On the face of it, fuel monitoring systems provide a valuable means of assisting maritime operators in checking and reducing their rates of fuel consumption, hopefully resulting in improved operational efficiency and lower overheads.
While this simplistic description is correct, it neglects a rather complex set of related factors which can drastically affect the commercial opportunities available to operators, particularly those within the offshore sector.
Obviously, slashing fuel consumption rates can save operators/owners significant amounts of money (in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars per year), but the benefits of adequate fuel monitoring extend beyond a quantifiable reduction in operational expenditure. Given the high volumes of fuel consumption by offshore vessels, any fuel price savings can have a considerable impact on day-to-day operational cost savings and efficiencies. However, any downward trend of oil prices means that there is inevitably less exploration and production (E&P) activity around to bid for, and any contracts that are awarded come with considerable requirements for operational cost reductions and controls. To meet these challenges, advanced fuel management systems are helping both operators and oil companies improve their management of oil field supply (OFS) fleets.
Damian McCann, product manager for the Enginei fuel monitoring tool produced by Royston, tells Offshore Marine Technology: “We have clients who have been awarded new contracts based on installing fuel monitoring systems ahead of their competitors. Some clients are using the data to justify keeping contracts and trying to gain new ones by demonstrating that they are being open and transparent with their fuel usage and striving continuously to be more efficient. Fuel oil price fluctuations do not affect vessel operators on these sort of contracts ‘at the pumps’, as it were. However, with falling oil prices affecting their overall business operations, the oil majors are nonetheless still asking the vessel operators to reduce costs by up to 50% in some regions on those contracts that are still being offered.”
The risk of fuel theft is another important consideration. Whilst not being so common in the US and Europe, there have been numerous incidents of bunker fuel being stolen and re-sold (often by crew members) within developing countries. Again, few energy majors will be keen to award contracts to operators who cannot demonstrate they have installed some sort of defence against this illegal practice. Also, in some territories, failure to adhere to agreed operational budgets can have more severe implications than simply annoying the customer. “In Brazil, operators are penalised if they go above a pre-determined fuel consumption threshold,” McCann reveals.
And, beyond the business side, there are also the regulators to appease, especially when it comes to curbing vessel emissions. McCann explains: “With density measurement of fuel, operators can now use fuel monitoring data to verify when they switched from heavy fuel to low sulphur fuel in emission control area [ECAs] / sulphur emission control area [SECA] zones, which are especially prevalent in the US.” It could also be argued that, given the higher cost of low-sulphur diesels, contractors want to ensure that operators are not accidentally switching to ‘green’ mode too early, before entering the ECA/SECA, and thus needlessly wasting this expensive, specialist fuel.
“The focus of the oil and gas majors on cost reduction is not expected to change in the immediate future,” McCann warns. “As a result, those oilfield service companies that utilise new technological solutions to reduce risks and lower costs for their customers should have significant competitive advantage.”
In response, Royston has upgraded its Enginei fuel monitoring and data collection solution, incorporating a number of additional features to provide a comprehensive and detailed overview of fuel performance. This overview factors in a number of considerations, related to operational conditions, vessel type and size, the average loads carried by said vessel and the nature of the offshore work involved; clearly, what works for a survey ship is going to differ wildly from the requirements of a semisubmersible drillship.
The Enginei comes with a mountable console, provided either as a 12” touch screen or a 4” LED display, and which would most typically be installed on the bridge and/or in the engine room. McCann says: “Enginei engineers install and commission the system and train the crew in its use the average install time is four days.” The system’s customer portal is web-based, enabling authorised users to access its data remotely from any device, and has been designed for compatibility with all existing engine types and to be installed either new or as part of a retrofit.
An unlimited number of hard wired sensors and flow meters can be added to the system, and applied to various locations on the vessel. For example, McCann comments, flow meters could be installed on the fuel line; a bunker meter on the bunker line; an rpm sensor on the fly wheel; and a torque sensor on the shaft. Inputs can also be created for factors such as vessel speed and pitch, sea state, weather conditions, dynamic positioning configurations and ship trim.
Essentially, what the operator needs to create, Royston argues, is as detailed an “overlay of fuel burn patterns” as is possible. In this way, the operator can demonstrate not just a commitment to lowering fuel expenditure, but a reliable example of how much fuel the vessel can be expected to guzzle across a variety of operating conditions for instance, when in standby mode, in transit mode, when conducting anchor handling and various DP roles, and so on. By highlighting individual vessel suitability for particular E&P-related tasks, fuel monitoring systems can provide a closer ‘match’ between operators and energy majors, helping to decide the outcome of contracts.
For example, it is all well and good if a vessel can demonstrate excellent fuel efficiency whilst fulfilling PSV duties in the North Sea, but this is largely irrelevant if the vessel is required to undertake a more stationary role in Brazilian or African waters. The more scenarios covered, the better the chance of determining the vessel’s suitability for (and likelihood of winning) certain contracts.
The Enginei system collates fuel performance data in real time. While many users will opt to access this data in the form of daily reports, the operator can set up onboard alerts, which can also provide timely warnings to crew should fuel burn rates exceed their pre-determined thresholds, enabling them to take countermeasures (such as reducing speed or adjusting vessel load) before the threshold is exceeded.
Over time, all information gathered on board can be used to build up a performance profile of each vessel in the fleet, thus making it easier to establish recommended working practices for crew and to compile key performance indicators (KPIs) for individual journeys and contracts, says McCann. “We are already working with oil majors who are utilising the depth of fuel and vessel performance data made available to them remotely, to compile their own fuel efficiency league tables,” he adds.
As for the potential cost savings to be made, McCann estimates that users could see reductions of between 30-50%, drawing on feedback from clients, across a range of vessel types, who have installed the Enginei system. By comparing the fuel burn rate overlay against bunkering information and vessel performance, users can also quickly discover whether or not unexpectedly high fuel use can be attributed to theft. This aspect of the system enabled one of Royston’s Singapore-based operator clients to quickly identify that an offshore vessel was indeed being targeted by fuel thieves, once the gathered data had been analysed to prove that the vessel had adhered to its speed limit.
As with any technology, one needs to use fuel monitoring systems properly to get the best results. Royston’s hope is that operators look beyond the short-term benefits of these solutions and instead view them as integral contributors to an ongoing process of maintaining vessel integrity, market competitiveness, environmental compliance and continuous profitability. Regardless of how fuel prices peak or trough in the future, getting to grips with fuel economy can only be a beneficial move in an industry where every dollar spent is prone to scrutiny.