At the forefront of digital innovationJanuary 24, 2023
Evgeny Fedotov, senior vice-president and head of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region at AVEVA, talks to The Energy Year about how digital transformation is being embraced across the UAE’s energy industry and how the company is helping clients drive efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance sustainability. AVEVA is a global provider of industrial software and services.
To what extent is digital transformation being embraced across the UAE’s energy industry?
The UAE is at the forefront of innovation. Digital technology is now used to drive entire cycles – it is used to construct assets and to run them. In this regard, we help companies construct their assets in a more efficient and sustainable way, but we also help them to operate these facilities in the optimal way. Digital technologies are perceived as essential to achieve efficiency. The market has become more demanding, with companies that seek to not only enhance their operations, but also reduce consumption and emissions while keeping operations economically viable. Technology is key to achieving this.
While the energy industry has been open to embracing technology, it has lagged in implementing it at scale. This is something that other digitally intensive industries – such as banking, retail and e-commerce – have succeeded at doing. They have transformed and created an IT ecosystem around and within them. In the energy sector we are gradually witnessing the adoption of interconnected technologies that ultimately help achieve incremental value – these can optimise the performance of a compressor or a whole facility.
Digital transformation has different levels of adaptation and receptiveness depending on each market. The UAE in particular has characterised itself as wanting to spearhead innovation, and has thus created the right conditions to make Industry 4.0 a reality. Additionally, the receptiveness of private and public institutions to digitalisation is astounding. It’s interlinked with their willingness to keep sustainability a priority when implementing such technologies.
In what ways did the pandemic accelerate the adoption of digitalisation in the oil and gas sector?
The oil and gas sector is inherently traditional. And it has all the right reasons for being so – it has to be safe, reliable and affordable. However, the pandemic accelerated the need to implement and capitalise on its potential. Interestingly, this technology was already there, but one could say that the situation forced companies and individuals to think and act digitally.
Health concerns over hydrocarbons assets such as rigs, plants and vessels were key factors pushing for the further adoption of technology. Companies and facilities could continue their operations remotely and business was enabled via virtual channels. We were all forced to embrace digital in one way or another, and this was clear in the energy industry. Digitalisation will accelerate in the post-pandemic era; we have all witnessed the benefits of digital and it will only be further enhanced in years to come.
How are you helping clients drive efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance sustainability?
Firstly, we are helping clients find an optimal point to operate their assets with the least amount of environmental impact. AI-driven tools suggest certain operational parameters one should follow to achieve minimal impact. These solutions are tailored to each industry. It’s not a generic AI algorithm, simply because to provide the maximum value you need to understand what type of assets you’re dealing with.
Secondly, reliability is key. Unexpected events such as unplanned shutdowns are a recurrent problem that causes major economic losses and efficiency reductions. We offer AI technology to predict the future behaviour of an asset and thus plan around it and anticipate failures. One can create a schedule of operations in such a way that it minimises any possible negative impact.
Finally, we are constructing facilities based on sustainable concepts. In other words, we build them keeping in mind that they will be part of the circular economy. To do so, we use different environmentally friendly materials which can result in a major savings of up to 10-15% of total installed costs. This also has a direct impact on nature as we need less raw material.
In what ways is AVEVA pioneering digital twin models across the industry?
Digital twins have proven to be essential to the energy industry. One can predict the operational performance or potential failures within a facility through the digital twin. The models we implement simulate how those facilities will behave. We use real-time data to understand and even predict the operational performance of these assets. We have all that data at our fingertips.
Our digital twin models are supporting leading industrial suppliers across many sectors in the economy, including the energy spectrum. AVEVA’s tools are ultimately helping clients get a digital representation of their assets, helping them collect real-time data on how the assets operate and predict their future state. We are thus a fully integrated supplier for whoever decides to embrace this digital journey.
How is ADNOC’s Panorama Digital Command Center a trailblazer for your Unified Operations Center model in the industry?
The Panorama Digital Command Center is a flagship project not only for ADNOC but for the entire UAE. Panorama aggregates real-time information across ADNOC’s subsidiary and JV companies, using smart analytical models, AI and big data to generate operational insights and recommendations. During the pandemic, for example, it generated over USD 1 billion in value and enabled an agile response despite the challenging situation.
The scale of this project is impressive, connecting close to 10 million data points from different assets and facilities to a single data centre. ADNOC can visualise the data through the 120 dashboards incorporated in the control centre, providing operational visibility. It offers a 360-degree view of their business in real time, so they can make decisions. Thus, thanks to our Unified Operations Center model, ADNOC has been able to have all that data in one place, reducing diagnostic time and saving money.
How important is cloud technology and how is AVEVA tackling cyber security?
Cloud is the next step for many industry players. Cloud computing technology allows people and companies to use digital resources stored in the virtual space by way of networks. It gives users access to storage, files, software and servers through their internet-connected devices.
Now, cloud is reaching the mainstream level as it is applied in many different sectors of the economy. It is a growing area for us and we have accelerated investment in our R&D portfolio, which covers our cloud strategy. Today, we are making our solutions available on the cloud. Information is one of the most sought-after resources and cloud deployment facilitates sharing information and making it available for different shareholders. Cloud technology is probably the main innovation focus area for us going forwards.
However, while the energy industry is becoming more digital, a new set of threats appears: cyber threats. This has been a special matter of concern in the GCC region. Acknowledging the shifting reality of our industry, all our developments and testing undergo a stringent process of certification for cyber security. Our software is ready to withstand any potential cyber threat.
The level of knowledge of the people who work with this technology is also crucial. We engage with our clients to make sure that we enable them to implement and run our solutions in the correct way. Both from the cyber security perspective, but also from an operational one to run the software efficiently. We are fully committed to training and promoting local talent in the area of digital.
In what ways is AVEVA involved in clean and green sources of energy?
Slowly but steadily the industry is building trust in nuclear energy, as a more sustainable energy source. We have been involved in the sector for many years, and across many countries – in China, Europe and the US. The challenges nuclear energy faces are various: it is an industry that requires very complex assets that are supposed to operate for 50, 70 or 200 years. Further, it requires bullet-proof reliability, which means that the technology implemented in a nuclear plant must be flawless. There is no room for failure.
We are deeply involved in this energy segment, being present across the entire cycle. Our tools help with the design and operation of nuclear facilities and predict potential failures of their equipment.
In regards to green sources of energy such as wind and solar power, we are helping companies establish alternative ways to operate these projects more efficiently. This is an area that is evolving rapidly in the MENA region, and especially in the UAE. Also, hydrogen is gaining traction worldwide as a huge opportunity for the entire industry. There are plenty of greenfield projects kick-starting and these new facilities will eventually replace more traditional ones such as refineries and coal-fired plants.
Yet the debate still revolves around how economically viable these hydrogen projects are at a time when the hydrogen market is still very new. It is thus a matter of time until we see it flourishing. We already see long-term commitments in countries such as the UAE and Oman. This is an area AVEVA will be fully engaged in.
How is AVEVA contributing to further advancing and digitalising the UAE’s energy industry?
We are a technology company, and we want to make sure that we are well embedded into the country’s agenda. As mentioned, the UAE is at the forefront of innovation, and we are actively contributing to this reality. For instance, we recently signed an MoU with the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology with the aim of establishing an Industry 4.0 champion network of 100 tech-oriented companies by 2031. We expect that our technologies will spur the ambition of other innovative local manufacturing companies and help them establish themselves in the market.
Moving forwards, the next big area AVEVA is focusing on is the implementation of technology at scale. As a firm, we are passionate about the fact that technology at scale can bring much more value at scale. Digitalisation is accelerating, and people are getting more familiar and comfortable with technology. Technology is an enabler, helping you to run your business reliably, sustainably and profitably. The next step is therefore a further acceleration of the adoption of technology on a major scale.