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Why digitalisation is key to sustainable oil & gas in Uganda

3 Mins read

In November 2021, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) summit will take place in Glasgow, UK, where world leaders will discuss the need to transition to a low carbon society by reducing CO2 emissions and preserving natural resources. Innovations in digital technology will play a key role. 

Uganda’s oil and gas (OGC) industry is expanding at a rapid rate, driven by an overall investment of around $1.8-billion. Combined, capital and operational expenditure and industry revenues for the sector are forecast to reach $5-billion a year by 2030.

The potential social and economic benefits for ordinary Ugandans include job creation, a new generation of qualified engineers, and more gender diversity.  

However, these rewards must not come at a cost to the environment. CO2 emissions in the East African country remain relatively small in terms of global cumulative output at 0.006%; however, they continue to increase year on year, mostly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels.  

People in the world’s developing economies feel the effects of climate change the most. As recently as last year, the residents of western Rwenzori endured flash floods that destroyed their village and the nearby hospital. Smart technologies, AI and other data-enabled digital solutions can help OGC operators reduce drive efficiency and productivity while minimizing the impact on the environment.  

A Powerful Proposition 

The energy transition to renewables such as wind and solar PV continues, but many experts agree the world will still require a baseload of fossil fuels such as oil for many years to come. The onus is therefore on oil and gas companies in countries such as Uganda to limit harmful emissions created while getting the raw fuels out of the ground and then processing them for export or consumption. 

Digital innovations such as variable speed drives can help to make this happen. At present, electrical motors consume around three-quarters of the world’s power, much of it from non-renewable fuels.

New-generation variable speed drives from ABB allows users to preserve energy by controlling the power and frequency provided to the motor so that it only transfers as much energy as is needed. 

A typical oil and gas production facility employs countless motors and similar electrical equipment. Therefore, using innovations such as variable speed drives, coupled with digital monitoring solutions and visual dashboards that allow oil and gas clients to monitor their carbon emissions in real-time, can very quickly and at a relatively low cost reduce, the facility’s energy usage and CO2 footprint. 

ABB is already providing the complete electrical control system for a new oil refinery in Nigeria, for example. The system gives the customer a comprehensive view of overall electricity consumption and helps them limit CO2 emissions during the conversion of the oil to gasoline and other products. 

Maintenance and Safety 

Digital and automation technologies such as AI, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and big data are transforming process industries worldwide – and oil and gas is no exception. There are two distinct parts to this.

The first involves installing low-cost sensors in equipment that gathers data on how those assets are performing. The second is then managing and analyzing that data in order to give valuable insights that drive production and energy efficiency and add value to the business.  

A compelling example of this is predictive rather than reactive maintenance of assets such as motors.

The latest generation of motors is fitted with microprocessors that extract large quantities of data, which can be used to predict when that asset may fail. This allows engineers to identify problems before they occur and avoid production downtime costs that can expend many millions. 

Improving workplace safety by removing personnel from high-risk environments such as oil rigs is also a key driver of digitalization. The condition of industrial components and equipment such as motors and heat exchangers can be monitored remotely off-site, meaning that workers no longer have to make long, arduous (and costly) trips to performing physical inspections in the field. 

Smarter Moves

In the Middle East and Africa, digitalisation has the potential to unlock $1.6-trillion to $2.6-trillion from the oil and gas sector by 2025. Here, Swedish tech corporation ABB is using digital, automation and virtualized engineering solutions to support the strategic growth of oil and gas in Uganda, for both greenfield and brownfield projects. 

Partnering with a trusted provider of smart technologies is key to helping Uganda’s oil and gas sector fulfil its enormous economic potential – while also meeting its all-important sustainability goals.  

By Barry Grant, VP IMEA Hub, ABB Energy Industries Division.

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