A number of energy corporations and utility providers are stepping up their commitments to sustainability and lowering carbon emissions. There is a plethora of technology that will be used to complete these tasks. Oil and gas majors are leaning more and more to diversify their energy mixture. Utility providers are not only listening to their consumers but watching their energy usage as well. The implementation of these efforts uses technology that has been developed immensely in the past decade. Although there are far more, I will list five technologies that will have a huge impact on the sustainability of energy generation, transmission, and distribution.
The addition of AI in the energy sector is automating processes like streamlining in areas of the oil and gas industry. This would make these processes more efficient by using big data and cloud technology. In 2018, researchers from the management consulting firm McKinsey performed a study that showed on average, offshore platforms were running at only 77% of maximum production potential. This placed the oil and gas industry’s performance gap at about $200 billion. However, correctly implementing data analytics systems and tools could overcome the operational complexity of O&G operations. As a result, this would quickly yield returns greater than the original investment by reducing waste, accidents, and bottlenecks.
The use of AI in the power sector is now reaching emerging markets. Its impact on developing clean, cheap, and reliable energy is essential to economic productivity and industrial growth. Challenges such as meeting peak demands and better understanding customer usage can be addressed over time by transferring knowledge of the power sector to AI software companies. The power sector in developed nations has already begun to use artificial intelligence and related technologies that allow for communication between smart grids, smart meters, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
An advantage of AI in utilities is energy management. As alternative energy sources have become more affordable, they have been utilized in homes and businesses. AI can manage a large inundation of additional energy sources like wind, solar, and energy storage. Thus triggering bi-directional flows of energy and the creation of so-called prosumers. A study from Deloitte with Utility Dive has shown that residents are open to additional services from their utilities such as improved monitoring and management of their energy usage. Utility providers are in a lucky position being that they hold mountains of customer data and a large amount of data for machine learning to learn against.
Various utility companies are using AI as a way to protect their grid and employees, as well as manage energy flow based on its use and production. For instance, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is working with multiple utility companies in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Their purpose is to inspect Transmission and Distribution assets, which is safer in comparison to current inspection methods. As a result, this eliminates the risk of injury for current power employees. Implementing this method has been more efficient for identifying failing and potentially failing electrical equipment.
Smart Grid Technologies
With the world being more globalized, the advancements of technology, and the rise of living standards, the consumption of power also rises. As more power is being used it will become harder to manage the number of blackouts and brownouts for many grid systems. In order to manage this, the grid has to become smarter to ensure that certain are receiving the energy demanded. A smart grid is an intelligent network that has an automated control and monitoring system. A smart grid incorporates some of the most advanced and automated technologies making it more dependable and sustainable, improving existing energy management systems. Some smart grid technologies include energy management systems. This is a computer-based system that can monitor, control, measure, and optimize energy usage in a given facility. Similarly, Advanced metering infrastructure, IOT, and Demand response programs are being used to match grid response to the interaction of utility companies and their consumers to evaluate power use, compute costs, and manage appliances remotely. This will help when making load distribution decisions and discovering problems.
Acquiring Renewable Energy Sources
Energy companies are investing in renewable sources such as wind and solar energy to rely less on those that produce high amounts of carbon emissions, like oil and coal. A study from Deloitte with Utility Dive has shown that residents are interested in their utility companies investing in more renewable energy sources. This matches a study done by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in their December 2018 report, Energy in the American Mind, which found that 85% of American registered voters support requiring electric utilities to transition to renewable energy. In March 2021, renewable sources accounted for about 42% of ERCOT’s energy generation.
Although renewable sources of energy are better for the environment, there are still issues of intermittent power disruptions. This is where Energy storage can fill in the gaps during those disruptions. As companies look to use more renewables and the prices of energy storage options continue to fall, the option of sectoral integration can be used. Sectoral integration, or pairing wind and storage, is used to supply energy during times of heightened demand. Investment in giga factories continue to roll-out and large-scale battery storage facilities will naturally follow in order to complement the growth in wind and solar energy output. As a whole, storage offers the capability to tackle multiple energy issues at the same time, including frequency regulation, load balancing, and wider grid management services.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
As we already know, the issue with using fossil fuels as an energy source is the overproduction of Greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide (CO2). This issue has given way to many startups that have been able to implement some innovative processes to store or reuse carbon dioxide from emissions or in the atmosphere. Startup companies such as CO2 Solutions are investing in this technology using a natural enzyme that exists in all living organisms-carbonic anhydrase. This enzyme plays an important role in respiration by influencing CO2 transport in the blood. Another startup, Carbon Engineering, uses an air contractor to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide into a solution to produce a liquid rich in carbon dioxide. This solution can then be stored underground or used in industrial applications like making plastics, such as polyurethane.
Oil and gas companies have joined in the trend by working to capture and store the emission created by their generation. NRG Energy is partnering with JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration to develop a 240 MW commercial-scale post-combustion CCS project at an NRG generating station in southwest Houston, Texas. This project is designed with the capacity to capture 5,200 short tons of CO2 per day from combustion plants and use or sequester 1.8 million tons of this greenhouse gas annually. Chevron is leading a project in western Australia transferring natural gas to a liquified natural gas plant near Barrow Island. Once the natural gas is extracted and the process is at full capacity, the CO2 emissions will then be captured for use or stored 1.5 miles underneath the island.
While there is still a majority use of fossil fuels, companies have taken big steps to become more environmentally conscious. Utility providers are adding more renewable energy sources to their mix. Oil and gas companies are doing the same as well as investing in more ways to decrease the release of carbon emissions. There is still a long way to go, but it’s important to remain consistent with the currently implemented programs and continuously invest in research with the purpose of providing sustainable energy in a way that is safe for the environment.
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