Accelerating the energy transition with Edge Computing

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While oil, gas, and electricity are established commodities, the processes for their production, transportation, and distribution are currently undergoing substantial changes. The energy supply chain is in a state of transformation. The oil and gas and electrical utilities industries, which hold pivotal roles in energy supply, are facing mounting pressure to decarbonize their operations. Consequently, both oil and gas and utilities industries are actively seeking methods to improve operational sustainability and energy efficiency, all while keeping costs at a minimum. One common avenue where both industries realize such benefits involves the implementation of edge computing.

Edge computing involves the deployment of small-scale data centers, often referred to as micro data centers and modular data centers, in closer proximity to data sources or users. This approach aims to reduce latency or processing delays, a critical consideration for applications demanding real-time or near-real-time processing. Such applications include data-intensive content delivery and latency-sensitive tasks.

Oil and gas companies and utilities are using edge computing to improve the health and safety of their workers, increase operational efficiency, incorporate renewable energy into their energy mix, increase grid resilience, and enable the energy prosumer.

As companies race to decarbonize and meet ambitious net-zero emissions goals, edge computing will also play a role in managing distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar and wind farms to accelerate the energy transition and increase power grid resilience.

Eli Daccach

Eli Daccach is Global Business Development Leader for Secure Power Industrial Segments, at Schneider Electric.

Driving sustainable energy operations with edge computing

Below are several use-cases of how the oil and gas and utility industries are applying edge computing solutions to make operations more sustainable, safe, and efficient.

1. Pipeline monitoring

Oil and gas companies manage over 2.6 million miles of pipelines across the US According to the U.S. Department of Transportation To ensure safe and clean operation, operators must monitor vibration, temperature, and pressure in these pipelines. Fiber optic communication cables are often installed alongside pipelines, and these connections can be used to monitor pipeline behavior in near real-time. Now, new edge computing software running on regional micro data centers enables the use of the fiber optic network to monitor the pipelines for leaks and other anomalies. This new approach detects issues much more quickly and cost-effectively than in the past, helping to minimize environmental damage should a leak occur.

2. Flare monitoring

Across oil fields and refineries, oil and gas companies employ a safety measure known as gas flaring to relieve pressure and dispose of unwanted waste gas byproducts. For example to conform to the US EPA Method 22 federal regulations, these flaring activities must be monitored for CO2 emissions. However, sending flare-purity data to the cloud and analyzing it is very costly, and bandwidth and latency constraints are significant. To solve this, local edge computing deployments can process that data quickly near the site and then synchronize the gathered data for later analysis in the cloud. The quick breakdown of the data enables compliance with ongoing EPA method 22 reporting standards.

3. On-shore drilling rig protection

Drilling rigs require extensive safety and efficiency monitoring. Rig operators use edge computing to enable intelligent video analytics (IVA), machine learning, and equipment monitoring. This confluence of technologies allows for detecting potential hazards, preventing accidents, and alerting workers in real-time while assigning technicians for maintenance and repair. In a traditional approach, these environments utilized numerous separate systems that did not communicate well with each other. Now, one micro data center running multiple specialty software packages can centralize these monitoring tasks. For example, operators can remotely control one smart camera to inspect flares, scan workers (to check on their safety) and examine truck license plates as they enter the work location − ensuring they have proper identification. This workload consolidation or processing of the combined information occurs locally, enabling rapid consolidation of environmental data and improving safety and security.

4. Power grid maintenance

Edge computing allows utilities to shift from a reactive maintenance approach (implementing power network fixes only after an outage) to a more predictive maintenance system (using smart cameras to proactively perform utility pole inspections). As cameras collect images of pole-mounted assets and power lines, noting whether nearby vegetation poses a breakage or fire threat, local edge computing systems process that image data to indicate whether preventative maintenance is required. The result is lower overall maintenance costs and higher power network uptime.

5. Virtual Power Plants

Networks of small energy-producing or storage devices like solar panels and batteries, known as virtual power plants (VPP), pool their resources to serve the electricity grid. Utilities can tap into their energy during high demand or reserve it for later use. When multiple power sources (e.g., solar, wind, hydro) are available to the VPP, the software automatically determines which power is the cheapest on that particular day and routes it to the proper consumers. Edge computing systems in transportable modular data centers and AI software serve as the technology backbone of many of these VPPs, managing the bidirectional power flow and automating the process for prosumers to sell power back to the grid.

6. Smart Grids

As utilities digitize their networks, smart meters are proliferating across homes and businesses. These local energy data gathering points require edge computing to optimize energy flow, detect grid anomalies, and lower energy delivery costs. When deployed in such a way, edge systems strengthen smart grid resilience by quickly helping to find temporary power sources across the network when outages occur, supplying customers with power until the primary power delivery system is fixed and operational.

The future of the energy sector

As industries strive to meet ambitious decarbonization goals and promote sustainable practices, the incorporation of edge computing serves as a cornerstone for transforming traditional energy processes into innovative, sustainable practices.

Eli Daccach is Global Business Development Leader for Secure Power Industrial Segments, at Schneider Electric.