CERAWeek panel discussion at Innovation Agora

Digital technologies impact on the energy transition

Jay Crotts, EVP and CIO, discusses at CERAWeek what role digitalisation might play in accelerating the energy transition.

By Jay Crotts, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Shell on Mar 15, 2022

Digitalisation alone will not solve the world’s energy problems, but widespread adoption of digital technology will be one of the keys to achieving a net-zero future. Deep decarbonisation of energy infrastructure and consumption will require a comprehensive digital transformation to be applied right across the energy value chain.

The efficiency and economics of modern energy projects are driven by data, which means that digitalisation and the energy transition are inextricably linked. The emergence of advanced digital technologies such as remote sensing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, high-performance computing and blockchain are vastly improving our ability to monitor, optimise and automate operations, and pull the right levers to reduce GHG emissions. These systems have started to transform the energy sector, and that transformation is gathering pace.

Digitalisation helps us to reduce the emissions from our own operations

Digital technologies make it possible to optimise energy efficiency, which helps to reduce the amount of power that must be generated or fuel that has to be burned to produce heat. We gain vital insights into energy consumption and emissions in operations and right across their supply chains. Capturing reliable data is the first step to understand where our emissions come from and reduce them.

In essence, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Digitalisation efforts have helped Shell make dramatic efficiency improvements and emissions reductions in many areas.

Shell’s Real Time Production Optimisation, for example, is a data-driven tool that enhances the production of our assets. It takes information from sensors and uses AI to calculate the most efficient setting for equipment. In our own plants, we have shown that optimisation technology can reduce the CO2 emissions of one of our LNG facilities by as much as 130 kilotons per year, the equivalent of taking 57,000 average EU vehicles off the road.

Digitalisation helps us offer our customers low-carbon energy products and services

In India, for example, we have been helping Dalmia Cement, a leading cement manufacturer, to identify and optimise pathways to reach net-zero emissions at one of their cement plants. We used data driven simulations and systems level modelling to quantify the technological and financial effects of emissions mitigation options, to most efficiently reach long-term reduction objectives.

Tracking emissions along the value chain

Another important aspect is defining and rigorously applying standards for data reporting. The ability to share information makes it possible to align old and new facilities and makes it easier to have meaningful discussions about emissions reduction along the value chain. Common data standards also mean that once you have gathered good-quality information you can maximise its value by sharing it with others in your organisation or your suppliers and customers.

Companies compete on data gathering and analysis, not on the form of data storage. Shell has already made significant progress in helping to establish common industry platforms. We are founding members of OSDU, the Open Subsurface Data Universe, an industry standard for managing subsurface data. OSDU aims to accelerate innovation and increase efficiency by enabling seamless sharing of subsurface data across the industry. The fundamental principle behind the OSDU platform is that it is “open” and provides a level playing field and a more accessible marketplace for vendors. Good ideas can come from anywhere and can be adopted quickly with standardised formats.

We are also a founding member of the Open Footprint Forum, which is developing open and vendor-neutral industry standards to provide consistent and accurate measurement and reporting of environmental footprint data.

Where do we grow from here?

One of our key focusses is to build digital solutions that are supporting our net-zero emissions target. These digitalisation efforts are based on technical and financial rigour, because tangible economic benefits encourage widespread use and give the best outcomes for our business.

While we continue research and development efforts, our focus is on scaling up and replicating digitalisation projects that have proved successful in early deployments. As we discussed in the CERAweek panel, adoption of technological solutions is often a bigger challenge than the new technology itself. Digitalisation is not just about the technology. We start by addressing the pain points and problems that end-users and customers encounter. By consulting with those who will use the tools, we can frame the problem and the desired business outcomes in the most effective way. When people have been involved in developing a solution they are much more likely to trust it, adopt it and act upon the results it delivers.

This includes encouraging low-code or no-code applications, or “DIY software development”, by giving engineers the tools and access to data they need to develop their own digital solutions. This approach produces effective grassroots solutions that are designed by the users for the users. Our role in IT is to democratise access to the data and develop and nurture digital literacy and skills to empower our colleagues to find new ways to create value.

Discussion

In short, digitalisation will help minimise the net-carbon footprint of current operations by monitoring and reducing emissions, assist with the decarbonisation of industrial sectors and help deliver the next generation of clean-energy technology. Digitalisation is a vital enabler to the energy transition and crucial to meeting our net-zero ambition.

Jay Crotts is the CIO of Shell where he is accountable for the IT function globally. Jay has had a variety of assignments in Shell within Information Technology, operations, and applications development, delivering solutions to Oil Products, Chemicals and Exploration & Production.

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