Revamping the downstream
Digital solutions will play an important role in boosting Repsol’s refining segment and efforts to lower the company’s emissions
Spanish oil firm Repsol has taken up the challenge to become a net-zero company by 2050, developing into a multi-energy provider with a client-centric approach. Our aim is to provide the energy and the products that society needs at any moment.
In this context, cultural transformation and digitalisation arise as key enablers to adapt Repsol to the new scenario. To this end, the company has embarked on a five-year digital programme, initiated in 2017, that covers all our business and corporate areas with a total planned investment of approximately €600mn ($710.11mn).
As a key area of Repsol, the industrial businesses—mainly including refining, chemicals and trading—faced a great challenge. The deployment of digitalisation across seven different facilities in three countries and two continents while continuing operations 24 hours per day and 365 days per year demands a high level of coordination and a digitalised and optimised mindset.
€600mn – Investment under Repsol's five-year digital programme
Since the conception of the digitalisation programme, the industrial businesses have already launched more than 100 digital cases, involving more than 500 people and having generated a cash impact of more than €200mn (referring to savings and an increase of sales and margin).
Digitalisation of Repsol’s industrial unit is already a reality in 2020, helping the company become more efficient and sharply reducing emissions. This gives us better knowledge of our assets and enhances their reliability and safety.
The digitalisation of Repsol’s industrial unit, and particularly our refining business, has been structured around four strategic lines.
- End-to-end business planning
We aim to establish dynamic end-to-end business planning for our refining businesses through the consolidation and processing of market, customer and operational information, leveraging advanced analytics tools to optimise product lines and to increase planning flexibility. In refining alone, these initiatives are expected to have a yearly impact in mature operations of around €90mn.
As an example of the different initiatives that have been launched, an innovative digital solution—the crude oil blending and agile scheduling tool—has been incorporated into our refineries. This enables us to optimise and automate the scheduling process end-to-end, from crude arrival and blending to product blending and dispatch, with a +30-day horizon, leveraging advanced analytics to model, enhance and prioritise scenarios.
- Autonomous plants
A second strategic line is to turn traditional assets into autonomous plants capable of predicting results and making automatic decisions based on real-time plant data, captured through asset connectivity. This uses analytical models to optimise process interventions and economic value. Refining autonomous plant initiatives are expected to reach around €130mn of yearly impact upon completion.
Additionally, Repsol is boosting the implementation of real-time optimisation solutions, a rigorous simulation model based on thermodynamic equations that are capable of self-calibrating over time. Applying the resource helps determine what would bring the greatest revenue to each plant. And these equations consider actual internal and external restrictions.
This technology is coupled with other advanced multi-variable and predictive control systems such as Heat-X, a model capable of predicting fouling in the heat-exchange trains of distillation units, allowing decisions to be made on cleaning, helping avoid the loss of production and guaranteeing the maximum use of the exchange surface.
- Zero unexpected failures
Eliminating unplanned downtime is the goal of another strategic line. It can be achieved by ensuring the reliability and integrity of assets, providing a holistic and real-time view of asset performance to reduce maintenance costs, extend asset life-cycles and maximise production through advanced analytics and machine learning. This is expected to generate benefits of more than €30mn for Repsol’s refining segment.
The improvement of asset performance will be facilitated through the implementation of the asset health system, which centralises relevant asset information from various sources, determines the state of assets and provides analytical tools that allow optimisation of plant maintenance. An example of this initiative is the corrosion management system, which uses an advanced model to monitor and predict unit corrosion, providing additional information to the asset health system and, consequently, increasing unit reliability.
- Flawless and always safe
Lastly, one of the most relevant concerns for Repsol is to ensure the safety of both operations and employees. The digital programme is contributing to the development of tens of mobile applications that allow Repsol´s workforce to connect, not only with each other but also with facilities in real time.
Repsol has already deployed among its operators more than 1,500 Atex devices—equipment for use in explosive atmospheres—with the aim of improving the safety and sustainability of its operations. For example, minimising leak incident resolution times by being able to refer the detection of a leak from a smartphone, providing pictures and geo-localisation in just one click.
An additional essential aspect is that, once we have manufactured our products, we cannot forget our customers. We aim to build an ecosystem of energy products around the domestic client so that domestic and mobility needs are met with a multi-product approach.
We have more than 4,500 service stations in five different countries and more than 10mn clients with different needs and demands. Digitalisation has given Repsol the opportunity to get closer to each one of these clients, enhancing service quality through the digitalisation of channels (like Waylet, our payment and loyalty app that already has more than 1.8mn users) and improving our offering with personalised promotions and discounts, leveraging big data and advanced analytics. One of our biggest challenges as an energy company is to be able to provide a unique and seamless customer experience along with our multi-energy offering.
The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that Repsol’s digital programme adds real value to its business units, and we will continue to invest in digitalisation by developing new digital cases to contribute to our growing portfolio. The shift will play a pivotal role in realising Repsol’s ambition of becoming net zero and consolidating its client-centric approach.
Valero Marín is chief information officer and chief digital officer at Repsol
This article is taken from our forthcoming Digitalisation Review, which will be published in November.