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How Can Digital Technology Build a Sustainable Future and Deliver Impact?

David Paul

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digital technology

The use of technology is accelerating, particularly due to COVID-19. Darren Martin, Group CTO at Wood, spoke at DIGIT’s Digital Energy Conference about how the operator is preparing the world for a new reality.

We are also currently in strange times. COVID-19 is accelerating the use of digital technology in field services for operators maintaining vital assets that not only help power society, but keep it safe.

Wood Group is working “for a new world reality”, according to the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Darren Martin, speaking at the Digital Energy Summit.

“Wood is positioning for the new opportunity being created in the energy and build environment markets,” Martin said.

“Including the acceleration of energy transition towards more renewable sources and sustainable infrastructure, all of which is underpinned by digitally enabled solutions.”

The technical, engineering and project services company is working to use technology to enable easy communication and smooth operations between individuals working on “mission-critical assets” in the field and professionals and site personnel during the pandemic.

“It has been more of a challenge to connect some of the field services people and the tradecraft professionals that we have all over the world, from Alaska through to the Middle East, to Asia and Africa, with some of the expertise that they draw on to maintain critical assets,” Martin explained.

“For us, under our ‘Connected Worker Programme’ we have been very much focused on how we remain connected to these individuals,” he added.

COVID-19 has caused there to be fewer workers in the field, with some needing to self-isolate or care for a family member, and the pandemic has had a major impact on the resources utilised by these assets, due mainly to transportation issues.

Martin continued: “We are finding ways of adapting, and ensuring that vital construction work, vital energy provision and vital manufacturing work continues during this crisis.”


Maintaining real-time connectivity

In a situation such as COVID-19, site personnel must be always connected to remote engineering expertise. This is where real-time connectivity comes in.

“For us, our way of dealing with that is to, wherever possible, enabling real-time connectivity – connecting the site personnel to remote engineering expertise – potentially from individuals that are now working from home and maintaining as much as possible the connection between the expertise on the ground with the assets, offshore and localised resources that we can draw on,” Martin said.

These connections must be maintained to ensure that crucial assets, such as energy production or vital supply chains, are maintained and help society to continue functioning.

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Although COVID-19 has accelerated the transition toward using digital tech dramatically, Martin noted that the move towards remote-connected assets was a trend that the industry was already moving towards.

“We were starting to see more and more requirements coming through from operators for normally unmanned facilities, reducing the number of people being put in harm’s way on potentially heavy industrial assets,” he commented.

“There are other parts of the world where we have already deployed this remote connectivity technology for field services people for them to stay connected without them having to have many people out in the field.”


Operational Efficiency

The use of technology can also help to improve efficiency and increase the productivity of a company’s assets.

People in the field can be connected much more quickly and efficiently, as well as enabling workers in particularly remote areas to stay in contact.

“Many of the places where our assets operate from are extremely remote, and some of that connectivity infrastructure isn’t necessarily there,” said Martin.

“We have had to adapt some of our technologies to still communicate effectively by reducing bandwidth demands on those connection packages, so we can operate where bandwidth isn’t quite as sophisticated.”

So far, the technology has proven successful, but with the advent of COVID-19, problems with connectivity are now occurring closer to home.

People around the world have reduced the amount they travel, and a drop in consumption influences plans that many companies put in place before the pandemic erupted.

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These businesses are now looking increasingly towards reinvesting in existing assets and optimising them through emerging technologies to increase yield and longevity, and to reduce overall costs.

Martin believes that there is opportunity to use digital technology to create value and deliver “better integration across disciplines, asset organisations and players” in the value chain.

“COVID has accelerated and re-focused the original intent on optimisation through digital enablement,” he asserted.

“We are seeing fewer project coming through, but those projects that are now being re-focused towards existing assets have a renewed urgency to get the modifications and optimisation in play.”

Before the outbreak, the attitude of “I can do it myself” was common across many industries. The virus has forced many to re-think, with many now collaborating with technology and engineering companies such as Wood to solve big challenges.


Renewable Energy and Digital Technology

There is currently a drop in demand for oil. As people stay at home and reduce travelling to a minimum, commodities such as fuel for cars and airlines are no required less.

Oil prices recently dropped below $0 for the first time in history, and in the US some of the operators are having to pay for storage rather than sell their products.

This drop in demand and production will see demand for renewable energies increase after the pandemic, Martin insisted, and technology will be a key component in this.

“We had already placed some very strong bets on digital enablement for an energy transition,” he said.

“We have several initiatives on the way where we are doing some ground-breaking work with our partners, including Microsoft, to optimises renewable assets, including wind turbines and solar production capabilities.”

Martin believes that changes such as these, plus developments in emissions monitoring in cities, are going to be pivotal in some of the changes in society as a result of COVID-19.

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Many companies are looking to transition their business into renewable energies, particularly in the current climate, but there may be capital constraints on the speed that major infrastructure makes that transition.

Martin said: “We are very focused on positioning ourselves for how we can help some of these companies can reduce their carbon position towards zero in a world where there is less potential for capital investment.

“What can we do at a cost-neutral position to enable clients to move more towards those carbon zero goals.

“There is a great deal that can be done with technology to achieve that.”


Beyond Coronavirus

These challenges being face now are hyper-focused around COVID-19, but what about when the pandemic slows down, and how is the industry going to have changed?

“I think it is becoming apparent that there isn’t a return to normal as a result of this,” Martin said.

“There needs to be a new normal. In some cases, we are going to see some organisations questioning why they need to be working in offices in the way that they work? Why do they need such a big real estate footprint?

He added: “We are going to see operations in heavy industry rethinking how many people are going to be needed out in the field, but in the meantime, we need to connect up as many people out in that field as possible.”

There have been some unprecedented changes in society. We see some of them changing back to previous patterns, but others will never change back, and in some cases quite rightly so.

“We are looking, adapting and adjusting, and helping out clients to solver their biggest challenges right now, and looking to explore the technologies that we have that are future-ready now, and working with our partners to get ready for that future.”

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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