May 17, 2020

5 new advancements in AUV technology for oil and gas

4 min
Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

The oil and gas industry was introduced to autonomous underwater vehicles about 10 years ago for use in mapping out the details of the seafloor pri...

The oil and gas industry was introduced to autonomous underwater vehicles about 10 years ago for use in mapping out the details of the seafloor prior to constructing subsea infrastructure. AUVs are constantly being developed for more uses, with increasingly advanced technological capabilities.

C & C Technologies created the first ever commercially operated AUV for oil and gas exploration. This company caters to a global market and focuses on technological solutions for surveying and mapping. C & C claims to have set the standard as far as deepwater AUV capabilities. The Company has more than 180,000 kilometers of survey experience for more than 62 clients. Data is captured and processed onboard the AUV, and the charts are transferred via satellite to a website—this ensures oil and gas clients gain access to data virtually immediately.

A press release issued by C & C stated: “[The AUV] could help oil companies save a great deal of time and money when conducting ocean-bottom surveys of the sort that precede the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines. Moreover, it could scan the sea floor at much greater depths than previously thought possible.”

Before the development of AUVs, oil and gas companies used a towing method, in which equipment is tethered to a cable and dropped into the water from a boat, which then moves around, ‘towing’ the equipment. A downside to this method is that as the water becomes deeper, the images appear less sharp. In addition, this method can be time consuming and is often disrupted or halted completely when the sea becomes rough. Another drawback is that the cables can become tangled, altering the surveys and affecting accuracy.

Autonomous underwater vehicles require no cables as the machines are operated by a remote control. The AUVs can survey for up to two days straight since the operators remain on the ground. Operating power comes from a fuel cell battery. Nowadays, highly advanced equipment can be secured aboard the AUV for ultra-clear snapshots of the sea floor. The vehicles can also work in deeper waters than the traditional towing method.

AUV technology has been well-received by oil and gas companies. In 2009, Brazilian oil and gas company, Petrobas, awarded C & C Technologies with a $5 million contract. The C-Surveyor II AUV and M/V Northern Resolution are being utilized by Petrobas under the two year contract.

The world of AUVs is continuously growing and changing as technologies advance to further meet exploration needs. The Swimmer system developed by Cybernetix is an electric-powered hybrid of an autonomous underwater vehicle and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). A subsea “docking station” essentially allows the vehicle to stay underwater for lengthy periods of time, and is attached to a facility on the surface by a power and control ‘umbilical.’ This tool was developed collaboratively with oil companies, Total and StatoilHydro.

Last year the software company SeeByte, working along with Subsea 7, developed: “the first truly autonomous vehicle capable of both inspection and light intervention in an offshore environment.” This prototype was supported by BP and Chevron, and will be capable of inspecting pipelines, risers and mooring, as well as giving a general visual inspection.

SeeByte also developed Autotracker—a software system in which an AUV can find pipes for inspections by utilizing data from sonar. “Autotracker, which hit the market last year, guides the AUV to keep a constant offset to the pipeline in order to store high quality information. From the start, one of our missions has been to improve AUVs so that they could start doing things that ROVs are used for,” said sales and marketing manager Ioseba Tena.

A more recent advancement is the introduction of the first robotic underwater vehicle powered 100 percent by natural, renewable ocean-thermal energy. NASA, the U.S. Navy and researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego developed the Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC), an AUV with a novel thermal recharging engine that can be powered by different temperatures at various ocean depths.

"Energy harvesting from the natural environment opens the door for a tremendous expansion in the use of autonomous systems for naval and civilian applications," said Thomas Swean, the Office of Naval Research program manager for SOLO-TREC. “This is a very significant advance."
AUVs have been in existence for some time, although they have not always been recognized for what they are today. For roughly 50 years, these underwater “robots” have evolved their original use in military applications or ocean science research. Today, these highly advanced systems deliver detailed insight into the underwater world for oil and gas companies.


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Jul 26, 2021

Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April

Dominic Ellis
3 min
Ofwat confirms levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue

Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.

The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.

Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.  

In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue. 

Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”  

There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:   

  1. Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps. 
  2. Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold. 
  3. Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice. 

Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.

Anita Dougall, CEO and Founding Partner at Sagacity, said Ofwat’s decision comes hot on the heels of Ofgem’s price cap rise in April.

"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.

"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."

United Utilities picks up pipeline award

A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.

The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.

“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.

Camus Energy secures $16m funding

Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent VenturesWave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.

As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.

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