A conversation on sustainability and the push towards net-zero

Hydrocarbon Processing (HP) was pleased to speak with Astrid Poupart-Lafarge (APL), President of Oil and Gas and Petrochemicals, Schneider Electric, to discuss sustainable oil and gas operations and the technologies enabling companies to mitigate carbon emissions and navigate through the industry’s energy transition.

HP: Your organization was recently ranked number one on Corporate Knight’s annual index of most sustainable corporations globally. How did Schneider Electric achieve this accolade?

APL: This was due to a strong performance in several sustainability areas. First, we earn 70% of our revenue from sustainable solutions and 73% of investments are directed towards sustainable solutions. We continually invest in technical solutions, which will help reach our new 2025 sustainable targets—80% green revenues and 800 MMt of CO2 emissions saved and avoided for our customers.

HP: Can you provide details on the “Net-zero upstream facility” study and if this strategy is applicable to the downstream processing facilities such as refineries and/or petrochemical plants?

APL: This interesting study was completed with industry partners McDermott and io consulting. For this study, we combined our capabilities and resources to explore and unlock a proof of concept based on an offshore platform reference case. We were able to demonstrate that with a minimum total expenditure increase, operators could decrease operational emissions by 76% and embedded carbon emissions by 17%.

To accomplish this goal, we applied several decarbonization measures to achieve carbon neutrality. These measures included electrification, implementing micro grids and a hydrogen network, energy storage, reduced fugitive emissions (something also found in the downstream processing market) and removed the flare system, as well as implemented remote operations, which is something that can be used for refineries and petrochemical plants.

Lastly, we also applied our digital twin to optimize the design from the design phase up to full operations; a solution that is also benefitting the hydrocarbon processing industry in several ways.

HP: The need to digitize operations has significantly increased over the past year. How can digital technologies help companies reduce emissions and optimize operations?

APL: The global pandemic has not only accelerated digital transformation for personal life but for industry, as well. In the oil and gas industry specifically, digitalization can drive significant benefits, not only with regards to sustainability but also the bottom line.

For example, 15% of the total CO2 emissions of a liter of gasoline is emitted during the manufacturing process, and we wanted to change that. In collaboration with AVEVA, we designed the EcoStruxure platform to connect best-in-class OT (operational technology) solutions with the latest in IT (information technology) technology to unlock trapped value. This connects the whole lifecycle of the plant to reduce capital expenditures, unplanned downtime and the process energy usage by nearly 10%, which, at the end of the day, increases the profitability of the downstream asset.

For instance, we applied this platform within a 450,000-bpd North American refinery. The technology reduced CO2 output by nearly 570,000 metric tons and saved approximately $210 MM/yr. In this instance, both sustainability and profitability were served.

HP: Sticking with the topic of sustainability, where does the emphasis need to come from to reach net zero? Will it need to come from private companies, government regulations/initiatives, consumers or all the above?

APL: Regarding this topic, I would like to quote our CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire. He said, “All you need is a change of mentality because the sustainability technologies already exist, but adoption is required.”

On this topic, we have two competing objectives. One is that everyone should obtain access to energy since energy provides a better life. Conversely, we need to reduce emissions by a factor of two within the next 20 yr. We believe that digital technologies are a fantastic catalyst to disrupt the equation of energy efficiency. They help to manage, store and distribute energy, as well as make energy waste more visible.

Many governments and companies have committed to net-zero by 2050 or even before. However, it is up to companies, such as Schneider Electric, to help other companies and governments achieve their sustainability goals through technology and digitalization.

HP: How important has 2020 been for emissions reduction and the energy transition?

APL: Indeed, 2020 unfolded in ways we could have never imagined. It has changed all aspects of our work and life. After rising steadily for decades, global CO2 emissions fell, and the decline was very significant. One takeaway is how the concept of “net-zero” became a mainstream activity and has reshaped the economy.

By changing the ways we create, manage and use energy to reach net-zero is where the potential benefits lay, and we truly believe that digitalization will drive efficiency and then sustainability.

HP: With all the benefits digital technologies can bring to an organization, have you witnessed a rise in adoption?

APL: In the past year, we have seen a massive fast-forward in digitalization. This adoption has been propelled by remote operations, resiliency, efficiency and a strong push for sustainability.

One challenge that we want to resolve is innovating digitalization and electrification for the future. We believe the solution lies in the integration of energy management and automation, digital feeds to the Cloud, lifecycle management from design to operation, and side-by-side company management. These solutions will help drive more sustainable and profitable operations.

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