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How IT services can play a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions

17 Dec 2021

The UK has committed to reaching net zero by 2050, a challenging prospect that requires all levels of society to play their part. The engineering industry’s energy consumption is an area that can be vastly improved when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Scott Davidson, managing director at ISN Solutions, a corporate IT managed services provider with more than 20 years’ experience of partnering with energy companies, looks at how harnessing the latest technological innovations and practices can help energy companies navigate the energy transition.

IT and data-driven decision can help reduce carbon emissions, playing an important role in the energy industry’s move towards a greener world. Today, operations hinge critically on a company’s digital capabilities, therefore, with a careful consideration of your business’s IT infrastructure, you can maximise your outputs whilst maintaining environmental responsibilities.

The role of emerging technologies

AI and machine learning have the ability to gather enormous amounts of data to inform operational decisions, including those that would affect the environment. Forecasts gleaned from these data insights are potentially one of energy companies’ most valuable assets for planning realistic pathways to effective and sustainable decarbonisation goals.

They also provide the potential for accurate reporting of emissions and evidence of target achievement for long-term reputational enhancement, and to appease stakeholders and investors for long-term growth against competitors. Data insights can deliver additional benefits like cost-savings by allowing thorough review of carbon reduction strategies before any initial investment or expensive change to operations is implemented.

On the operational side, there is massive potential for new technologies to acquire data and inform companies about the surrounding environment.

Whilst it is critical in itself for risk mitigation, monitoring equipment performance and fault discovery, it could be optimised for decision making by leveraging AI analytics. AI analytics can process large data streams and recognise and flag insights that should come to senior leaders’ attention. The efficiency AI and machine learning provides, has measurable effects on carbon emissions, as the less resources and capital wasted on acquiring and analysing data, the smaller the business’s environmental footprint is.

But to achieve the environmental commitments set out at COP26, it will require global cooperation across the energy sector and its supply chains. It will also require cooperation to promote business interests, data reporting systems, and secure, resilient IT infrastructures will need to be implemented.

How can data help to reduce carbon emissions?

The sticking point in global cooperation is the immense value of a company’s data to its competitors. Energy companies may understandably be reluctant to share data insights with the industry as a whole, should it enable a competitor to glean insight into its operations.

However, collaborative efforts such as the ODSU Forum open data platform helps provide ‘a secure, reliable and homogenous data platform across any infrastructure to enable the unique operational needs of the energy industry’[1], and allows for subsea data to be shared across the energy industry.

This platform utilises cloud-based solutions and software for the secure transfer and sharing of data, requiring business’s to have adequate IT infrastructure to make use of these initiatives.

Given that tackling the climate change emergency is one of the most pressing issues of our time, cooperative initiatives like these could be immensely beneficial to the energy industry as a whole and help to speed up progress in reducing carbon emissions. Technological capabilities like cloud-based software and AI analytics can allow for collaborative projects that focus on improving energy efficiencies across the business reducing their carbon footprints.

A robust and secure IT network is vital

Innovation in IT is an often overlooked but integral element to successfully implementing both emerging technologies and data-driven decision making, as part of decarbonisation efforts.

Previously, ISN Solutions has worked with oil and gas and exploration companies to implement a robust network infrastructure that unifies IT and operational technologies (OT) to link the capabilities of machinery and intelligent software, ensuring data insights are instantly accessible.

Combining OT and IT could also enhance energy companies’ ability to reduce their carbon emissions more effectively, as combining insights from both the operational and business side will be needed to action sustainable solutions, and a seamless integrated network is a reliable way to reach all relevant personnel.

Cyber security concerns have led to past reluctance, certainly in oil and gas, to link OT and IT. However, effective solutions have been implemented to minimise security risks, incorporating secure firewalls to analyse data transferred from both ends of the business and uphold network security.

Linking these two areas is only one part of an ongoing initiative spanning the entire energy sector to create intelligent, connected operations, along with industry-wide goals to improve network infrastructure, connectivity and increase the implementation of digitalisation.

Of course, the challenges in maintaining network uptime for energy operations stem from their remoteness where the issue usually lies in minimal provisions of communications infrastructure. But, again, this issue has been consistently overcome through strategies to implement robust communications infrastructure using a variety of technologies in combination – satellite and wireless – for many years.

Although robust network solutions may require initial investment, the impacts are enormous, not only due to the potential to make more use of emerging technologies to control and reduce carbon emissions, but for improvements in worker safety and productivity too.

No easy answers

Achieving reduction goals in line with COP26 and meeting the expectations of an increasingly environmentally conscious society is paramount to securing the future of energy operations. There are many options to consider for this, and embracing technological and digital developments can be instrumental in this.

From a business standpoint investment in IT infrastructure is something that has been necessitated for the modern way of working. By leveraging this effectively businesses can achieve meaningful environmental progress whilst maintaining their bottom line. Investment in IT provisions is non negotiable to stay competitive in an increasingly eco-conscious landscape.