Creating a springboard for progress through improved connectivity

By Carole Plessy, Head of Maritime, OneWeb

OneWeb is building a high speed, low latency communications network with a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will offer game-changing mobility solutions to industries that are currently being held back by the lack of full global connectivity
OneWeb is building a high speed, low latency communications network with a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will offer game-changing mobility solutions to industries that are currently being held back by the lack of full global connectivity (illustration: OneWeb)

Not that long ago, a survey of the North Sea workforce found that few had seen positive impact from the digital initiatives that were still in early development for many companies. OneWeb’s Head of Maritime, Carole Plessy, discusses how better connectivity will facilitate greater use of technology and data access to remove operational barriers and improve the performance of operations in the North Sea.

It was a 2020 survey conducted by OGUK which highlighted that 73% of practitioners were yet to see a positive impact from digitalisation. Legacy organisational processes and structures were cited as the top barrier to innovation. Yet, at that time, over half of the organisations surveyed were piloting at least one digital initiative, and 98% of respondents believed that digital technology has the ability to make a positive impact.

We saw one example of that positive impact just recently, in January 2022, when Neptune Energy announced it is developing digital twins of two platforms in the Dutch North Sea to save money, time and emissions. The company already has another five digital twins of North Sea platforms it operates which allows engineers and integrity specialists to carry out an estimated 4,100 hours of work from onshore locations, improving efficiency and cutting carbon emissions associated with offshore travel.

And in the accelerating offshore wind market, new assets are already being digitalised – thousands of turbines, each equipped with thousands of sensors are producing vast quantities of data that will be used to optimise their operation, improve availability, reduce costs and facilitate further expansion of the industry. The use of data and connectivity will increase further as windfarms are built further from shore – entering some of the remote ocean realms of their oil and gas counterparts all around the world.

The LEO solution
The digitalisation of operational assets can improve worker and process safety, productivity, and reduce environmental impacts as well as enhance asset integrity and provide employees with tools and technologies to collaborate with colleagues globally. Better connectivity allows tools and processes to perform as planned which maximises their benefit. The lower the latency and the higher the speed, the more digitalised operations can be scaled up to reduce the cost of energy production and improve safety around the world.

Demand for fast, seamless and global connectivity solutions from low earth orbit (LEO) satellites is already growing amongst offshore energy companies. Our imminent trials are responding to this and will test and evaluate network capabilities in offshore energy environments. They will initially focus on delivering services to offshore wind farms, drilling rigs and production platforms in the North Sea from Q1/2022 followed by the global coverage including Gulf of Mexico in January 2023.

OneWeb’s offshore marine hardware is about a tenth of the cost of a VSAT equivalent, and LEO satellites provide remote connectivity speeds of up to 10 times that of current offshore connectivity capability with latency comparable to terrestrial services. Once the service is fully online energy and offshore maintenance companies will benefit from OneWeb’s high speed, low-latency and flexible services, giving them the potential to transform their offshore operations.

Reducing costs
The OGUK survey listed lack of investment as the second largest barrier to digital innovation. This is not surprising: the North Sea is a mature basin that is still in a period of slow recovery following the peak of the pandemic. With growing environmental, safety and regulations making operations more expensive, it has created the perfect financial storm.

Greater connectivity will help productivity and profitability, supporting the optimisation of offshore operations by enabling advanced applications including remote control, robotics, big data analysis, predictive maintenance, and environmental monitoring. It can support applications, such as digital twins, remote ROV inspection and robotics and expanded sensors, that help minimise unplanned downtime, and it can help with optimising production, ensuring equipment is always working effectively, improving worker safety and supporting crew wellbeing through more reliable and cost-effective online access for personal communication. However, as the OGUK research highlighted, technology can only take operations so far. The true value that data access can offer will only be realised when the information gathered is used effectively in well adopted processes.

An industry in transition
As the industry responds to the challenges it faces going forward, OneWeb believes that real-time production optimisation tools will be used with multiple solutions running concurrently across different operational areas to improve decision making and de-risk operations. For example, real-time video is already being used onboard subsea vessels to improve decision making around complex operations.

Momentum to move operations onshore is continuing to grow due to greater automation and the ability to make decisions on land using data held in the cloud. Wider uptake of this technology reduces the need to move personnel offshore into dangerous environments and allow those on the facility to complete required work in a timely and safe manner to reduce risk and improve operational efficiency. This is only sustainable if high performance and resilient connectivity is available.

The offshore support vessel fleet is changing to reflect IMO emissions reductions targets and charterer environmental demands. These vessels are increasingly likely to incorporate energy saving technologies onboard along with the means to manage them and monitor emissions in real-time. In addition, many of these work vessels provide critical operations which can benefit from the same onshore engineering and analytical support as drilling rigs and production platforms.

Flexibility will be key to reducing costs across all these applications, and we are responding with a service that enables offshore companies to access services when needed rather than being tied to long term contracts. Being able to rapidly deploy technology with smaller user terminals in a few months rather than embarking on multi-year fibre projects, and doing so across all offshore assets, will enable companies to realise tangible benefits earlier.

Unlocking future potential
Estimates from McKinsey & Company made in November 2020 indicate that taking advantage of advanced connectivity could add up to USD 250 billion of value to the oil and gas industry’s upstream operations by 2030. Of that, USD 70 billion could be unlocked with low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and next-generation 5G technologies for which LEO can provide the backbone.

These numbers are hard to ignore, and with an increasing demand for fast, flexible and affordable connectivity solutions from LEO satellites amongst energy companies, there is recognition that high speed, low-latency flexible services have the potential to continue playing a critical role in transforming the efficiency of offshore operations.

Carole Plessy is Head of Maritime Commercial Development for OneWebCarole Plessy is Head of Maritime Commercial Development for OneWeb, the global communications company that is revolutionising satellite networks to bring much needed connectivity to rural and remote places, and greater connectivity to existing markets. At OneWeb, her focus is on developing global Maritime services for commercial launch to bring high speed connectivity to the seas. Plessy joined OneWeb in 2018 with a background in satellite telecommunications and more than 20 years of business leadership and experience working across R&D and complex project management and product integration. Plessy has extensive knowledge of the Maritime sector based on her previous role at Inmarsat, where she was Senior Director of Digital Products and, prior to that, Director of Maritime Product Development, responsible for new product delivery from concept to launch.