How satellite IoT communications & monitoring can help the energy sector

Author : Alastair Williamson | CEO | Wyld Networks

01 October 2022

According to online scientific research & data resource, ‘Our World In Data’, despite producing more energy from renewables, 84% of energy used worldwide still comes from fossil fuels, accounting for around three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reaching net-zero by the middle of the 21st century will require rapid changes in how we generate energy.

This article was originally featured in the October 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

But while scientists develop greener and more efficient ways of powering the planet, there is also a continued drive to increase efficiencies in fossil fuel power generation. A report by energy recycling expert, Primary Energy indicates that industries waste two-thirds of their energy through heat loss alone. Here, Alastair Williamson, CEO at satellite IoT specialist, Wyld Networks explains how such technologies can help the energy sector…

To increase efficiencies, we need greater access to more data – but that’s not always easy. For example, oil and gas pipelines cover millions of kilometres across the world – and are vulnerable to leaks and corrosion caused by weather erosion and natural disasters, as well as usual wear and tear. Detecting infrastructure defects is not an easy task either. North America is projected to have a pipeline network extending to 834,152 kilometres by 2023, and individual lines can stretch over 5,000 kilometres. Collecting data from remote locations and over huge distances often requires energy companies to take in-person measurements.

Because of their remote locations, cellular networks do not always provide a signal, and Wi-Fi does not have the necessary range. One way of solving this problem is by using low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites that are able to collect data from IoT (internet of things) sensors anywhere in the world with 100% global coverage. The infrastructure savings with this are huge, since nearly all onshore and offshore oil and gas operations are conducted in remote locations. Physical visits and unplanned downtime can both be mitigated by improved connectivity of sensors and devices.

The use of satellites is not new, but has previously relied on cumbersome and expensive VSAT (very-small-aperture terminal) solutions. LoRaWAN® (from long range wide area network) is a low power, wide area networking protocol that enables sensors to transmit their data over long distances for multiple years – all without needing any mains power. The technology operates in the ISM (industrial, scientific & medical) band, a license free and regulated spectrum, taking the cost of acquiring spectrum out of the solution and making it affordable for a business to deploy.

DEWA shows the way

The Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) is working with Wyld Networks and leading satellite operator, Eutelsat to pioneer the use of satellite IoT in the utilities sector. In January 2022, DEWA launched its first nanosatellite, called DEWA-SAT1, to mark the start of its Space-D programme – and become the world’s first utility company to use nanosatellites. Through its ambitious programme, DEWA intends to improve its operational and planning flexibility by enhancing network visibility, through collecting data, monitoring and conducting predictive data analytics to manage electrical and water assets and networks more effectively.

Some of the applications it will be exploring include condition-based assessment of distribution transformers, enhanced distribution network visibility and fault detection, EV (electric vehicle) charging station and PV (photovoltaic) power plant monitoring and data collection, transmission and pipeline monitoring, and water leak detection.

Another challenge facing the mining, oil and gas sectors is to increase decarbonisation. The Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) has aims of cutting methane emissions by 45% by 2025. But measuring greenhouse gases in the industry is currently estimated using equipment efficiency, so there is a goal to deploy environmental IoT sensors in upstream, midstream and downstream operations for the purpose of collecting and analysing real data.

IoT sensors attached to energy infrastructure can also monitor and understand the different types of asset behaviour under many condition scenarios, such as structural loads, weather changes, crack monitoring and trust management. For older infrastructure, sensors can monitor the risk hazards and extend their lifetime.

These operational practices will accelerate troubleshooting and response, enable predictive maintenance, automate manual tasks, and optimise utilisation and future design of oil and gas infrastructure.

Quality data provided by satellite IoT on a global scale will also ensure regulatory compliance and contribute to a reduced carbon footprint. Satellite IoT is here to make the changeover to greener methods easier, as the world transitions from fossil fuels to renewables. Direct sensor-to-satellite connectivity will increasingly manage data collection for wind farms, solar arrays, energy distribution infrastructure, renewable processing facilities and asset monitoring.

Wyld is engaged with several companies deploying wind-generated energy solutions, including IMAE in Brazil, to provide satellite IoT connectivity to wind turbines to collect data to optimise the operational efficiency in the conversion of wind into usable energy.

Data is at the heart of driving greater efficiencies across all forms of energy generation and by using LEO satellites and new sensor-to-satellite technologies, we have the chance of harnessing data on a global scale for the first time.

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