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The changing climate is a global phenomenon with consequences across various industries. The pipe, valves, and fittings (PVF) industry, which provides essential components for a wide range of applications, is no exception. This change brings positive and negative effects; understanding these impacts is important for industry stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors and end-users.
Before discussing the direct impacts of the changing climate, let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting. Why, you ask? Because the GHGs your business generates affect your customer’s GHG emissions, as do your supplier’s GHG emissions affect your company’s GHG contribution.
Scope 1, 2, and 3 GHGs are categories used to classify and measure an organization’s carbon footprint and environmental impact (see Figure 1):
• Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions) are produced directly by an organization’s activities, over which it has operational control. Examples include emissions from on-site combustion of fossil fuels in company-owned boilers, vehicles or industrial processes.
• Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions) are associated with generating energy that an organization uses but doesn’t produce itself. Examples include purchased or externally sourced electricity, heating or cooling.
• Scope 3 emissions (also indirect emissions) are the most extensive, often the most controversial and challenging to quantify. They include all other indirect emissions associated with an organization’s activities, upstream and downstream. Examples include emissions from the production of raw materials, transportation of goods and services, employee commuting, business travel and the end-use of products or services (often the biggest GHG source for manufacturing companies).
Reducing Scope 3 emissions requires collaboration and influence throughout an organization’s supply chain, making them an important consideration for sustainability and climate strategies.
Let’s dive into how the changing climate can positively impact PVF companies.
Increased Demand for Resilient Infrastructure
As seen recently in Greece, Libya and other countries around the
world, there is a growing need for industries and cities to proactively begin adapting to weather changes by assessing, upgrading and fortifying existing infrastructure to withstand these new weather extremes.
This will drive an increased demand for PVF that supports projects to improve infrastructure resilience. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events (drought, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes) necessitate construction and maintenance of more robust and resilient infrastructure.
PVF products must be designed with materials that enhance corrosion resistance, withstand greater temperature fluctuations, and are durable under more frequent extreme conditions.
Water Infrastructure Upgrades
We have all experienced changing precipitation patterns: more frequent droughts followed by more intense rainfalls. These changing patterns force cities and municipalities to assess and upgrade or expand their water infrastructure, such as significant increases in water retention systems (basins, dikes, tanks, etc.) to hold more stormwater as rain events are larger but less frequent.
Likewise, wastewater plants will need to expand to treat higher flows of stormwater and wastewater and upgrade to allow these streams to be recycled for reuse in industrial and agricultural applications. Recycling and reusing these streams will preserve precious freshwater for human consumption; only 2 percent of all water on the planet is freshwater. PVF components are essential for these projects.
At the same time, PVF companies should look for ways to reduce their freshwater consumption through recycling, reuse and substituting water sources.
Global mitigation efforts place a strong emphasis on energy-efficiency improvement as a meaningful way to reduce the emission of GHGs. In response, industries adopt more energy-efficient equipment, find ways to eliminate waste, and reduce fugitive emissions (lost products and intermediates) and energy losses.
The PVF industry can capitalize on this trend by offering more innovative products, such as low/no-leak valves and fittings designed to keep all the material in the process. The energy was consumed to process the fugitive, wasted and lost streams prior to them leaking to the atmosphere. Keeping them in the pipe eliminates waste and loss, which improves energy efficiency.
Utility losses — primarily steam, steam condensate and freshwater — are often overlooked as opportunities to reduce GHG emissions. When steam and condensate are “lost,” additional steam must be generated, and additional freshwater must be drawn from the community to offset the lost steam and condensate.
Additional energy must be generated to heat the condensate to generate steam; both generate GHG emissions. Recovering these streams by eliminating leaks benefits the environment, the community and the facility’s bottom line. These same ideas should be applied to PVF operations, too.
Increasing Renewable Energy Production
Adding renewable energy sources, primarily intermittent solar and wind, with a required reduction in dispatchable (24/7) coal-fired energy, are important elements in reducing GHG emissions.
The transition and increased use of intermittent renewable energy at the expense of dispatchable high GHG-emitting energy sources will require new projects and new sources of low GHG-emitting dispatchable energy to ensure a reliable, continuous power supply to the community.
The new dispatchable projects will primarily be fueled by natural gas, renewable natural gas, hydrogen or a mix of the three. These new projects will increase the demand for PVF; the new sources will, in the case of hydrogen, require upgraded PVF construction materials for the extreme operating temperature and pressure regimes in the production and transportation of hydrogen.
Water Resource Management
As water stress and scarcity grow across the globe, they lead to a heightened emphasis on water conservation and efficiency. As water scarcity becomes more pronounced, water resource management becomes a priority.
The PVF industry can contribute by providing components for advanced water treatment (water recycling and reuse) and distribution systems. Water-saving valves, fittings and systems designed for agricultural, industrial and municipal applications are likely to see increased demand. The PVF industry will be a key player in collaborating and communicating lessons learned with customers to promote sustainable water management solutions.
Even PVF facilities and operations should share best practices among themselves to reduce their freshwater use footprint.
Having read about the positive impacts, let’s investigate how climate can challenge the PVF company and its end-users.
Policies and regulations aimed at mitigating the effect of climate change evolve rapidly, leading to regulatory uncertainty for many companies supported by the PVF industry. Manufacturing companies find planning for future growth projects and long-term investments more challenging when regulations are subject to more frequent change.
Government and industry recognize that the need to reduce GHGs will come from various solutions (see Figure 2).
The government’s nonfinancial solutions are adopting more restrictive environmental regulations, especially in the oil and gas sector: EPA’s new OOOOb, OOOOc regulations for upstream oil and gas production and midstream pipeline transportation of oil and gas. These new regulations will require oil and gas operators to frequently detect and repair equipment with methane leaks.
The regulations require companies to monitor their biggest well sites every three months, among other upgrades. They also require eliminating fugitive leaks from equipment such as storage tanks, compressors, pneumatic pump valves and connectors. Oil and gas operations account for one-third of U.S. methane emissions.
While environmental regulations aimed at mitigating GHG emissions will positively impact the environment and the PVF industry through increased research/development and demand for low/no-leak technology valves and fittings, they also impose regulatory burdens and additional costs directly on PVF customers.
Supply Chain Disruptions
The changing climate poses a significant risk of supply chain disruptions. More frequent extreme weather events have damaged manufacturing facilities, disrupted transportation networks, and interrupted the supply of raw materials, intermediates and finished products. These disruptions will lead to production delays, critical component shortages and increased costs.
All supply chain companies should collectively be talking about contingency planning and assisting each other in developing robust plans to address these disruptions effectively.
Energy Transition Volatility
The global shift to increasing use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, will disrupt traditional power generation markets primarily through the shutdown of coal-fired plants.
The PVF industry will have an opportunity to pivot to emerging low-carbon power generation (stationary sources) technologies such as hydrogen; along with low-carbon energy streams (mobile sources), including synthetic or e-fuels (fuels created from carbon dioxide), hydrogen “surrogates” such as ammonia and methanol; and finally, to recovering carbon dioxide emissions through capture and reuse or sequestration.
Fluctuating energy prices impact the profitability of all industries, including oil and gas. To offset these increases, companies constantly look for cost-cutting ideas. One savings best practice is increasing the cycle length between repair and replacement of PVF, primarily valves, which reduces maintenance costs between maintenance turnaround periods.
To increase maintenance cycle time — also known as mean time between failure — manufacturing companies should adopt and PVF companies should promote PVF evaluation with the total cost of ownership method (TCoOM). TCoOM factors in the initial component cost along with maintenance, repair and upkeep costs between maintenance turnaround periods.
Improving cycle time will likely require better quality, more robust PVF. Using TCoOM, the PVF supplier and end-user can objectively determine the best PVF kit to increase cycle time, reduce cost and reduce emissions — win, win, win.
The changing climate can have unprecedented consequences, with both positive and negative effects. As extreme weather events increase, stricter environmental regulations are implemented and new sustainability goals reshape the landscape. The PVF industry and its end-users must be agile, innovative and forward-thinking in response.
While increased demand for resilient infrastructure, water infrastructure upgrades and end-user energy efficiency measures offer growth opportunities, the industry must plan for and navigate new challenges in the supply chain and address shifting demand.
This will involve investing in research and development to create new climate-resilient products, lower low-e and no-e products, while implementing enhanced risk management strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of extreme weather events. By doing these things, the industry can better weather the literal and metaphorical storms.
By proactively addressing the challenges with sustainability, resilience and adaptability and seizing opportunities that come, the PVF industry will continue to play a vital role in building a sustainable and resilient future in a world where the only constant is change.
Tim Goedeker has more than 38 years of experience in the energy industry, specifically petroleum downstream refining. He is a solutions-focused, results-oriented strategic thinker with a broad background in operations, project development and management, commercial, economics, engineering, environmental and regulatory affairs.