From artificial intelligence to digital data collection and a robot that rewrites the rules, there’s plenty to see from our Gas Transmission business at this year’s Low Carbon Networks and Innovation (LCNI) Conference in Telford. Innovation Governance Manager Tom Neal explains why it’s December’s hottest ticket.
Innovation is part of the fabric of our business. We use it to develop cutting-edge technologies and new ways of working that propel our business forward and create better value for customers and consumers.
Our commitment to innovation is helping solve all kinds of important challenges. We’re able to manage ageing assets more efficiently than ever, with no compromise on safety. We’re creating a more flexible and responsive network for the future and shrinking our environmental footprint.
In the Innovation Value Report that we published this year, we showed that innovation is an intelligent investment. It brings benefits worth four times the amount we need to spend, worth £6.9m worth of benefits to gas consumers since RIIO-T1, our current price control mechanism, began.
Across our array of innovation projects – funded through Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) and Network Innovation Competition (NIC) – we’ve taken huge strides this year. We’re excited to be able to share them with you at December’s LCNI Conference. The event opens at The International Centre, Telford, on 6 December for two days.
The conference gives us an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how we’re pushing innovation and challenging how we do things, while keeping the issues of safety and customer satisfaction at the heart of our business.
We have a packed programme for LCNI. Here’s a taster of the projects we’ll be showcasing:
Project overview: Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device, or GRAID, is a new type of robot capable of inspecting the condition of previously unreachable buried pipework at high-pressure above-ground installations (AGIs). Two years into the project, our robot is fully designed and is now being put through a gruelling test programme. With two connecting modules and four driving tracks, it can steer around complex pipe geometries and is loaded with technology to tell us the true condition of the pipe. After success in the offline trials, we’re now looking to inspect on several live trial sites on our network.
Benefits of this innovation: The improved quality of data from GRAID will allow us to manage, maintain and replace our assets more efficiently.
What to expect at LCNI 2017: We’ll have a 3D model of our robot on display, along with several manufactured parts from the actual robot. The stand will also feature footage from our offline test rig showing the robot and its umbilical management system (UMS), which is our connection to the robot when it’s inside a pipe.
Acoustic Resonance Technology (ART)
Project overview: This is a new way of carrying out the inline inspections, which play an important role in maintaining gas transmission pipelines. ART uses ultrasonic techniques to pinpoint and measure any defects it identifies on a pipe, potentially providing more precise information than current techniques.
Benefits of this innovation: Improving the accuracy of inspections allows us to develop a more informed strategy for how we manage our assets. More robust results will also help us avoid unnecessary excavations. This means less cost for us and less disruption for our customers.
What to expect at LCNI 2017: We’re going big on ART, featuring a full-scale model of the tool, measuring 2.5m long, on our stand.
Project overview: Through Project CLoCC (Customer Low Cost Connections), we’re facilitating demand for lower flow gas connections to the National Transmission System (NTS) by reducing the cost and time it takes to connect. We’ve developed standardised connection designs and a new gas customer connections portal that helps customers choose the right connection option for them, based on their location and predicted gas flow.
Benefits of this innovation: Significant time and cost savings will open up the network to a potential new generation of indigenous gas sources such as biomethane and possibly shale (if there is industry development in this area), whilst also supporting the development of compressed natural gas (CNG) for transport and small gas generators.
What to expect at LCNI 2017: We’re bringing the benefits of the project to life by mapping out two different potential customer journeys. Visitors will be able to follow these stories end to end to see how Project CLoCC aims to improve new connections to the NTS.
AI for pipeline coating
Project overview: Using the latest machine learning technology, we’re training an algorithm to recognise the different equipment types and categories of corrosion found on our above-ground assets. It uses a library of tens of thousands of photographs along with knowledge gathered from technicians and engineers.
Benefits of this innovation: Using AI in this way will improve our data collection and help standardise the categories of corrosion. This will lead to smarter investment decisions.
What to expect at LCNI 2017: We’ll be putting the AI system to work on our stand, with visitors feeding images into the system and watching as it identifies any problems.
Valve sealant line grouted tee
Project overview: A lot of buried valves on the NTS have sealant lines connected to them. These lines come up out of the ground and can become corroded. We’ve developed the valve sealant line grouted tee, which allows us to carry out repairs and replacements while the pipe is live. Up to now, we’ve had to take gas out of the pipeline first, do the repairs and then recompress the section at a cost of up to £200,000.
Benefits of this innovation: The new tees significantly reduce repair costs and the time involved in carrying them out. By reducing the need for recompression, we also reduce the gas vented into the atmosphere, which is good for the environment.
What to expect at LCNI 2017: We’ve made a model of the new tee solution, so visitors interact with it and see exactly how it works.
Alongside these high-profile exhibits, we’ll also be hosting breakout sessions covering most of these projects plus two additional ones: Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and Pipeline Depth of Cover.
These sessions will be hosted by project leads, partners and suppliers, so they’ll be a great opportunity to dig deeper into what we’re doing and what we’re learning – and also to pitch your questions to some of the industry’s leading innovators.
The strength of collaboration
In innovation, as in most aspects of life, we’re stronger when we’re together. We regularly collaborate with other gas networks and LCNI will be no exception. Look out for joint presentations on fascinating industry-wide projects, such as 3D printing, open source supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and combined cathodic protection and pressure (CP and P) monitoring.
We’ll also be taking part in collaborative sessions on measuring the benefits of innovation and the ongoing Gas Innovation Governance Group (GIGG) consultation on Gas Network Innovation Strategies. This consultation runs until the end of December, so you can come along, hear what the networks have to say, and you’ll still have time to review the draft consultation and respond.
It’s been a great year for innovation in Gas Transmission: we’ve been busy implementing new learning and technologies into the day-to-day operation of our business.
Between our stand and presentations, we’re keen to share as much of that as we can with you. We want to share our knowledge and reach out to potential new partners and suppliers.
If you’re questioning whether to go, stop now. Remember this is your opportunity to see all the gas and electricity networks under one roof, to be at the cutting-edge of the latest innovations and to build connections that could lead to powerful partnerships. I hope to see you there.
You can book your tickets to LCNI 2017 here.