Meeting the energy challenge

Antonio Pietri, Tuesday 22 Feb 2022

Egypt can meet the energy transition challenge through digital transformation, writes Antonio Pietri

Meeting the energy challenge

Along with the rest of the world, Egypt is seeking transition to more sustainable sources of energy and has set a goal of generating 42 per cent of its energy from renewable resources by 2030. This comes as the country proves its commitment to sustainability by hosting the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in November this year.

Egypt is looking to advance towards its sustainability goals through the use of clean fuels such as hydrogen and by improving the carbon footprint of the processes of its asset-intensive companies. The journey to sustainability will require the expanded use of less carbon-intensive fuels such as natural gas.

As Egypt’s natural gas industry develops, there is a sustained drive to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies that optimise operations. The Egyptian government has already made impressive advances on this front, focusing on digital transformation within the energy sector itself. The ministry of electricity, for example, has a vision aiming to digitise the power sector, reinforcing Egypt as an international energy centre and regional leader.

There has been a growing understanding of how today’s advanced software helps organisations reduce energy consumption, deliver efficiencies, and support the circular economy. Essentially, this is about enabling innovation while reducing waste and environmental impacts. Digital solutions provide the visibility, analysis, and insight the energy industry needs to address the challenges presented by sustainability goals. Implementation of these solutions is how organisations maximise the value gained from digital-transformation initiatives as part of a holistic approach to the asset lifecycle and supply chain.

Egypt has in fact been using mission-critical engineering solutions for decades, and it is now pushing hard on digital technology to drive sustainability. In the country’s refining industry, organisations are already deploying digital capabilities to optimise and make assets more sustainable.

A large Egyptian domestic oil and gas company, for example, is embarking on a three-phase digitisation initiative across manufacturing and supply-chain functions. The company is collaborating with an American company specialising in asset-intensive digitisation to develop and expand its capabilities and grow the skills of its engineers in the deployment and maintenance of advanced technologies.

These solutions not only reduce the risk of human error, but also allow engineers to focus on more strategic and value-added activities, accelerating the organisation’s success.

Over time, this strategic plan will drive incremental benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars across the multiple refineries involved. As this company’s partners also commence adopting the same technology, benefits will extend along the supply chain to downstream petrochemical and chemical projects.

One of the most-effective technologies for today’s digitisation initiatives are digital twins that create virtualised copies or digital representations of physical assets and operating practices. Using these highly detailed process simulations, companies conduct adjustments and manipulations as if they were real-world objects.

Such technologies can amplify efficiency and sustainability and optimise asset performance across the multiple dimensions of sustainability, safety, and profitability through adaptive models, shared data, and visualisation.

Companies deploying digital twins can select the process scheme and equipment that delivers the greatest energy efficiency and track their emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The simulations help refinery operators select a better fuel mix to reduce emissions while maintaining profitability, for example.

Teams can create steady state emissions-prediction models that are validated and connected to a data historian for online, real-time data collection. Customised dashboards enable teams to monitor the full range of pollutant emissions from several refineries and to chart progress against sustainability metrics, providing an important level of enhanced transparency to external stakeholders.

Many of these solutions were actively discussed at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition Conference (ADIPEC 2021) in the UAE last November, where the energy industry had its first opportunity to discuss key outcomes from the COP26 Climate Change Conference last year. This provided opportunities for mapping out the course the industry needs to take to thrive in a world of sustainable, low-carbon integrated energy value chains.

The global nature of climate-change challenges, however, means that Egypt will require the support of other countries in the energy transition as it pushes towards sustainability in oil and gas. The resulting need for collaboration makes exhibitions and conferences important forums for the pooling of expertise, experience, and innovation.

Climate-change and emissions challenges cannot be overcome by the oil and gas industry single-handedly or in single countries, but we can see how Egypt is already making progress. Its energy sector is demonstrating how to commence with the implementation of advanced digitisation that simultaneously creates new levels of efficiency and innovation while enabling oil and gas companies to operate far more sustainably.

The writer is CEO of US technology provider Aspen Technology.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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