A new tablet-based app is set to help National Grid build a clearer picture of how the UK’s gas meters are performing. Meter Assurance Engineer Zoe Thorpe explains why the NGage app is important – and how it has the potential to return up to £8m back to gas consumers.
Unaccounted for gas (UAG) is bad news for gas consumers. It’s the quantity that remains unaccounted for after all the gas that goes in and out of the National Transmission System (NTS) has been measured – and it’s end consumers who foot the bill.
It’s the responsibility of our Gas Transmission business to manage UAG. And that means we’re always looking for ways to reduce it.
While we know that the main cause of UAG is gas lost because meters aren’t performing as well as we would like them to, we only have limited ownership of these meters. Currently we don’t receive data from all meter validations, which is when a meter’s performance and integrity is checked. With more than 260 different sites that are directly connected to the NTS, the data we do receive is provided in a range of ways and as a result is not always being supplied to us quickly enough, so it’s hard to get an accurate picture of where and what the problems are.
A change is afoot
A couple of years ago, members of our Meter Assurance team had the idea to create a common platform – in the form of a tablet-based ‘app’ – that enabled all meter validators to get their data to us in a consistent way.
We wanted this tool, called NGage, to be free to anyone involved in validating measurements so that we could have a more transparent picture of metering validation and assure the gas community that National Grid is keeping a close eye on the UK’s meter assets.
It’s been a busy year on the project, which received £425,000 from Ofgem under its Network Innovation Allowance (NIA). We released the beta test version of the validation app, along with a gas properties calculator called NGage Calc, in June. A trial period is now under way before the full versions are released at the end of summer.
If meter validators use NGage, both National Grid and the owners of the meters will have instant access to the data.
What this means is that we’ll be able to better detect how well meters are performing, identify measurement errors and make faster decisions on whether equipment associated to the metering requires calibration or replacing. Also, the time spent reviewing, logging and providing results will be massively reduced for both the asset owner and National Grid.
By improving asset health and measurement performance in this way, we estimate that we can save the end consumer up to 400GW of UAG and between £6m and £8m a year.
It’s also win-win for those carrying out the validations. They’ll save time entering the test data, as the app has the facility to auto-populate certain fields. The accompanying free gas properties calculator allows an option for them to use another system to validate their work, which will reduce their costs.
Despite all the benefits, getting validators to change old habits and adopt new technology is a challenge. We’re asking them to move from their current system, via a laptop, to a tablet. One way we’re supporting the switch is by designing the app for both iOS and Android. So should cost be an issue, validators can opt for a less expensive tablet to run the software.
Support and guidance
We want to rapidly grow the app’s user base and have been focusing on encouraging the gas distribution networks (DN), the owners of the majority of the NTS metering assets, to take it up. We offered several DN users the chance to trial the app on our own tablets to give them assurance about its benefits before they need to invest in a tablet themselves. We’re also providing ongoing support and guidance to encourage them to adopt the system. If we can do that, we’ll have half the population of meter validators covered in the first phase of the full release, which would be a great start.
Following the launch of NGage, we’ll continue to meet and support users and further market the app to potential new customers. By doing so, we expect take-up to really gather momentum in the next six to 12 months.
Once the full versions are released, the Gas properties calculator “NGageCALC” will be available for download on the App and Play Stores and the link to the “NGage” meter validation app will be available from the Meter Assurance team. All validation data can be viewed by the asset owner via the secure customer portal.
If you would like to find out more, contact the team.