Downtime in the oil and gas industry isexpensive. What’s more, the cost of a mishap on an offshore platform can run in the billions of dollars and have an impact for years. Integrating an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with the right capabilities in the emergency power network on a platform ensures that the low voltage network and the devices that depend upon it continue to function. This reduces the risk of downtime and a potential safety lapse.
Unlike facilities on land, oil and gas offshore platforms often have only one way to get the power they need: they must generate it locally.More so today than in the past, this is typically done with a gas turbine, sized such that it can produce the required peak load of as much as 90 MW of electricity. The turbine’s output runs through a transformer, which renders the power suitable for the rest of the low voltage devices like circuit breakers, contactors and transformers. These and other components are found in substations and the rest of the distribution system.
However, that is only part of the picture, and it is in the rest of the system that there are solutions to some pressing problems. Downstream from the last line of high voltage transformers sits a low voltage, or 400V and below, distribution network. Most of the systems and devices that platform workers will interact with every day get their power from this network. That includes the automation and control equipment that oversees the extraction and other processes performed on the platform. It also includes the safety devices and the systems that make an oil platform habitable by a crew for weeks at a time.
So, what happens if something goes wrong in the upstream, main high voltage network?
Well, if no provisions are made for potential problems, then they can easily cascade down through the power network causing unplanned downtime and wreaking havoc with production. Processing stops, safety interlocks trigger, ventilation ceases, and the situation can rapidly become very dangerous for people and machines.
The traditional solution is for an emergency generator and an emergency switchboard. When power fails, the generator fires up, the switchboard becomes active and the situation onboard the offshore platform stabilizes and provides a window of opportunity to address the main system.
The challenge with this solution is that emergency generators require time to take over the load. So, there will be a delay, although it may be very brief. If the duration of the main power glitch is short enough, the emergency generator may not even be able to come on line. However, even very short excursions outside the bounds of voltage specifications can be problematic for servers in micro data centers.
New innovation facilitates power backup
To avoid such issues, part of the emergency system should include an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). While UPS solutions have been an offshore platform presence for years, a higher degree of intelligence within modern UPSs facilitates their integration into a more robust and connected power architecture. Fortunately, this is not an architecture that has to be built from scratch by oil and gas engineering and operations teams. These architectures have been pre-designed.
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure architecture, for example, offers an open, but tailored, stack of connected products, control level software, and cloud-based services for supporting applications and data analytics. This common platform accommodates information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) hardware devices and software and is designed to facilitate Internet of Things (IoT)-oriented solution development, regardless of the brand of equipment being used.
Years in the making, the EcoStruxure architecture unlocks the potential of smart sensors and data points within the IT and power systems to vastly improve management practices. Data is translated into actionable intelligence which allows for better business decisions. The advanced connectivity now enables robust two-way communication, making devices such as UPSs, power distribution systems, generators and IT support systems easier to manage either locally or remotely. Reliability also improves because of increased access to diagnostic data. These capabilities lead to enhanced preventive and predictive maintenance, an important advancement that is now both possible and affordable.
An integrated emergency power system designed with a modern UPS ensures that the system can instantly shoulder the load whether the failure of the mains is over in an instant or lasts much longer. The UPS can step in immediately for brief failures or out-of-spec voltage. The UPS can also bridge the gap between the time that a problem arises and the time the emergency generator is fully up and running.