Automated CNG Stations: Applications, experience and new technologies

Applications, experience and new technologies

Automation brings about efficiency and reliability. At a recent conference on “Di­git­alisation of CGD Networks”, Manas Khaire from IRM Energy Private Limited discussed their company’s experience with new automation systems and digital tools deployed in compre­ssed natural gas (CNG) stations. IRM Energy currently operates in three geographical areas (GAs): Banaskantha (Gujarat), Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab), and Diu and Gir Somnath (Daman & Diu). Some of the recent technologies deployed by IRM Energy are supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), remote monitoring of stations us­ing closed circuit television (CCTV), centralised complaint management systems, mobile cascade pressure monitoring systems and heavy commercial vehicle (HCV) fill post automation using radio frequency identification (RFID).


SCADA encompasses the transfer of data between a SCADA central host computer, a number of remote terminal units and/or programmable logic controllers (PLCs), the central host and the operator terminals. At IRM, all data from dispensers, fill posts and compressors are taken at a single PLC. The data is then transmitted to the control room using GPRS modems.

One of the key advantages of SCADA is that it allows operations at CNG stations to be un­ma-nned. Remote monitoring allows firms operating in large areas to function seamlessly. Data is readily available on a real-time basis at the main control room. CNG rates can be changed remotely, saving a lot of human effort and cost. Dual-rate implementation enables the application of different rates during peak and lean hours. In case of any emergency, the compressor or station can be stopped remotely. Joint meter ratings are generated automatically, resulting in timely preparation of reports with a significant reduction of human error. Further­more, SCADA can generate daily sales figures at any given point of time, which is not possible manually. Expenses incurred during manual collection of data are eliminated. SCADA systems also facilitate trend analysis of process parameters and sales data. As a result of continuous monitoring of data, cases of pilferage and theft can also be avoided. In a nutshell, a SCADA system helps to increase operational efficiency while reducing operational costs.

Remote monitoring of stations using CCTV

Digital video recorders (DVRs) were installed by IRM at its stations to monitor all activities taking place on a day-to-day basis. A DVR is essentially a video cassette recorder that uses a hard drive instead of video tapes. The DVR converts the analog signal to digital and then compresses it. Many cameras can be connected to one DVR. DVRs generally come with 4, 8, 16 or 32 camera inputs. A DVR allows a person to view all of these images either at once or one at a time. All of the video is saved to the hard drive. Additional switches, quads or multiplexors are not required. The video feed from CCTV cameras is transmitted to a DVR and subsequently to the control room through GPRS modems. The absence of human operators at stations necessitates strict security measures. Surveillance through CCTV at CNG stations enables remote monitoring of operations, traffic and activities at the station. The aim is to restrict any deceitful activity.

Centralised complaint management system

IRM developed a centralised complaint management system to monitor multiple complaints re­­ga­rding various pieces of equipment at one place. Operations and breakdown of compressors and dispensers are monitored through this compla­int management system software instal­led at the central control room, which is manned round the clock. A website and a mobile application have also been developed for this purpose. Each sta­tion has a unique ID and password, which can be used to log in to the website and upload speci­fic complaints. Once uploaded, the complaints are immediately shared with all stakeholders, such as technicians, operators and engineers. This ensures that there is no lapse in communication.

The principal advantage of a centralised complaint management system is that complaints cannot remain unaccounted for. The current status of processing complaints is visible to everyone, as complaints from all the three GAs are automatically available on one integrated platform. Ease of communication between operators, vendors and engineers expedites the planning of appropriate corrective actions. One can also observe shutdown hours due to breakdown, maintenance or corrective actions. Moreover, the accumulated data assists in the analysis of frequent issues occurring at the sites.

Mobile cascade pressure monitoring system

IRM Energy is one of the first CGD companies to introduce pressure monitoring of mobile cascades along with a vehicle tracking system (VTS) for enhanced HCV scheduling. A VTS is mandatorily installed in each HCV carrying gas from the mother station to booster stations. Modern VTS commonly uses GPS technology for locating the vehicle. Vehicle information can be viewed on electronic maps via the internet or specialised software. Conventionally, VTS is used for tracking of the HCV location in CGD and monitoring parameters such as speed limit, braking, battery status and odometer reading. IRM has installed intrinsically safe pressure transmitters in cascades and has integrated them with the already installed VTS in all the HCVs. Therefore, using the same VTS, pressure readings of gas in mobile cascades are received at the central control room along with all the conventional parameters, ensuring optimum utilisation and efficient scheduling of HCVs.

The mobile cascade pressure monitoring system provides a range of benefits. Fleet management of HCVs is enhanced. HCVs can be tracked and closely monitored on a real-time basis. Pressure drops or any other kind of theft can be immediately identified. Speed and distance travelled can be monitored in real time to control over-speeding and rash driving. Users can thus verify the security of their assets through transit tracking and monitoring of varied parameters.

HCV fill post automation using RFID

RFID is a wireless technology with software and hardware elements that allows industrial organisations to develop automatic identification and access control. It facilitates direct interaction with devices such as sensors, actuators and flowmeters. IRM has issued RFID cards for each and every vehicle, containing all of their details. Following a similar method as the above-mentioned technological systems, field devices such as fill posts’ flowmeters, pressure transmitters and RFID readers locally communicate with the field PLC. Thereafter, all the cumulative data is transmitted to the central control room through GPRS modems. With the use of RFID, the dependency on operators is minimised. As the level of human intervention in any such system decreases, the accuracy of data improves, since human errors are eliminated. RFID automatically generates HCV logbooks for fill posts. HCV numbers are promptly identified and logged. Additionally, hose-pulling incidents are minimised.

The way forward

According to the International Energy Agency’s forecast, the consumption of natural gas in India is expected to rise by 25 billion cubic metres by 2024 at an average annual growth rate of 9 per cent. It is expected that over the next four years, 4,500 CNG stations will be added to the current network of 2,700 stations. With growing demand and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, it has become imperative for CNG stations to adopt the latest technologies. The use of analytics, mobile platforms and cloud solutions can create value for businesses by improving operational speed and customer convenience. IRM is eager to deploy digital solutions for asset mana­ge­ment and maintenance. It is working towards ma­­intaining a comprehensive database of all ve­hi­­cles arriving at CNG fill stations for better servi­ce delivery. Artificial intelligence-based tools can be used to reduce queuing time at CNG stations.