Part 2: Reaching sustainability through innovation and permission

John Westerheide's picture
John Westerheide, Program Manager – Energy Systems & Reservoir Performance, GE Global Research
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In Part 1, I raised the need for the oil and gas industry to devote time and resources to gain the necessary “social license to operate” with natural gas projects.

The conversation begins with technology and innovation, which provide an unbiased context for discussions with all stakeholders, no matter what their perception of our industry might be.  If we successfully share our message outside our industry through the lens of technology, which is backed up by physics and fact, the perception of what we do and how we do it will evolve and lead to the ever-important permission we seek.

Digitisation of our industry plays a key role in driving innovation and creating transparency around what we do and how we do it.  Through gathering and analysing data, we can better understand the true state of operations. Making informed decisions based on data can help drive economic improvements and prevent unplanned events from occurring. A classic example is moving operations from interval-based maintenance to condition-based maintenance. Putting data to use in this formula allows operators to only intervene when needed, improving their economics.

Keeping a constant eye on operations can also help operators see or predict future disruptions before they happen. Using this continuous stream of linked data about a capital asset creates the ability to build a digital simulation of a real asset, a digital twin. Digital twins can continuously run simulations that can better help our customers determine when, where, and why failures might occur.  Armed with this understanding, they can take action to prevent incidents while improving operations. For example, at GE Global Research we are doing this by collaborating with customers, NGOs, and government-sponsored technology groups to develop new technology that can economically detect methane leaks, analyse and report methane emission footprint, and allow customers to proactively mitigate methane emissions efficiently and effectively.

Operators don’t have to choose between economics and the environment. Through its commitment to Ecomagination, GE has achieved success in both areas simultaneously. We have invested $17 billion to develop clean technologies and our Ecomagination portfolio has generated $232 billion in revenue. Today, we are expanding our Ecomagination focus beyond individual technologies to broader systems that work in harmony to provide economic and environmental benefits for our customers. Understanding how one piece of a system affects another often means the difference between successful implementation or failure. However, if we only focus on the technology of a system and neglect the business model associated with the system, the technology may never be used at all.

Partnerships tie all of this together. I believe partnerships are the most important aspect of achieving a sustainable and economical answer to global energy systems. GE can invest millions in technologies, but if the investment isn’t based on solid data from a customer, then we are working in the dark. No single company or supplier can solve this problem in a silo. As an industry, we need to honestly face the challenges that exist and collaborate across businesses, regions and corporate functions. We all have skin in the game and the solutions are out there. Technology and innovation provides a common language, enabling us to create perceptions based on facts and secure the permissions needed to continue creating global economic growth.

Join the Conversation: Do you agree with John? Does digitisation play a key role in driving innovation in the natural gas industry? Leave your comment below.

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