The energy infrastructure is really changing as it turns to the IoT (Internet of Things) to provide maintenance, monitoring, and even pipeline security. And during the past few weeks, I have taken you on a journey of America’s infrastructure. America’s infrastructure grade, and let’s just be frank, was barely passing—and that’s true no matter how you look at it.

The energy infrastructure in the U.S. has been my focus all month, and I can’t help but take an even deeper dive with this blog. ASCE (The American Society of Civil Engineers) as I have noted several times before says our energy infrastructure as of 2017 is worth a “D+.”

But, I am an optimist and I am hoping that technology adoption in the sector is going to help us earn a better grade next time the ASCE does its evaluation.

The U.S. energy system is getting kind of old. Okay. I think we can all agree. A lot of our nation’s electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s and they’re nearing or already past their life expectancy. Plus, the ASCE says the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states are operating at full capacity.

If we take a wait-and-see approach to this aging infrastructure, or if we as a nation submit to an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mindset, everyday Americans and their businesses could suffer as a result.

For instance, we could be in for more frequent interruptions to our power, or we could experience longer delays in fixing service interruptions due to capacity bottlenecks and a less predictable climate.

Aging pipeline infrastructure is concerning for many reasons, including the potential for leaks and other accidents that could damage property, the environment, and human lives.

Thankfully, we live in a connected world. The Internet of Things is enabling the rapid collection of reliable data from remote things, people, and places. The IoT is making it so that we don’t have to be everywhere and see everything in order to keep tabs on our equipment, our assets, or our infrastructure.

IoT solutions are allowing oil and gas pipeline operators to measure and analyze flow, facilitate timely or even predictive maintenance, and manage adverse events in near-realtime.

The use of technology, therefore, is helping energy companies optimize their operations, lower repair and maintenance costs, and reduce accidents that can be so detrimental to the environment surrounding these pipelines.

And one thing I’m always thinking about is the bigger enterprise picture. These IoT systems can link to other automated systems within the enterprise, opening doors to new efficiencies that just equal better business.

Research and Markets says the global IoT in oil and gas market will grow to $30.57 billion by 2026. In 2016, analytics accounted for 76% of the IoT marketshare in oil and gas, outperforming other IoT solution platforms in terms of value.

This makes a lot of sense, in part because prices of crude oil and gas are always fluctuating, prompting players in this sector to try to find ways to predict their future business plans and improve profitability.

Just like we always do in the IoT space, it’s also useful to look at which players are leveraging technology and how many new partnerships and product launches we see as indicators of future adoption in a particular sector.

In oil and gas, companies like BP and many others are leveraging IoT platforms and analytics solutions, and we’re seeing new partnerships and new oil-and-gas-focused product launches as well. As I see it these are all clear signs that the demand for IoT in this industry is poised for major growth in the next several years.

Oil theft is a huge, multi-billion-dollar problem globally and here in the United States. Remote monitoring via satellite connectivity is one way to tackle the issue. Satellite is particularly valuable where radio or cellular aren’t options.

Sensors placed strategically within pipeline infrastructure can detect a change in pressure indicative of a leak or a breach, which can then trigger an alert sent by satellite to an operator.

It doesn’t take very long for thieves to tap a line, fill up, and get going, so these types of events need to be detected right away.

Another way the IoT can help detect and deter oil and gas theft is through the use of drones to patrol remote pipelines. Remotely controlled enterprise drones can be equipped with sensors capable of detecting movement in unauthorized areas, even at night, and spotting leaks from a birds-eye view.

This is a safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective method of catching thieves compared to sending humans out to patrol pipelines. Analytics can be used to pinpoint trouble hotspots and then employ both a cellular or satellite-enabled sensing system and a drone patrol as a deterrent in areas that have proven to be tempting to thieves.

The more guesswork we can take out of pipeline operations and pipeline security, the better for everyone. Isn’t that what this is all about?

I hope you’ll tune in for that as well.

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