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Report | May 2016

How Can Digital Technology Transform Our Energy Future

A Panel Debate and Table Discussion Hosted by National Geographic in Partnership with Shell
D´Monte asked Alicia Choong for an overview of how IT is transforming Shell.
Choong acknowledged that energy demand is growing, expressing her view that ´the only way we can really solve it is through human ingenuity, innovation, and technology.´ She affirmed that Shell is ´moving strongly into the digital technology world´ with a focus on big data, analytics, robotics, and automation, as well as looking at disruptive technologies like cloud and SaS.

Providing examples of ways in which Shell is already applying technology, Choong said that ´on the exploration and production front it´s about getting big data and looking at algorithms to make sure that when we drill as accurately as possible while minimizing our carbon footprint.´ She explained that Shell also works with industry partners to make their designs, construction, and production more data-centric. This involved building data into a structure from the earliest design stages, all the way through construction, and ensuring that the data can be utilized throughout the long lifespan of an asset, such as a well.

Another important area for Shell is integration of data ´to get better insights and more collaboration,´ leading to ´less wastage and more productivity...meaning more reliability,´ expounded Choong. It also allows Shell to optimize its own energy use. Turning to mobility, she confirmed that this is also very important to Shell.

Downstream this equates to ´your mobility as a customer when you pump your petrol, your credit card checking, pay-at-the-pump, and connected cars´ fleet management system.´ Meanwhile in Shells upstream, conditions were often very harsh, so mobility is important in running remote and unmanned operations. This improves employee working conditiPons, minimizing their carbon footprint, and making them more efficient by enabling one engineer to look after multiple sites. In all ´it provides a better value proposition to our employees,´ said Choong.

´We have to be driving productivity and reliability, and eliminating waste as well as reducing cost, Choong continued, adding that, ´this can only be done today with digital technology.´ She stated that, ´Shell is committed to reducing energy waste...we are a responsible company. We believe that we need to have a good energy mix going forward.´ Choong acknowledged that renewable energy ´is really growing´ but feels that ´it´s still not enough to meet the predicted increases in energy demand created by higher living standards and population growth.´ For this reason Shell advocates ´a cleaner fuel... natural gas.´

D´Monte now asked Robin Jose about energy analytics. Jose highlighted India´s particular energy challenge, in that ´over 25% of the households in India don´t have access to electricity-that´s 400 million people.´ Recognizing that fossil fuels like coal are ´one of the biggest ways that we access energy,´ he went on to say that their carbon footprint problem makes finding renewable energy sources important. To this he added the good news that ´the Indian Government has committed to this.´

Explaining that solar is one of India´s largest renewable energy sources, Jose pointed to the government´s ambition to grow solar output from its current 4GW to over 100GW by 2020. ´That´s a big wish,´ he said, ´and big data analytics is being used in a big way to get to that wish.´ He explained that a key challenge is that ´we can´t just rely on the government putting in centralized PV panels and solar energy systems. We also have to look at a decentralized way of doing it, which means households and corporates,´ and that this is where big data is helping.

Jose gave the example of PV panels. These are a major financial investment, so a number of start-ups are using big data to promote solar by demonstrating the return on investment for homeowners and businesses. ´They have recently helped develop an algorithm which uses big data analytics,´ said Jose. ´They look at how much roof area is available to you, what´s the incline, how much sun you will get, what trees are nearby,´ providing accurate information on the size of installation needed to produce specific amounts of power, as well as how long it will take to break even.

With this information ´you can convince a lot of people to go with that model, using it to push and pull homeowners and companies into solar energy production. ´Big data analytics can help in a big way in saving energy,´ Jose continued, especially at a national infrastructure level ´when it comes to smart cities via smart metering, automation, and smart grids.´

Considering the home, Jose pointed to how big companies are becoming interested in smart home automation and energy-saving with Google purchasing Nest and Apple buying Home Kit. ´You can now automate your home, schedule things at home with smart appliances via your iPhone,´ explained Jose, ´and that´s going to come to your Android as well.´

Turning to the many examples of corporations using big data to save energy, Jose gave the example of how the U.S. General Services Administration conducted big data analytics on around 80 buildings and saved $30 million a year in power consumption. In Washington D.C.´s Ronald Reagan building their analysis identified two power spikes which ´they figured out were two large exhaust fans in the parking bay that were just getting turned around, they were running at full speed.

Just cutting that down saved them $800,000 a year in power usage.´ On a final point Jose estimates that in India, ´If you improved the power grid efficiency by just 5%à that is as much as cutting down the emissions and the greenhouse emissions of 53 million cars a year. That´s not just saving money; it´s saving the environment.´ In conclusion Jose feels that ´analytics is a very powerful way to think about how we talk about energy, how we talk about generating energy, how we talk about saving energy.´

D´Monte now asked Pratap Padode about Smart Cities and how he is ´connecting the dots´ in the Digital India initiative. ´The whole starting point of smart cities is that people are migrating to cities because there is already-established infrastructure, including power,´ stated Padode, estimating that in India a person moved to a city every two seconds. Padode cited statistics that India´s cities consume nearly 75% of its energy and contribute about 80% of the nation´s emissions.

To demonstrate how smart technology can help, Padode considered Bengaluru´s refuse collection. ´We have garbage trucks moving around the city many times, contributing to emissions and traffic congestion.´ By fitting sensors that indicate when a garbage can actually needs emptying, a lot of unnecessary travel can be saved. ´You need to be going in that direction,´ said Padode, ´there are several such smart features that can be incorporated in smart cities.´ He went on to say that Government of India guidelines already recognize the smart cities mission so that ´the smart cities plan must include at least 10% solar power...and 80% of the buildings have to be energy-efficient and green.

´Unless and until we actually abate the systems that are contributing to [energy] consumption,´ warned Padode, ´we are going to be saddled with...poor efficiency, and that needs to change.´ But Padode is optimistic. ´I believe that change is something that India is able to do,´ he said, citing India´s success in bringing transmission losses down from around 55% to 20%. ´There is a whole move happening,´ he affirmed, ´and we can move in the right direction.´

One particular initiative is the conversion to LED bulbs, with Padode noting that in just nine months the price of an LED bulb has dropped from around 400 rupees to nearly 50 rupees-largely thanks to volume orders. Looking at the national picture he suggested that converting ndia´s 35 million streetlights to LED will save around $700 million in reduced power consumption. If this is combined with converting all of India´s 770 million incandescent bulbs to LED the saving will amount to $7 billion a year. For Padode this proves that ´smart cities are not about just a fashion label but are actually giving you returns on investment.´

D´Monte now asked the panelists to identify one big challenge they saw for implementing technology. Choong responded saying: ´Really knowing how to use what we have... really analyzing it and deploying it and getting it out fast.´ She feels this required the private sector, public sector, and government to work together to implement policies and push them through to deployment. Jose concurred, adding that smart cities are major investment projects that can take more than a decade to complete so ´you need to really have the vision, you need to have the patience.´

Padode also agreed saying: ´The biggest challenge is execution...I think the smart cities mission in terms of its guidelines, its detailing, its financing and accountability; all are there... it´s just that accountability is not actually taken to its final destination.´ He continued, drawing attention to the fact that the government has announced that over the next four years it will spend over $7 billion on smart technology across 600 cities in India ´and therefore the process will be irreversible.´ He called for continuity in this policy, urging whoever comes into government next to push these projects ahead at speed ´because that kind of money is something you can´t pull back.´

D´Monte shared the panelists´ views, remarking that even in places that are embracing the grand vision of smart cities ´perhaps what is lacking is clear execution, which can result in cost overruns and make these projects unviable.´ To this he added the challenge of India´s federal structure in which central government has to liaise with the states so that ´the public/private partnership... needs to play a very big role.´

(The Panel Debate and Table Discussion was conducted on October 30, 2015, at CEBIT India, Bengaluru International Exhibition Center, Bengaluru)
´Published with permission from National Geographic´

Moderator: Leslie D´Monte, National Technology Editor of Mint, a national business newspaper that is part of HT Media group.

Panelists: Alica Choong, Executive Vice President of TaCIT (Technical and Competitive IT) at Shell Robin Jose, Former Vice President and Head of Data & Analytics at Reliance Jio; currently with EMC2

Pratap Padode, Founder and Director of the Smart Cities Council India

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