Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased tenfold in the last century – 90 per cent since the 1970s. One of the most significant, but avoidable, causes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is gas flaring. International efforts to limit the global temperature rise, such as the COP21 Paris Agreement, the World Bank’s Zero Routing Flaring by 2030 initiative and CO2 emissions trading schemes like the European Union (EU) ETS are putting companies under more pressure to reduce flaring operations through higher taxation and increased regulation.
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Building a holistic picture of flaring
It may seem surprising that around half of plants flaring gas in the chemicals and oil and gas industries simply estimate their emissions. By measuring pipe size and guessing the flow rate, companies are submitting estimates with an uncertainty of up to 20 per cent.
Historically, measurement processes have been entirely manual, involving large workforces visiting flaring sites to take physical measurements. In addition to being a significant cost, a manual process increases risk faced by engineers by placing them in hostile locations.
Developments in gas flow measurement, particularly ultrasonic technology, have transformed this from a largely labour intensive and inaccurate process. Today flare gas measurement can be as accurate as 1 per cent and measurements can be logged remotely on an ongoing basis, reducing the need for human intervention. Businesses are now looking to the cloud to further automate the process and to deliver critical insight that can reduce taxation and increase revenues.
The most forward thinking operators are creating national operations centres by providing connectivity between flare sites. When flare gas is accurately measured, for example by an ultrasonic flow meter installed on a pipe, emissions data can be fed directly into a cloud-based Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) to give a company access to precise and real-time information on the amount of gas it is flaring.
Declining absolute caps of the EU ETS mean that flaring natural resources in industry should only take place when absolutely necessary. Using cloud-based CEMS to track long-term flaring volumes over a company’s whole operation will give it insight into how close it is to reaching its CO2 emission cap. In 2020, EU ETS emissions caps will be 21 per cent lower than in 2005. By 2030, they will be 43 per cent lower. With such substantial decreases, every cubic metre counts.
Flaring information can be presented on a dashboard for executives to review in real-time, showing how each site, process, manager, state, or country is performing. A connected, fully automated process enables remote reporting and adjustments, increases safety, reduces workforce and gives a company much greater visibility into site best practice. This enables a business to reduce workforce costs, increase employee safety, reduce carbon tax obligations and provides significant environmental benefits.
Working smarter with cloud
Companies will need the accuracy provided by measurement technology and cloud connectivity to maintain revenue while implementing reduction schemes. Cloud technologies help drive ROI across whole operations during implementation of new schemes to reduce emissions, by building a better picture of trends over time.
For example in a plant where flaring only happens during maintenance procedures, accurate real-time data can enable the flaring process to be managed more effectively – reducing both the amount of wasted gas and taxation paid. With insight into trends over time, the plant will be able to more accurately predict flaring volumes and work out the viability of gas capture technology. This enables a cost (taxation) to be turned into revenue (natural gas sales).
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Cloud technology is enabling almost every industry in the world to work more effectively and efficiently. Over the next ten years it will become central to limiting global temperature rises. High-emission industries like chemicals and oil and gas will need drive cloud adoption, harnessing its speed, flexibility and collaboration capabilities to drive new insight from flaring data and better emissions management.