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Fourth industrial revolution to make India a natural resource champion sustainably

Digital technologies have the potential to bring about the balance between green and growth, resource and infrastructure, and profits and people

Published: 08, Aug 2017

ABB is a pioneering technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally. Continuing more than a 125-year history of innovation, ABB today is writing the future of industrial digitalization and driving the Energy and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. ABB operates in more than 100 countries with about 132,000 employees.


India recently joined other nations to re-emphasize the resolve to fight climate change at the G-20 summit. The efficient and responsible harnessing of natural resources with the support of sustainable infrastructure is what will make a difference for our nations to realize the clean energy vision.  While stating that India will honor the climate deal in “letter and spirit”, our Prime Minister at the recently concluded summit highlighted the importance of developing nations having enough room to grow.

Digital technologies if deployed strategically can strike the much needed balance between green and growth, resource and infrastructure and profits and people. Faster returns on investment for digital technologies of anywhere up to two years, could be a catalyst for mass deployment. Some steps in this direction have already been taken to encourage smarter usage, inducing more transparency in the systems and upgrading the industry to the next level – e-auction for mining licenses, national water management and air quality index and fuel standards are just some of the examples. Already India’s focus on renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022 entails a greater focus on digital technology for faster integration and managing the resultant intermittency in the resource. Given below are a few ways where industrial IoT or digital technology can contribute to creating a potent mix of resources and infrastructure for a better quality of growth.

Water, the most precious natural resource
Water is the most undervalued natural resource and India is one of the most water-challenged nations in the world given the population pressure. India’s official non-revenue water is very high and can vary anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent, the global average is about 28 percent. Digital technology with flowmeters can play a major role like partnering civic bodies to measure hence manage their city water distribution systems better and increase water revenues. Automation of sewerage treatment plants to intercept and treat sewerage water for re-use before it enters the water bodies is another key area. More crop per drop is also an area where digital technologies can play a significant role in optimizing the usage of water for a better harvest.

Air pollution
The government has mandated continuous emission and effluent quality monitoring systems for certain categories of industries. However the success of the program and to interpret the huge quantum of real time data for actionable insights depend on getting the sense-analyze-act action right. The right deployment of equipment coupled with the requisite trained human resources to derive desired benefits from the technology is the need of the hour. There is also a huge potential to equip Indian cities adequately with pollution measurement systems for efficient management. The industry has moved to a level where NASA satellites are providing air pollution data (aerosols) of various countries with associated training tools available on open source platforms.

Oil and gas
India is the third largest consumer of energy and importer globally. Efficient extraction and more value per unit of energy extracted is imperative for the energy security of the country. Digital technologies act at multiple levels from rendering efficiencies in the process – upstream, midstream and downstream to facilitating data modelling and availability at certain levels of access. For every barrel of oil extracted, three to four barrels equivalent energy is utilized. From remote monitoring of oil and gas fields to process optimization and safety, digital technologies can take the industry to the next frontiers of technology. As India has ambitious aims of becoming a gas trading hub in the region, digital technology can play a key role to realize this ambition combining standardization, quality, and terminal facilities. Digital technologies also play a key role over and above geopolitics to create some structure of responsible pricing for high growth countries like India balancing security of demand and supply.

As per a recent Accenture report, IoT and digital technology is estimated to yield 12 to 15 percent to EIBITA in the mining sector. Currently industrial IoT entails integration of operations, remote monitoring, for safety and maintenance however one is yet to leverage predictive analytics. Drones are being encouraged and set to help in volumetric analysis, lease boundary and thermal analysis, combining regulation requirements and environment management. With digitalization of the value chain, more accurate demand and delivery modelling, mechanisms like remote monitoring can help reclaim and recycle a significant quantity of the steel. The relatively faster payback time for digital technologies can help offset the high debt burden for a lot of companies in this space, marked by global volatilities and pricing cycles for commodities.

Clean coal technology
India is the world’s third largest coal producing country and the fourth largest coal importer. It is expected to increase its coal production to about 1 billion tons by 2020. Clean coal technology is a low hanging fruit to meet India’s COP21 target. And this can be done while keeping our renewable energy journey on track. This way we can set the course for the future while transforming existing facilities as the replacement of 1 MW of coal-based power plant requires investment in a 4 MW solar power plant. While solar generates electricity for 2,000 hours in a year, coal can give up to 7,000 hours of energy. With unprecedented drop in renewable energy prices and storage systems, this is being disrupted. However a lot can be achieved with greater focus on clean coal production. Coal pre-processing, combustion stage as well as life extension and modernization of existing plants, more than 100 in numbers, are areas where digital technology deployment could enhance outcomes.

Providing development opportunities to more than a billion people sustainably is a tall order for any nation. If deployed with the combination of right mindset and human resource, digital technology could be the means to propel India as a natural resource champion, building a more inclusive and sustainable nation.

- By Madhav Vemuri, President, Industrial Automation, ABB India

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