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A single silver bullet?

The energy sector is under enormous pressure as expectations for more cost-efficient and sustainable operations grow.

To play its part in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, the oil and gas sector will need to reduce emissions by at least 3.4 gigatons of carbon-dioxide equivalent per year – a whopping 90% reduction in current emissions. Paired with growing expectations of safer yet faster and more profitable production, both established and emerging energy sector players could really do with a silver bullet. 

A silver bullet is a seemingly simple solution to a not-so-simple problem. And that’s just the thing the industry needs – a quick fix to transform heavy asset industry operations and fast-track industrial digitalization. At a glance, it might look like we already have our silver bullet: machine learning. Or it could be the digital twin. Or innovations focused around achieving net-zero emissions, maybe? 

Like our SVP of Digital Energy Shane McArdle often says, there is no single silver bullet – and judging from the heads nodding in agreement every time this is mentioned in both casual conversations and more formal settings, it seems the sentiment is shared by many. The challenges of digital transformation in the industry are big enough that it might take several silver bullets. 

Luckily, we already have some of these silver bullets at our disposal: 

  • Industry players are embracing innovative technologies 

As we emerge from a tough two years of a global pandemic that forced us to rethink the way we work, companies are welcoming the adoption of new technologies and encouraging innovation through digitalization. Digital twin technology will continue to settle into its place as part of everyday operations for everything from asset performance monitoring to dynamic simulations, workflow execution, and emissions reporting as companies realize that repositioning of the energy industry is inevitable. The growing acceptance of digital twin technology and its ability to change processes throughout the heavy asset industry is a polished silver bullet that we should continue to leverage, especially considering the impact that digitalization can have in supporting and driving the shift to greener energy. 

  • A solid foundation for further innovation 

Many of the challenges that were dominant during the initial phases of digital twin tech adoption have already been solved. For example, setting up solid data foundations and quality pipelines for a digital twin are solved challenges, as are building out workflow processes like simultaneous operations (SIMOPS) planning within a digital twin environment. Another example: improved monitoring of maintenance processes through a digital twin can already help to reduce intermittent flaring to minimize methane leaks – further innovation in these areas is at risk of becoming redundant. 

Industrial software providers have addressed many of the major industry challenges, and new players in the arena need to understand what has been done and move on to more exciting, unsolved challenges that are connected to real business cases. Talking to the market, identifying areas for innovation, and partnering with other industry players to ensure that solutions will have the most impact on the largest number of users across the sector is an actionable silver bullet. 

  • Confidence in the twin’s ability to change the way we work 

Industrial digitalization is complicated. Data is usually siloed, business processes and tech strategies aren’t always aligned, and operators are bogged down with dozens of tools for different assets, with a high dependency on many of these systems. Digitalization may require upskilling in digital literacy, license fees for the various systems in use can run high, and interoperability that supports data transfer is increasingly difficult.  

But as technology continues to streamline operational processes and improve interoperability between systems by gathering industrial data from many systems into a single comprehensive source, people are beginning to believe in the power of digital twins as data-driven digital tools that can help reduce unplanned downtime while increasing asset reliability. Operators will reap the benefits of embracing the silver bullet of confidence in digital twin technology to change the way the industry works today. 

  • Net-zero and carbon neutral commitments 

The challenge of garnering support for green initiatives has passed – more than ever, there is an awareness of the need to reduce environmental impacts across the board. Pledges to be net-carbon neutral by 2050 are silver bullets painted green, especially considering that: 

  • we have access to data that can be used to calculate emissions 
  • the digital twin has advanced analytical capabilities that can suggest how to optimize energy and chemical usage 
  • it is possible to link workflow processes to the carbon footprint of operations in a digital environment 
  • advanced technologies like smart contracts and blockchain can be integrated into the twin to establish auditable, immutable digital trails for regulatory emissions reporting 

Cumulatively, these offer an approachable and practical way to reduce emissions by simply utilizing information that’s already available in the twin. By continuing to develop technology and innovating around tools that support net-zero ambitions going forward – for example, specific tools that give insights into asset emissions sources and emissions estimates for multiple production scenarios providers of digital twin technology can continue to build in green initiatives for sustainable digitalization and even better: sustainable sustainability. 

  • A single environment that democratizes data 

A few years ago, digital twin technology was mostly associated with buzzwords like machine learning, AI, and virtual reality. It’s not wrong – digital twin technology involves all of these things and utilizes them to offer industrial software with simulation capabilities that make digitalization at scale possible for any company wishing to play an integral role in the energy transition. However, we are finally moving beyond the perception of digital twin technology as a quick fix that magically computes the perfect solutions overnight. 

Rather, the industry is beginning to understand the potential of digital twin technology as a unified environment that breaks down silos to offer a single work surface built natively in the cloud specifically for the asset management process. There is plenty of data available – historical, real-time, and predictive – that can be leveraged, and industrial software providers have built up a wealth of knowledge on how to deal with this data from both a domain and a digital perspective. 

Models, data, and visualization have been brought together in one industrial work surface where real-time data sources provide deeper insights into operations, simulators provide scenario management and ‘what-if’ modeling, and data is made visual so that users can see what it means in the context of a heavy asset facility and its operations. Using this readily available data is a simple win that can be applied to numerous processes to increase energy efficiency and achieve more sustainable, cost-effective operations. 

  • A focus on user adoption and usability 

User-centric design that makes it easy for users to understand and use digital twin technology effectively is an increasing focus for industrial software providers. Operators can embrace the silver bullet of digital twin technology that is designed with the user in mind to support more effective and sustainable ways of working with digital tools. A user experience that is easy to navigate lowers the barrier to technology adoption and makes it easy for anyone to build up the digital competency required to get the most value out of using a digital twin. It also leads to organic culture change and makes the digital twin integral to future ways of working, ensuring that operators can see a better ROI for their investment while equipping workers with cutting-edge technology that understands their wants and needs. 

  • Open APIs and partnerships 

Simple wins like open APIs and industry collaboration are silver bullets the industry has in abundance. Every industrial software vendor can make APIs available to urge on digital standardization for the industry and increase interoperability so that systems can connect and transfer data seamlessly – without keeping data in silos or making tools exclusive to one area of operation. The industry is ready and willing to collaborate so that mutually important challenges can be solved through innovation and partnerships to improve interoperability. And the silver gun for these bullets? A digital twin technology provider that is truly agnostic and encourages new levels of integration and collaboration within and between companies. 

Be strong with silver bullets 

There are silver bullets available to help us move the needle for production efficiency: 

  • Industry partnerships and user-centric technology 
  • Continuous innovation that aims to maximize the potential of digital twin technology 
  • Confidence in the positive impact of technology on existing ways of working 
  • An industry-wide readiness to continue developing industrial software together for more reliable, safer, and greener ways of working  

There is no single silver bullet – and while it may take several of these silver bullets to simplify the complexities of digitalization for the energy sector, it’s time to start leveraging the ones that are available to us today. 

Ready to think big, start small, and scale fast? Check out how you can achieve digital twin success in six easy steps. 

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