Innovative technologies are transforming the way city gas distribution (CGD) companies do business. Digitalisation is emerging as a key trend and CGD companies are increasingly adopting smart solutions. Smart meters are important for the accurate measurement of gas consumption, whereas dashboards, analytical tools and innovative software are critical for the analysis of the data collected. There are several reliable technologies available for transmitting data from smart meters – RF walk-by/drive, RF LoRa WAN P2P, RF mesh, NB-IoT, etc. Telemetry devices can also be used to ensure the transmission of data reliably, quickly and cost effectively while ensuring operational efficiency.
GAIL (India) Limited is in the process of implementing a 5,000 km long pipeline, with every 200 km being monitored individually by digital technology. The company is also interacting with other PSUs to stay abreast of the developments in digitalisation. Besides, Cairn Oil and Gas is using technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing in business operations. Data-driven technology is being used for reservoir management. Further, predictive analysis is being implemented to reduce equipment downtime. All oilfields are being connected digitally to monitor the performance of wells. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has deployed neural networks for getting data related to the reservoirs. The use of digital solutions has helped ONGC maintain production at near-normal levels.
Metering plays a crucial role in the CGD industry. It ensures the accurate measurement of gas consumption, which is billed for revenue collection. Over the years, with technological advancements, various metering solutions have emerged and significantly changed the way the CGD business is conducted in the country. A number of CGD players have adopted smart metering solutions to increase their competence and improve customer experience. Some of the key benefits of automatic meter reading systems are timely collection of readings, updated consumption data for detailed analysis, accurate billing and regular interface with SAP for invoicing purposes. They eliminate the need for manual reading, thereby minimising the scope for human error.
In 2019, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) awarded Genesis Gas Solutions a contract for the roll-out of its prepaid smart gas metering system. The new smart meters supplied by Genesis Gas Solutions in partnership with Tata Communications’ LoRa WAN internet of things (IoT) network have enabled customers to monitor their gas usage against available credit more accurately and in real time. This was for the first time that this technology was deployed by any CGD company in the country. Further, in February 2021, Cybermate Infotek Limited was awarded a contract for the supply and installation of IoT devices for the compressed natural gas (CNG) and CGD network of Maharashtra Natural Gas Limited. The company has already commenced the supply of equipment and implementation of automation work.
The supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is one of the key operational technology solutions for the CGD network. The technology has been deployed by major CGD operators in India with the threefold objective of ensuring safety, reliability of service, and cost-effectiveness in the pipeline network. At present, wireless SCADA systems are gaining prominence as they offer better control and speedy transfer of both live and historical data to the organisation’s headquarters. These systems do not entail hefty installation and permit costs, resulting in cost savings. In addition, wireless systems do not have to face issues such as repair bills, machine failure and downtime when environmental conditions degrade the facilities.
Many CGD companies have installed SCADA technology and are using it extensively for their gas operations. Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Limited, GAIL, Adani Gas Limited, Gujarat State Petronet Limited, Haryana City Gas Distribution Limited, IGL, Mahanagar Gas Limited and Assam Gas Company Limited are some of the major players that have deployed SCADA. The technology has proven to be helpful for these utilities, enabling them to combine the monitored data with demand, environmental, physical and gas composition data across the enterprise for business decision support.
GIS integration with SCADA
Geographic information system (GIS) technology has become an important part of CGD business processes, ranging from network planning, engineering, operations and maintenance, to complete management of network assets. It is used to obtain information regarding the area of a pipeline network, the depth at which the pipe is buried, the gas pressure, the diameter of the pipe, leaks and maintenance, etc., collected through surveys and mapping. GIS software can be easily integrated with third-party applications to streamline core business operations and increase general network efficiency. For example, with the help of GIS software, job cards from SAP can be sent directly to field workers, and real-time vehicle tracking can verify if workers are navigating to the correct location. GIS data can also be synchronised with hydraulic modelling and simulation software. Similarly, SCADA information can be displayed directly on a map using a GIS solution.
Many organisations maintain separate GIS and SCADA systems. When these two systems are separate, users often need to enter the same data twice, once in each system. Combining the two systems helps make data entry processes much more efficient. It can also help avoid inconsistencies between GIS and SCADA data. Combining GIS and SCADA enables organisations to visualise dynamic data related to current conditions with static geo-information. This gives an accurate, real-time view of the system.
In recent years, the oil and gas industry has adopted advanced machinery aimed at increasing output. It has also been using information technology (IT) applications for managing and organising data generated from front-end operations. For the oil and gas industry, effective IT and operational technology (OT) convergence can yield noteworthy results such as enhanced extraction efficiency, predictive maintenance of equipment, real-time asset monitoring and tracking, and optimal use of the workforce. Companies such as ONGC and Oil India Limited are taking steps in this direction. While various entities across the upstream and downstream segments are taking steps to adopt IT- and OT-backed solutions in their business processes, the integration of the two sets of solutions is a must to achieve comprehensive efficiency gains. The industry acknowledges that the application of new-age technologies, such as AI, IoT and big data analytics, leads to faster and more accurate operational decision-making.
In the future, CGD will hold a major share in India’s energy basket. The government aims to increase the share of piped natural gas (PNG) and CNG in the country’s energy mix to 20 per cent by 2025. However, in India, the use of analytics in the CGD sector is lower than in any other industry. Cloud computing, advanced analytics, remote monitoring, mobile apps, etc. are some of the technologies currently being used by oil and gas companies. In order to facilitate CGD expansion in the country, gas companies will have to adopt a holistic approach by embedding analytics in all possible business processes. Analytics in the CGD sector will help improve operations, address issues with PNG and CNG supply, and improve infrastructure and asset management.
The Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting work-from-home policies have the potential to expedite some of the changes necessary to support the full integration of digital technology across the CGD network. 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.