Africa is a vast continent of opportunities and some analysts expect its natural oil and gas reserves to support its development as a new global hub. However, despite holding around 7 percent of the world’s known crude oil and natural gas deposits, the continent remains largely under-explored. In the second installment of our spotlight series on Africa – the last energy frontier, we will be exploring how digitization may be the key to unlocking the continents true energy potential.
Over the next thirty-five years, Africa’s population will continue to grow and nearly 600 million people are expected to migrate to cities across the continent. Based on this rapid movement, it has been suggested that energy demand will increase by 60 percent, reaching around 1,320 million tonnes of oil equivalent by 2040. Therefore, the energy sector will require new approaches and innovative policies in order to match increasing demand.
The oil and gas industry has been a cornerstone of Africa’s growth, and I believe that there is still considerable potential to be capitalized. Deploying new technology allows society to do more with less.
Today, technological developments are having a significant impact on the way we locate, extract and distribute oil and gas. Artificial intelligence, advanced analytics and IOT and blockchain are opening new opportunities therefore operators in Africa cannot afford to let this digital transformation pass them by.
Here, we highlight some crucial developments:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Advanced Analytics
Today AI platforms are being developed to analyse subsurface geophysical data and support new seismic data collection techniques, providing more accurate modelling of mature and newly discovered oil deposits. Having the ability to accurately map underground oil reserves is crucial as it means that drilling methods can be tailored to have maximum effect and, in some instances, increase the recovery rate by up to 40 percent.
Big oil is also looking to AI to increase oil and gas extraction from unconventional resources. For example, in partnership with Google, Total is testing an AI program in the Gulf of Guinea, off western Africa, that is designed to interpret 3D images of the subsurface and any potential new reservoirs. With 30 percent of Africa’s oil and gas production currently stemming from legacy fields, the potential to enhance the continents portfolio with new discoveries will be key to its future success.
Internet of Things (IOT)
The IOT is transforming the operational environment of oil and gas companies, creating greater productivity and optimizing costs, whilst also improving safety by enabling predictive maintenance and performance forecasting.
The real-time data collated by IOT devices will become crucial in working to make oil and gas platforms safer, for example, by predicting equipment problems or detecting imminent failures before they occur. With the slightest technical issue having a significant impact of productivity, these measures are not only crucial to ensure employee safety, but also in making the exploration of unconventional reservoirs economically viable. For example, according to a McKinsey & Company report, predictive maintenance can reduce maintenance costs up to 13 percent. These developments can all be applied to oil and gas operations in Africa, and may yield more substantial results, due to the comparative deficit in previous technological investments.
Blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions, whereby the data is recorded in such a way that makes it virtually impossible to hack or change. However, given its potential to speed up transactions and reduce operating costs by removing the need to rely on a central authority, there is great potential for the technology to revolutionize the oil and gas sector.
For example, despite being Africa’s largest oil producer with proven oil reserves of 37bn barrels, issues regarding transparency, accountability and efficiency are still impeding Nigeria’s position as a major player in global energy markets. However, blockchain can offer transactional verification instantly across a network – improving compliance by securely storing and managing data, addressing these issues at the root.
Moreover, blockchain has the capacity to securely send and receive data, alleviating concerns that a process of digitization will expose the continent to increased threats relating to data security and cyber-attacks.
Ultimately, at a time when the global energy sector is undergoing significant upheaval, innovation has never been more important. Africa’s oil and gas industry has already started to embrace a programme of digitization, with analysts suggesting that $300 billion could be added to the continent’s economy by 2026 if the current trajectory continues.
The African continent has endless potential for solar, wind, hydro power and geothermal energy resources. The scope for Africa and all its respective countries to unlock its energy potential is immense – both conventional and renewable and technological innovations will enable this to happen.
The next installment in our Africa series will look at what the energy transition means for the continent and how producers are adapting to a focus on the exploration of alternative energy sources.