The metaverse was the tech buzzword of 2022. An explosion of metaverse hype caused by Meta’s rebrand was followed by a notable slump in interest among consumers and investors. Uninspiring demand, high development costs and new disruptive forces such as inflation and generative AI have deflated sky-high expectations. This is a good thing. Now, we can more realistically assess the opportunities presented by the metaverse without the rose-tinted (smart) glasses.

Metaverse technologies were providing real value to the energy sector years before Meta’s rebrand in 2021. Mark Zuckerberg’s interpretation of the metaverse—a virtual world in which humans can socialise, collaborate and spend via avatars—currently offers very little value to the energy sector. However, elements of the industrial metaverse, such as digital twins and enterprise VR and AR experiences, were improving asset management, employee training and other business operations long before the metaverse became the Web3 poster child of 2022.

What are the key use cases?

Digital twins are one the most valuable elements of the metaverse to the energy sector. Vast networks of industrial infrastructures underpin power and oil and gas operations. Oil and gas companies rely on oil rigs, pipelines and refineries, while power companies rely on energy generation, storage and transmission infrastructures. These large, expensive, complex and often hazardous assets need to be operated and maintained as efficiently as possible. Digital twins of these assets can enable their remote management and predictive maintenance and can also improve employee safety.

On a grander scale, digital twins of entire infrastructure networks can improve supply chain management by delivering insights into multiple interconnected assets’ operations. They can also expedite mergers and acquisitions. If both the acquirer and issuer have digital twins of their infrastructures, it is easier to analyse at the deal discussion stage the cost and revenue synergies of operating both infrastructures together and to carry out due diligence. It is also easier to identify the best way to integrate both operations once the deal has been agreed.

AR and VR experiences also add value. Outfitting on-site workforces with AR headsets enables technical support to be provided remotely. VR-based training teaches employees how to work in hazardous industrial environments without exposing them to dangers before they are ready.

The energy sector has also found use cases for blockchain. For example, blockchain can provide a decentralised ledger around the sale and purchase of energy within microgrids. In addition, blockchain can be used to track energy streams’ sources, allowing consumers to see how their energy is generated and select local and renewable sources.

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Who are some of the leading adopters?

Shell is a leading adopter of the metaverse within the oil and gas sector. Over the last five years, it has entered numerous digital twin partnerships with vendors such as Aveva, Kongsberg and Bentley Systems. It has also integrated AR and VR into its operations for remote assistance and training purposes. Within the power sector, EDF Energy has proven especially innovative in developing digital twins for the nuclear industry. It has partnered with Capgemini, Aveva and Dassault Systemes for this purpose and has even founded its own digital twin start-up, Metroscope. Both the French and UK governments have turned to EDF Energy for researching and developing digital twin-enabled nuclear facilities.