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Repsol: Energy in a digital world

The rise of digitisation, data analytics especially, will help to meet rising energy demand, Repsol’s CEO Josu Jon Imaz says

The energy industry is currently facing important challenges. As the global population continues to growpredicted to increase by 2.7bn through to 2050much more energy will be needed to guarantee everyone has access to the same living standards that developed countries enjoy. This situation may be exacerbated by other factors, such as rapid urbanisation or middle-class growth in Asia and Africa. This will ultimately lead to an increase in global energy demand. Even taking into account gains in energy efficiency, demand is expected to rise by around 30% globally by 2040.

Furthermore, the energy industry is being called on to meet that growing energy demand in an environmentally acceptable manner. The Paris Agreement is a clear step towards reaching climate neutrality before the end of the century, which will shape a transition to an energy mix that ensures robust economic development and sustainable levels of social and environmental welfare.

This transition will demand that energy suppliers develop their existing businesses by maximising the use of the digital age tools at our disposal, making the industry more resilient and efficient, both environmentally and financially. But the energy industry must also apply these new tools to the search for new solutions that are not yet fully developed but which must help meet the evolving needs of society.

We believe that innovation and anticipation are key to success. Our experience with technology data analytics shows us that it is a powerful tool to help us search for, produce and supply energy resources in a cost and environmentally efficient way.

In the oil and gas industry, the operating environment for the exploration and production business is one of increasing complexity. Many business decisions must be taken under high levels of uncertainty, partially derived from imperfect knowledge of the subsurface as well as from the inability to access and analyse data.

There are ongoing research and development programmes focused on mitigating both sources of uncertainty. As a result, digitalisation and data analysis have become more important than ever to determine the potential of reservoirs and optimise the production plan for each exploratory project.

A deeper understanding of the complex interactions between the rock matrix and fluids contained within the pore space help us to be more successful. Now we are capable of seeing the characteristics of rocks on millimetric to nanometric scales based on extremely small samples. We can acquire data on the characteristics of the subsoil that was previously impossible to obtain and to then construct digital 3D lithology models.

Developing synergies between the energy sector and other industries will help us to better evaluate oil fields. Software from the videogame and financial industries allow us to assess exploration and production projects up to 1,000 times faster. We can construct 3D geological models to study the characteristics of an oilfield and afterwards apply numerical optimisation algorithms will increase the probability of success in aspects as important as where to find accumulated crude oil or where to drill wells.

In the era of digitisation, the Pegasus project has become the first cognitive system and artificial intelligence application for the exploration and production industry. Developed by Repsol in conjunction with IBM through Watson Research, the objective is to create a much more effective interaction between humans and computers. Pegasus is capable of analysing hundreds of thousands of documents, reports and data, looking for trends and connections between them to propose the most appropriate hypotheses and solutions at each moment. We are bringing together both human intelligence and artificial intelligence to make decisions as accurately as possible.

Beyond the focus on high-cost, high-uncertainty exploration activity, digitalisation and data analytics allow us to develop very specific solutions for very specific problems throughout the energy value chain which are also very much worth exploring. These can range from having a much more accurate picture of consumer needs and desires to the fine-tuning of the operation of industrial installations or to coping with the increasing real-time information flow to manage supply networks more efficiently.

The energy industry has, since its inception, faced great problems with imagination and determination, and the digital age provides us with tools more powerful than we have ever had at our disposal to find smart solutions.

This article appears in the annual issue of World Energy Focus, the magazine of the World Energy Council, with content produced by Petroleum Economist. For more information and to read the annual in full, visit worldenergy.org.

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