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Harness the sun!

Our CEO, Paul Schelhaas, gives an insight into the power of portable for the world’s energy sector


Autonomous Remote Communications System (ARC)

The way the world thinks about renewable energy has undergone a remarkable change – especially in the oil and gas sector. It is no longer just a fly-by-night idea backed by government subsidies, and instead now competes on par with fossil fuel power generation on costs around the world. So much so that, on April 21 2017, UK power generation achieved its first coal free day. Fast forward nearly two years and there are reports that Australia is considering how it can realise a future where 100 per cent of its energy sources are renewable.


In response to these advances, major energy operators are reviewing their portfolios to make the business more resilient and competitive by adapting their oil and gas solutions to take advantage of the renewables sector growth. According to a report by Wood Mackenzie, more than a fifth of investment by the largest oil and gas companies could be in wind and solar power in just over a decade.


This movement was amplified in late 2017 when Royal Dutch Shell announced a target to cut the net carbon footprint of its energy products by around half by 2050. In an unprecedented move, these targets will be linked to executive remuneration. This is, of course, in addition to the existing requirements for energy companies to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. With calls from governments and environmental groups for other companies to follow suit, it’s a trend that will gather momentum.


The problems with power

Despite the obvious desire, the integration of renewables into oil and gas operations is perhaps the definitive ‘easier said than done’ scenario. Much of the world’s fossil fuel is in difficult to reach places, either through terrain, harsh environment or remote locations – sometimes a combination of all three. This means that access to power and data connections is highly challenging. The cost of installing power and fibre optic networks to enable communications and surveillance on upstream sites can cost millions of dollars. As a result, sites have developed a reliance on temperature restricted, portable or semi portable, diesel fuelled generators, which involve high annual running costs and add to, rather than reduce, the carbon footprint of the project.


Given the size and scale of activity, many of the operations involve high value equipment that is in place for a long-period of time. The combination of this, and the fact that these projects are often delivered in deprived countries means theft and damage is a big problem. Of course, the sites also have a self-perpetuating growth cycle meaning power sources need to be moved or flexible enough to be in position quickly. Something not always possible with fixed location terminals.


But it’s not like the industry hasn’t considered alternatives. Renewable energy was trialled years ago but simply did not deliver the consistency that was required and was not deemed not viable. The technology was not good or reliable enough, and the industry-wide experiment was disbanded almost overnight. However, it is a different story today where the technology, techniques and application have advanced beyond all recognition. This is giving rise to an entirely new breed of renewable energy innovation – portable power.


The benefits of portable renewable power

It’s not hard to see why the appetite to embrace portable solar products has grown exponentially in recent years. At the heart of it all are two fundamental drivers – power and information.


The need to move data is critical for almost every part of a project. From operating computers, monitoring systems, site communications and even to recreational purposes for the teams on site. Because sites expand organically, and sometimes quicker than they can cope with, this has traditionally caused issues with hot spots and saturation, limiting service and leading to packet loss. A lot of critical monitoring; like measurement systems, pressure and wellhead management to name a few, send small packet data to highlight that there are no faults or alerts in the system. Of course, if this fails the potential health and safety ramifications are astronomical but so is the cost – any minor delay for checks or repair can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.


Using portable and renewable power sources means energy companies now have the ability to place data communications points wherever they are needed. This means wireless networks can be redesigned quickly, cost effectively and almost in real time without the need for major civil engineering works. The flexibility of a portable product brings the clear advantage of being able to scale operations up or down depending on the need, which is essentially enabling operators to build a bespoke power and communications supply for every field or project.


Portable use case example

We secured a project to design and build a bespoke Solar Powered IP Camera system for a project in Tengiz, Kazakhstan, specifically designed to operate in extremely hostile environments (-50C to +80C) and in a highly corrosive, hydrogen sulphide (H2S), atmosphere. The equipment was able to deliver reliable HD surveillance across the customer’s wireless network. The systems provide the site security teams with an autonomous rapidly deployable surveillance camera in areas that would otherwise be too costly to install.


The domino effect of clean-tech success

The benefits are clear and because of this, we’re seeing a lot of oil and gas companies pursue the use of solar power – especially as the advancements in technology mean the costs come down and the output becomes more efficient.


There’s a mind-set change too. Historically, big energy companies were unable or unwilling to invest in new technology as the potential cost of failure was too high. This means that antiquated systems were, and indeed still are, purchased today even though cheaper and more efficient. Today, driven by the combination of technology improvements and nimble and cost effective entrants to the market, organisations are actively looking to innovative new solutions for the answers. This is leading to a domino effect, where big companies are investing in projects with others taking that as their cue to follow suit. Businesses are also cognisant of the fact they need to improve how they operate in a digital world. This is reducing a reliance on old tools and processes and engaging with new hardware and software that offers improvements across the board.


Because understanding, awareness and technology is improving, so are the products. People now understand that simply tacking on solar panels doesn’t work. Now there is an appreciation that solutions that are fit for purpose need to be built from the ground-up to take advantage of existing low power solutions like smart LED lighting and low power LED screens. So much so that we’re already seeing the rise of solar power servers and generators with modified kit that can be supported via solar producing no CO2, can be moved and doesn’t require any refuelling.


Whichever way you look at the situation, it’s a win-win. If the industry objective is to seamlessly combine taking people out of harm’s way, reducing CO2 emissions and delivering a cost-effective, safe and low disruption project, then the only way to do this sustainably is with portable renewable energy.


Sunstone

Paul Schelhaas is CEO of Sunstone, a UK technology company. It has developed patented, solar powered products that provide surveillance, wireless networks and satellite communications to sites around the world, irrespective of geography, terrain or environment. Its core product, The Solar IP CCTV System (SICS), is already being used by some of the biggest businesses in construction and oil and gas. A surveillance system powered entirely by solar energy, it delivers HD CCTV and telecommunications in remote locations and can be deployed, and online, in four minutes and saving up to 500 kg of CO2 emissions per annum.