Digital solutions key to sustainable energy sector

By Sian Lloyd Rees, Conference Chair, ENGenious Online 2020

Developing digitally enabled individuals with transferable skills is essential to create a relevant workforce for the future
Developing digitally enabled individuals with transferable skills is essential to create a relevant workforce for the future (photo: Aker Solutions)

Quicker and broader adoption of digital solutions is a key element in the future sustainability of the energy industry, never more so than in the current operating climate. Progress has been made and is being further accelerated right now as we all adopt a more remote operating environment, but other industries have moved faster and it is time to both follow their lead and learn more quickly from each other.

The energy industry faces continual pressure to operate more efficiently and with a lower carbon footprint. The downturn of a few years ago forced companies to realise greater efficiencies, often achieved through use of digital solutions enabling wider gathering, distribution and analysis of information to streamline activities.

Once again, our industry is facing a major crisis, as oil prices have reached new historic lows amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Improving efficiency has never been more critical.

Digital transformation
We need to demystify the hype around digital transformation. There are practical examples throughout the industry where digital solutions are being used to measurably change the way in which work is conducted. The use of robotics, remote monitoring of equipment offshore, digital platforms reducing months of design and engineering work to weeks, digital twins developed at design phase leading into optimised asset performance during life of field as engineering, manufacturing and test data are brought together with live-streamed operational data. A recent field development in the North Sea was designed from concept to enable automated drilling, digital twin, field worker tools and digitised logistics to support operational and maintenance planning.

Cost and speed are key, whilst ongoing improvements in the efficiency of equipment and people offshore also support the drive to reduce emissions and deliver a sustainable energy transition.

Many of these solutions will be showcased at ENGenious Online 2020, the sister event to SPE Offshore Europe. Originally scheduled to be held in Aberdeen from 22-24 September, the decision was made to switch to a virtual conference and exhibition in light of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The online event will focus on solutions in our industry, what other industries are doing which is relevant and equally importantly how they have implemented the change needed in their business. There will be two sessions:

  1. Fit for the future – learning from each other
    While each company will choose its own approach, we can all learn from listening to what others have done. This panel will share some examples of what is already underway and where we see future opportunities
  2. Fast track to the future – learning from other industries
    This session seeks to showcase both innovative and established solutions from industries as diverse as healthcare, military, space, automotive, supply chain, remote sensing and banking, enabling us to re-imagine our own business models.

ENGenious-Online2020Understanding how digital technology can be used to improve areas ripe for optimisation is a starting point and being open to how other industries are operating, which may not bear any immediate relevance to our business today, will also enable us to progress more quickly.

Incremental approach
The evolution of the banking industry, from high street to internet and app-based self-service, is a good example of an industry which started on a particular digital route and ended up, through insight gained along the way, with a very different business model than originally foreseen. Adopting an incremental approach such as this encourages the digital mindset needed to build cultural change, accelerate the adoption of new ways of thinking, and establish new business models.

AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics are widely used in manufacturing and can provide direct relevance for large parts of the energy industry for both low cost operations and to enable lower carbon solutions. Remote operation of offshore floating wind solutions has the potential to further drive down costs for this sustainable energy solution.

Data sharing can be an understandably contentious issue where it affords competitive advantage, but both the banking and pharmaceutical industries have data sharing platforms for aspects of confidential and sometimes proprietary information, so it can be done. Strides are being taken in this direction and there are now several industry repositories where organisations are sharing data, particularly where collective value can be achieved.

In the defence industry, combat pilots are being retrained to fly drones. This has parallels for remote visual inspections and there is undoubtedly an opportunity to learn from the challenges experienced regarding re-skilling.

Digital tools and mindset
Much future value for the energy industry will be driven by equipping those with deep, domain knowledge with the right digital tools and mindset to apply this knowledge in different ways. In the next decade, roles will be required which do not currently exist in areas such as data science, AI and machine learning. Developing digitally enabled individuals with transferable skills is essential to create a relevant workforce for the future.

Transitioning to a lower carbon future makes the industry an exciting proposition for the next generation. However, multiple industries are competing to attract the necessary digital skills, so the energy industry must continually evolve to remain an attractive option for current and future employees.

The energy industry has a history of extraordinary achievement and a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce. To continue to thrive, adapt and drive towards the next stage of our energy future we should embrace the opportunities which digitalisation offers to progress at pace.

Sian Lloyd Rees, Conference Chair, ENGenious Online 2020In a career spanning more than 25 years, Sian Lloyd Rees has extensive business experience as a senior leader in both energy and IT industries, having held a number of leadership roles in both blue chip and start-up companies.

The domain knowledge and global focus gained in the energy industry, coupled with the pace of evolving digital strategies and entrepreneurship encouraged in the IT industry, have both contributed to a proven track record in developing new and profitable business opportunities. She is the UK country manager and SVP Europe & Africa for Aker Solutions, a global provider of solutions and services across the broad energy sector.

Lloyd Rees is co-chair on the Board of Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) and was co-chair for the OGA MER Supply Chain & Exports steering group.