Singapore gathers global energy firms to seek out new innovation for sector

Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips have joined hands with Enterprise Singapore in their call for startups to pitch and testbed digital solutions to help resolve challenges in their sector, specifically, around robotics, sustainability, work flow, and asset management.

Four international energy companies have joined hands with Enterprise Singapore in their call for startups to pitch and develop digital solutions to help address key challenges in their sector. Specifically, 19 challenge statements around robotics, sustainability, work flow, and asset management have been issued. 

Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips as well as the Singapore government agency together launched the Energy Open Innovation Challenge, which they said would give small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and startups the opportunity to pitch and testbed their solutions alongside the energy companies.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, they said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted the global energy sector, where lockdown measures and restricted air travel resulting in a significant dip in demand for energy. Remote work arrangements also had affected how energy companies manage their operations and workforce deployment. 

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In addition to these recent developments, the sector in recent years had been seeking out more energy efficient and sustainable energy sources, such as liquified natural gas and hydrogen fuel, as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and achieve sustainability. 

Energy organisations would need to adopt new technologies to improve work flow across various parts of their operations and manage assets more cost-effectively. These should reduce manual tasks and create higher value-added roles, the companies said.

The 19 challenge statements called for proposals to address various tasks and improve efficiencies, such as the use of robotics to remotely paint confined spaces or check for corrosion of storage tank plates without having to take the tank out of service. Other challenge statements called for alternatives to substitute plastic packaging in supplying lubricants as well as to reduce and manage greenhouse gas emissions from marine and land-based utilities, such as refineries and power plants. 

Enterprise Singapore's deputy CEO Ted Tan said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of innovation in the energy sector and the value of enterprises coming together to solve industry challenges. The [innovation challenge] provides a common platform to facilitate opportunities for SMBs and startups to trial their solutions and build track record with these established energy companies. 

"Likewise, corporates can adapt the innovative solutions according to their specific needs to tackle challenges and explore new growth opportunities," Tan said. 

Enterprise Singapore would offer up to SG$1 million ($735,510) in grants to help eligible applicants drive the development of their applications. The top startup winner for each category of the 19 challenge statements also could be awarded a cash prize of SG$25,000 ($18,387).

In addition, shortlisted applicants would be offered opportunities to collaborate with the four energy companies and develop and testbed their applications on-site in Singapore and in their global offices.

ExxonMobil Singapore's refinery process manager Neo Ee Ee noted that the organisation already had been running various pilots and digital projects at its manufacturing facility with the aim to enhance safety and productivity in its operations. These had included collaboration with Singapore-based companies to tap robotics, drone technologies, and other digital technologies.

Neo said: "The COVID-19 situation underscores the need to accelerate our digitalisation journey and grow the digital competencies and experience of our workforce, so that we are well placed for the opportunities presented by this transformation."

Shell, too, had been working with local SMBs and startups to tweak their solutions for the energy sector, leveraging digital technologies such as drones, advanced analytics, and augmented reality. Its Singapore energy transition manager Chong Leigh Hsiang said the innovation challenge would help drive Shell's goals to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Interested startups and SMBs have until November 6 to submit their applications.

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