Aug 23, 2016

Five of the UK’s biggest ever oil discoveries

3 min
The United Kingdom’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has awarded more than £200,000  in the final stage of its exploration license compe...

The United Kingdom’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has awarded more than £200,000  in the final stage of its exploration license competition designed to pique further interest in offshore oil and gas exploration in the UK Continental Shelf.

As part of the competition, geoscientists and engineers could be awarded up to £30,000 to develop their work into a final product to be used by the OGA. Winners included Australian geoscience firm FROGTECH, private company Geop4ysics and not-for-profit earth sciences consultancy Geoscience Wales.

The exploration license contest comes amid a period of turmoil for the UK’s North Sea oil industry. In May, the sector posted a loss to taxpayers for the first time in its history, with the Treasury putting £24 million more into investment and decommissioning than it got back in petroleum revenue tax for the 2015/16 tax year.

With the government trying to incentivise new oil discoveries and developments, we take a look back at some of the most significant oil and gas fields in the country’s history.

The Forties oil field is thought to be the largest oil field in the North Sea based on both cumulative production and remaining reserves. Discovered in 1970, it was BP’s first major oil find, producing some 500,000 barrels of oil during peak production in 1979.

In 2003, Houston’s Apache Corporation purchased the field for more than US $800 million. As of 2010, Forties has produced more than 2.6 billion barrels of oil. Decommissioning was meant to start in 2013, but the life of the field was later extended by another two decades.

Located about 60 miles north east of Aberdeen, the Buzzard oil field was discovered by PanCanadian in 2001. Now owned and operated by China’s Nexen, the field came on stream in 2000.

Last year, the Buzzard field produced its 500 millionth barrel of oil — outdoing an initial lifetime estimate of 486 million barrels of oil. The field is now expected to produce some 850 million barrels of oil until 2027.

Chevron holds an 85 percent interest in the Captain oil field, which lies some 90 miles north east of Aberdeen, with Korea Captain Company and Hanwha Energy holding the remaining 15 percent. Captain first began producing oil in 1997 and was initially thought to contain around 350 million barrels of recoverable reserves.

When Catcher was discovered in 2010, it was hailed as the biggest oil discovery since Buzzard. At the time, it was reported that the field held more than 300 million barrels of oil. Premier Oil operates the field and holds a 50 percent stake, while other partners include MOL Group and and Cairn Group, who hold 20 and 30 percent stakes, respectively.

Catcher is expected to produce its first oil in the middle of next year.

Maersk Oil discovered the Culzean gas condensate field in 2008. Its total resources are thought to be between 250 million and 300 million barrels of oil equivalent. At peak production in 2020/21 it will produce enough gas to meet five percent of the UK’s total demand. Production is due to start in 2019 and will continue for over a decade.  

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Jun 12, 2021

Why Transmission & Distribution Utilities Need Digital Twins

Petri Rauhakallio
6 min
Petri Rauhakallio at Sharper Shape outlines the Digital Twins benefits for energy transmission and distribution utilities

As with any new technology, Digital twins can create as many questions as answers. There can be a natural resistance, especially among senior utility executives who are used to the old ways and need a compelling case to invest in new ones. 

So is digital twin just a fancy name for modelling? And why do many senior leaders and engineers at power transmission & distribution (T&D) companies have a gnawing feeling they should have one? Ultimately it comes down to one key question: is this a trend worth our time and money?

The short answer is yes, if approached intelligently and accounting for utilities’ specific needs. This is no case of runaway hype or an overwrought name for an underwhelming development – digital twin technology can be genuinely transformational if done right. So here are six reasons why in five years no T&D utility will want to be without a digital twin. 

1. Smarter Asset Planning

A digital twin is a real-time digital counterpart of a utility’s real-world grid. A proper digital twin – and not just a static 3D model of some adjacent assets – represents the grid in as much detail as possible, is updated in real-time and can be used to model ‘what if’ scenarios to gauge the effects in real life. It is the repository in which to collect and index all network data, from images, to 3D pointclouds, to past reports and analyses.

With that in mind, an obvious use-case for a digital twin is planning upgrades and expansions. For example, if a developer wants to connect a major solar generation asset, what effect might that have on the grid assets, and will they need upgrading or reinforcement? A seasoned engineer can offer an educated prediction if they are familiar with the local assets, their age and their condition – but with a digital twin they can simply model the scenario on the digital twin and find out.

The decision is more likely to be the right one, the utility is less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen complications, and less time and money need be spent visiting the site and validating information.

As the energy transition accelerates, both transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities will receive more connection requests for anything from solar parks to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to heat pumps and batteries – and all this on top of normal grid upgrade programs. A well-constructed digital twin may come to be an essential tool to keep up with the pace of change.

2. Improved Inspection and Maintenance

Utilities spend enormous amounts of time and money on asset inspection and maintenance – they have to in order to meet their operational and safety responsibilities. In order to make the task more manageable, most utilities try to prioritise the most critical or fragile parts of the network for inspection, based on past inspection data and engineers’ experience. Many are investigating how to better collect, store and analyze data in order to hone this process, with the ultimate goal of predicting where inspections and maintenance are going to be needed before problems arise.  

The digital twin is the platform that contextualises this information. Data is tagged to assets in the model, analytics and AI algorithms are applied and suggested interventions are automatically flagged to the human user, who can understand what and where the problem is thanks to the twin. As new data is collected over time, the process only becomes more effective.

3. More Efficient Vegetation Management

Utilities – especially transmission utilities in areas of high wildfire-risk – are in a constant struggle with nature to keep vegetation in-check that surrounds power lines and other assets. Failure risks outages, damage to assets and even a fire threat. A comprehensive digital twin won’t just incorporate the grid assets – a network of powerlines and pylons isolated on an otherwise blank screen – but the immediate surroundings too. This means local houses, roads, waterways and trees. 

If the twin is enriched with vegetation data on factors such as the species, growth rate and health of a tree, then the utility can use it to assess the risk from any given twig or branch neighbouring one of its assets, and prioritise and dispatch vegetation management crews accordingly. 

And with expansion planning, inspection and maintenance, the value here is less labor-intensive and more cost-effective decision making and planning – essential in an industry of tight margins and constrained resources. What’s more, the value only rises over time as feedback allows the utility to finesse the program.

4. Automated powerline inspection

Remember though, that to be maximally useful, a digital twin must be kept up to date. A larger utility might blanche at the resources required to not just to map and inspect the network once in order to build the twin, but update that twin at regular intervals.

However, digital twins are also an enabling technology for another technological step-change – automated powerline inspection.

Imagine a fleet of sensor-equipped drones empowered to fly the lines almost constantly, returning (automatically) only to recharge their batteries. Not only would such a set-up be far cheaper to operate than a comparable fleet of human inspectors, it could provide far more detail at far more regular intervals, facilitating all the above benefits of better planning, inspection, maintenance and vegetation management. Human inspectors could be reserved for non-routine interventions that really require their hard-earned expertise.

In this scenario, the digital twin provides he ‘map’ by which the drone can plan a route and navigate itself, in conjunction with its sensors. 

5. Improved Emergency Modelling and Faster Response

If the worst happens and emergency strikes, such as a wildfire or natural disaster, digital twins can again prove invaluable. The intricate, detailed understanding of the grid, assets and its surroundings that a digital twin gives is an element of order in a chaotic situation, and can guide the utility and emergency services alike in mounting an informed response.

And once again, the digital twin’s facility for ‘what-if’ scenario testing is especially useful for emergency preparedness. If a hurricane strikes at point X, what will be the effect on assets at point Y? If a downed pylon sparks a fire at point A, what residences are nearby and what does an evacuation plan look like?

6. Easier accommodation of external stakeholders

Finally, a digital twin can make lighter work of engaging with external stakeholders. The world doesn’t stand still, and a once blissfully-isolated powerline may suddenly find itself adjacent to a building site for a new building or road. 

As well as planning for connection (see point 1), a digital twin takes the pain out of those processes that require interfacing with external stakeholders, such as maintenance contractors, arborists, trimming crews or local government agencies – the digital twin breaks down the silos between these groups and allows them to work from a single version of the truth – in future it could even be used as part of the bid process for contractors.

These six reasons for why digital twins will be indispensable to power T&D utilities are only the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities are endless given the constant advancement of data collection an analysis technology. No doubt these will invite even more questions – and we relish the challenge of answering them. 


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