July 22, 2024

Flex Tech

Innovation in Every Curve

Technological advances increase efficiencies and flexibility

Many facets of upstream oil and gas production have been optimized through the introduction of various technologies. When it comes to powering drilling activities, however, the availability of solutions that enable companies to reduce fuel costs—a significant expense—has been an important driver to help reimagine field operations. Such approaches not only provide flexibility and improve efficiencies but also help lower emissions. 

The oil and gas industry remains crucial for energy security and for making many aspects of modern life possible. Given the critical role that hydrocarbons play in our world, ensuring the reliability of these energy sources is of the utmost importance. This 24/7 criticality has contributed to diesel being the historical fuel of choice for drilling and completion efforts, due to its dependability in maintaining output—especially during periods of transient load.  

Transient response capability is a key concern for companies. The ability to operate on alternative fuels, such as natural gas, and seamlessly handle spike load demand is an important advancement for the oil field. While recent advances in gas engines and gas gensets have helped increase response time to meet application requirements, the reaction time of diesel engines can now be exceeded by using a comprehensive energy storage solution. Energy storage allows companies to reliably tap into supplemental power the instant it’s needed.  

An optimized energy storage solution consists of several key components, including bi-directional power (BDP) inverters, microgrid master controllers (MMCs) and battery packs.  

Energy storage technology that’s designed to meet the needs of the oil field is power-dense and affords companies several advantages. By supplying short-term power, the need for additional gensets can be reduced, and the average load factor can be increased for greater engine efficiency. The ability to deliver a high rate of charge and discharge enables energy storage technology to provide quick transient response.

Fig. 1. The Cat® Hybrid Energy Storage Solution stores excess power from the job site and then discharges it as needed, providing a transient response that’s faster than diesel.


This has been field-proven with a Cat® Hybrid Energy Storage Solution (Fig. 1) and gas gensets, which delivered a transient response faster than what’s capable with conventional diesel-only rigs. Energy storage technology also helps reduce dependence on the grid, as short-term peak shaving eliminates the need for additional gensets for short periods. This empowers a crew to respond faster, compared to the time needed to bring another genset online. Such technology can promote greater genset utilization at a higher load, which eliminates the need for additional gensets. 

An MMC and BDP are key for an energy storage solution to provide its benefits. The MMC not only manages the gas genset but also the alternative energy source it is connected to, regardless of location. BDP inverters intelligently charge and discharge the energy storage equipment and enable crews to easily switch between off-grid and grid-connected states. The ability to turn gensets on or off, as needed, can generate additional fuel savings. 

Fig. 2. Engine management systems, like the Cat® SMART EMS, reduce engine run time, cut fuel consumption, and improve diesel displacement without sacrificing power, performance or productivity.

Advances in automation give companies even greater control over their operations’ fuel consumption and related emissions. Solutions, such as Cat’s Smart Engine Management System (SMART EMS), Fig. 2., enable crews to focus on higher-value activities, as it automatically switches engines on and off in response to power demand, which improves efficiencies while reducing maintenance, repair costs and fuel expenses (and related emissions). Settings can be changed, or even overridden, allowing drillers the flexibility that drilling operations demand. This can help senior operators perform their jobs more efficiently and help accelerate the learning curve for new crew members. The ability to automate this process can help optimize performance and operating costs, based on programmable targets, allowing fewer engines to run at higher loads.  

The availability of energy storage solutions and intelligent engine management systems enables companies to increase efficiencies and lower costs and emissions while maintaining power and performance. This was the experience of a Canadian operator that utilized the Cat Hybrid Energy Storage Solution and SMART EMS. When paired with natural gas gensets, the operator and its drilling company experienced a 95% reduction in diesel consumption, 30% reduction in engine run hours and 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

Leveraging the latest technological advances is necessary for oil and gas businesses to be empowered to carve out efficiencies while lowering costs and wellsite emissions. Automated, intelligent systems provide multiple benefits that support operational and sustainability goals. Such solutions now make it possible to utilize more alternative fuels while providing the confidence to meet transient power demands.  

Resolving transient response challenges creates options for companies to embrace natural gas or renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, in their operations, as these smart systems reliably dispatch energy, as needed, with full asset control. Companies are looking for innovations that enable them to optimize their operations while also helping them reach their sustainability goals.  

About the Authors

Andy Publes

Caterpillar Oil & Gas

Andy Publes is the Drilling and Completions Segment manager for Caterpillar Oil & Gas. With more than 14 years at Caterpillar, his experience spans several engineering and product development functions. He holds a BS degree in electrical engineering (power systems) from Michigan Technological University and an MS degree in electrical engineering (controls and integrated systems) from Bradley University.

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