted hours and more. Automation has several answers across the entire value chain from import/production to consumption for the pipeline, supervisory control and data acquisition, leak detection, and safety. Automation not only helps in bringing improvement in systems and processes, but also in identifying areas of energy efficiency as a large part of sustainability efforts.

How is ABB contributing to this effort?

Smart energy is a key focus area at ABB globally. We are driving innovation and a distinct effort towards developing solutions that help a growing world meet energy demands sustainably. We are the catalyst to these initiatives, helping the industry become smarter and leverage digital and automation solutions to get better results from operations. Automation solutions allow the monitoring and managing of energy, and capturing the value of industrial costs such as energy.

For both LPG and LNG, we bring deep process knowledge, safety and power, with solutions encompassing automation, digitalisation, electrification and analytics. For LPG, we have supported the development of innovative blending solutions involving propane and butane. This has helped optimise prices and allowed the offering of LPG in multiple grades for different uses such as industrial, domestic or auto-gas, with different calorific value requirements.

ABB has been the driving force behind some large projects, including one of the largest projects with an integrated architecture of a common platform and loading operations through our ILM Pro solution. Particularly on this project, our impact covered effective operations, process integration, safety and power.

India is a unique market for clean fuels. For LPG and CNG, there has been significant action on setting up distribution networks for household and commercial use nationwide. This level of activity and action needs integrated expertise across the distribution chain.

What is the future looking like?

The ecosystem is conducive for hyper-growth in the adoption of natural gas for domestic and industrial use. Government efforts are aligned to make this fuel more widespread. They are raising the share of natural gas in the energy basket through expansion of the national gas grid and investment in gas infrastructure building. Oil and gas companies are building capacities and infrastructure to meet rising demand.

Clean fuels today go beyond just being a buzzword, an interesting dinner conversation or an esoteric concept being explored by scientists in a lab. They are a critical need of the hour for humans to meet the existential threat of climate change head on. India is also taking a lead with various initiatives, and we are sure to see exciting times ahead.