Hurricane Laura illustrates need for refinery optimisation
In our final article on Fujitsu’s White Paper, we explore how the company’s optimisation technology and services can help transform the energy sector.
The recent events of Hurricane Laura striking the US have emphasised Fujitsu’s ongoing call to action for greater sustainability in the energy sector through tech-based innovation (as highlighted in its recent ).
With the Gulf Coast, East and Midwest of the country affected, the effect on oil refineries has been significant; sites in Texas and Louisiana , a course of action which also impacted pipelines and electrical grids.
CBS estimated that 84% of oil produced in the Gulf region was effectively taken off the market (1.6 million barrels per day). This comes as only the latest in a series of blows sustained by the 2020 oil and gas industry, of which 60 companies have officially filed for bankruptcy, even as prices of crude are currently experiencing a rebound.
Refineries are a delicate balancing act
As discussed in the ‘Reimagining resource allocation optimisation’ section of the Fujitsu White Paper, asset management can be a difficult and delicate task, often requiring informed and highly coordinated decision-making that human capabilities alone cannot cope with.
The aforementioned shutdowns of refineries are far from simple or even safe procedures, especially when maintenance or repair work is factored in. Steps could include draining liquid hydrocarbons, water washing columns and complex welding.
Furthermore, a by The Canadian Fuels Association typifies the complexities of meeting optimal market demand: refining too much ignores the limited marketability and mixed value of oil, while too little places high importance on imports, eliminates high-level domestic employment and ultimately weakens the local economy.
The best approach, the report concludes, is one wherein domestic demand is met with a modest surplus remaining available for export.
Although this may mean that extraneous refineries are shut down, the remaining active sites could benefit from “improved efficiency and expanded capacity.”
Fujitsu: driving energy’s optimisation
As we have throughout our series exploring the ways in which Fujitsu can help transform the energy sector through sustainability and digital technology, COVID-19 has remained a prominent factor in the conversation and refinery optimisation is no different.
Social distancing rules are likely to have a disruptive effect on the industry, particularly as inefficient, people-driven processes continue to prevail.
Most energy companies still manage resource allocation with human beings - usually, resource managers manually juggling spreadsheets and making decisions based solely on who looks to be available next, as noted in the White Paper.
However, with digital tools such as Fujitsu’s quantum-inspired , many of the prevailing disruptions experienced while striving for refinery optimisation can be reduced, improved or managed in a more holistic way.
North American companies that recognise the value of the company’s argument - energy can be reimagined and technologically optimised to succeed both financially and economically - can go one step further by completing Fujitsu’s .
Combining practical advice on AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and quantum capabilities, energy companies can find out how Fujitsu can support their business priorities and develop a roadmap for sustainable future growth.
How technology kept energy flowing through the lockdowns
With the UK Government’s plan for leaving lockdown underway, organisations across the utilities sector are looking forward to returning to a semblance of normality.
The start of 2021 wasn’t what most had hoped for – after the lockdowns of 2020, the new year presented the UK with 'Lockdown 3.0'. But this time there was a difference. This was the first lockdown taking place during winter months, and for energy companies in particular, cold weather typically brought a spike in demand.
However, organisations had been through this twice before – albeit in warmer weather – and therefore many were in better positions to continue to provide excellent customer service despite the tight restrictions that were in place. With the lessons that had been learned from the previous 12 months, businesses have been in a better place with much greater understanding of how to ensure their employees can keep working.
Low temperatures = high energy use
The UK rarely sees winters as cold as the recent storm in Austin, Texas where during its coldest day, the state’s average temperature was just 11.8 degrees Fahrenheit – or -11.2 degrees Celsius. But that doesn’t mean that the months of cold British weather don’t cause their own problems. Particularly this winter with the majority of the country working from home, many would be cranking the central heating up and using more electricity for lighting during the darker days and evenings.
This rise in energy usage meant that suppliers were working harder than ever to ensure that homes were kept warm. During lockdown, completing maintenance in houses, offices, or any other site is trickier than usual, as companies have had to limit the number of workers they send to a single location. But as mentioned previously, lessons have been learned, and new technologies have been integrated by many companies to ensure that they could cope with the challenging situation.
How scheduling saved time
With the country moving in and out of lockdown in 2020, there was likely to be a backlog of jobs going into 2021 that didn’t get completed last year. Prioritising scheduling will have been necessary for many companies to ensure that this latest lockdown didn’t push them further behind.
Scheduling software is being adopted by a range of utilities companies to help speed up this process. These applications can identify a backlog of jobs in one geographical area and ensure that local teams can focus on these jobs first and move between them quicker. This is more productive than, for example, completing the tasks in order they were initially due, which could force teams to retrace their steps over the course of a week traveling to different sites and likely take longer overall.
Scheduling applications also help ensure that the right workers and resources are sent to the right jobs, reducing the number of repeat visits required to complete a repair. When it comes to compliance, having detailed schedules in place is also enabling companies to better meet strict SLAs when carrying out maintenance – this preparation ensures they have everything they legally require. Similarly, newly automated audits are speeding up this process, meaning workers can complete jobs and move onto the next site quicker.
While scheduling can of course always be carried out manually, companies that have integrated software which is designed to map out their jobs saves time, reduces the margin for error and eases the pressure on teams. Crucially, this has meant that customers haven’t been left waiting for long periods of time during the latest lockdown for essential maintenance to be carried out.
Using video to spread the workload
Another solution that has been making a positive impact on customer experience during lockdown is the increasing adoption of video-based remote assistance.
In the ‘new normal’ where limiting face-to-face contact is a priority, any technology that can reduce the number of people visiting multiple locations, and the amount of time they need to spend there, is beneficial. Video-based remote assistance is enabling gas and electricity maintenance workers to complete their jobs with less risk to themselves and others – be it workers from other organisations on-site, such as Highway Maintenance, or members of the local community.
A smaller team can attend a job, and should they require advice from a more experienced team member, they can use the video livestream to show a supervisor the situation they’re dealing with and complete the job themselves under guidance. This reduces the number of workers that need to attend a site at one time, thereby helping the business to deploy resources more widely, and maximising labour utilisation when potentially dealing with a reduced workforce during the most recent lockdown. The supervisors working remotely can assist multiple maintenance workers in one day without travelling between locations, helping to reduce any potential spread of asymptomatic illness.
What the future holds
While these technologies have been on the rise recently due to the restrictions of COVID-19, according to Gartner, the next few years will see field service management tools continue to transform the mobile worker industry.
Last year, the analyst firm predicted that by 2025, algorithms and bots will schedule over two-thirds of field service work for field service providers dependent on automated schedule optimisation, up from less than 25% in 2019. In the same time period, we will see over 50% of field service management deployments include mobile augmented-reality collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools, up from less than 10% in 2019.
As far as 2021 is concerned, solutions such as these will continue to help energy – and other utilities – companies supply all customers with a consistent service regardless of the seasons.
The latest lockdown may have been the most challenging as the stakes were higher during winter, but rapidly developing technology innovations combined with the government’s lockdown exit strategy mean that it shouldn’t be long before life returns to a semblance of normal. And with it, utilities companies will have the technology in place to boost efficiency and productivity beyond what we’ve seen before.
Marc Greggains is Director of New Business Commercial Sales at TotalMobile