Amid an industry-wide labor shortage and global supply chain disruptions, the energy sector is under immense pressure to increase production. These issues, in addition to geopolitical tensions, are deeply complex and cannot be addressed on an individual scale.
In addition, the energy industry faces major challenges pertaining to communication given that the workforce and equipment operate in remote and harsh environments. With assets and personnel continuously on the move in areas that lack traditional methods of connectivity, it can be difficult to monitor productivity and access field data. This, in turn, can impact other critical events or environmental compliance standards, as well as emergency response safeguards.
While individual businesses cannot strengthen the global supply chain independently, solve the labor shortage, or reconcile international relations, fortunately, the latter set of issues related to connectivity can be ameliorated. Where terrestrial cellular coverage falls short, satellite connectivity prevails. With satellite coverage, continuous connectivity can be ensured for remote asset tracking, asset management, secure communications at exploration sites, monitoring transmission and deliveries tracked by internet of things (IoT) infrastructure, and worker safety for improved business efficiencies.
Given the current strain on the energy industry, it’s imperative to save costs and increase productivity whenever possible. Certain challenges may be uncontrollable, but issues such as visibility, connectivity, and communication can undoubtedly be addressed and doing so will result in significant benefits for business owners, employees, and customers alike.
Satellite IoT in Action
Satellite IoT refers to the use of satellite communication networks and services to connect terrestrial IoT sensors and IoT end-nodes to a server. IoT enables interconnectivity between objects such that they can communicate and relay orders without requiring human-to-human or even human-to-computer interaction. The type of information relayed depends upon the specific IoT sensor, which is determined based on the use case.
As a concept, it can be challenging to grasp how revolutionary this technology can be for the energy sector. While continuous, dependable connectivity and asset management sound useful, how exactly is the value realized? There are an infinite number of ways that satellite IoT can be implemented; the limit of its applications is constrained only by the limit of the imagination.
Take cathodic protection (CP), for example. CP systems keep corrosion under control, thus protecting the millions of miles of metallic pipelines that carry petroleum products, natural gas, water, and wastewater throughout our communities. However, to continue to be effective, these systems must eventually be replaced. Traditionally, site inspections by pipeline personnel are required multiple times per year. With thousands of miles of pipelines running through remote territory, a significant amount of time must be devoted to staffing time and travel costs.
However, with satellite IoT, CP systems can be monitored wirelessly for pipeline operators around the world. The satellite IoT device provides continuous performance monitoring with automated alerts to unusual conditions or failure, and the ability to test remotely. Furthermore, technicians can use any web-enabled device to access a cloud platform to see where CP systems are operating normally and to download performance data, generate reports, and remotely modify device configurations.
Another prevalent application for satellite IoT in the energy industry is oil tank monitoring. To maintain oil production, the fluid levels in storage tanks at a drill site require regular monitoring. Legacy measurement systems are complicated, costly to install and calibrate, and often require personnel to check gauges by hand. Tank monitoring is increasingly being handled remotely, but for drilling rigs on the move, cellular connection is unreliable.
Satellite enabled IoT tools can illuminate data on tank levels including GPS coordinates, allowing drilling companies and their vendors to see all tanks, establish automatic alerts when levels are low, and automate dispatch of supply trucks to refill the tanks. Smart data processing on edge devices allows for limited data transmission when tanks require no action and the condensation of data into short messages, therefore reducing transmission costs. Drilling companies can effectively save thousands of unnecessary hours and ensure that fluids are always available to support uninterrupted operation.
These examples are just a sample of the litany of ways in which satellite IoT technology can be leveraged throughout the energy sector.
Continuous Connectivity Meets Customization
To truly grasp the dependability of satellite connectivity, it’s important to understand that this technology is relied upon to save thousands of lives each year. For personnel working in remote locations, satellite messengers can be used to share information on location and status in case of an emergency. If thousands are willing to utilize satellite communications when their lives are at stake, every business owner should have peace of mind when it comes to using the same technology to monitor and manage their equipment, fleets, or assets.
In addition to reliability, satellite IoT solutions can be customized to suit specific needs or use cases. Embedded satellite IoT chips can integrate with a wide range of hardware based on application needs. However, the true breadth of customization is realized on the software end of IoT.
With certain devices and enablement platforms, instead of custom-coding for specific device hardware, developers can, utilizing a low-code platform, hardware abstraction, and unified APIs, seamlessly interface between application and capabilities of the satellite IoT edge device. By developing artificial intelligence (AI)-driven applications that send smart data from the edge, energy businesses can effectively reduce the transmission fee associated with sending data from the IoT device to the endpoint, or server, and improve operational performance.
Flexibility is also a useful attribute of satellite IoT solutions. Say, for instance, an organization is looking to expand its IoT capabilities, additional sensors can deliver valuable new capabilities quickly and easily by using Bluetooth connectivity. Furthermore, if a business would benefit from machine learning and executable files to improve the performance of systems in the field, the right IoT partner will have the storage and processing power necessary to run applications at the edge, and the platform to simplify configuration, application development, and device management.
As society continues to advance along with technology, many are looking to renewable energy options in addition to traditional energy sources like oil and gas. These energy production methods are also often located in remote areas and would benefit from satellite IoT as much as any other organization that has people and assets located in isolated areas.
The beauty of satellite IoT is that it will work for you, regardless of your specific needs or geographical location. For those who operate in remote areas that stand to gain from improved visibility, reliability, reduced cost, and repurposed employee hours, consider satellite IoT to help meet the current demands of the energy sector.
—Dave Haight is the vice president of IoT for Globalstar. He is a prominent telecom and IoT industry leader, with extensive experience driving network connectivity growth and developing impactful strategies to build partner channels and strategic relationships in IoT.