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Updated: Jun 3, 2022

(Boris Njavro - Blueprint gas expert - presenting advanced management concepts to international gas community in Opatija)

During three sunny days in May 2022 in Opatija, elegant seaside town in Croatia, Blueprint participated in a leading gas event in Central Europe, together with more than 500 participants from 21 European countries, including the USA. The event was attended by gas and energy professionals, managers from leading European energy companies, representatives from the gas transmission industry, as well as gas suppliers, producers and distributors.

Energy transition in Europe, driven by the Green Deal, and more recently RePowerEU in face of the Russian conflict, announces a major shift in natural gas paradigm. Gas is a fossil fuel, but environmentally less damaging than oil and coal. While major players in the gas industry are already to discuss green hydrogen and renewables, we need to acknowledge, under the circumstances, that gas cannot be completely outsources as a fuel in a day and accelerated transition scenario. The industry is actively analysing and testing utilisation of the vast gas network infrastructure already in place. Whether it will be 5, 10 or 20% of hydrogen in the mixture, the gas needs to flow and consumers need to be able to consume it in safe and reliable way.

Challenges in gas network management

Challenges that arise in gas networks can be divided into technical, technological, and commercial (including market and legal). Market opportunities and legislation are very closely linked and depend on future policies that encourage renewable energy sources.

Technical challenges, beside mixing of different types of gas, should deal with new entry and exit points, adapting existing infrastructure and equipment to new conditions, but also cross-sectoral integration to make the most of renewable gas production and use (so-called P2G - Power to gas, P2L - Power to Liquid technologies, see Figure).

Technological challenges range from the application of new ICT technologies in network management (application integration, cloud computing, EDGE computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence), but also a noticeable lack of experienced and educated workforce able to apply new technologies.

Market challenges will need to be addressed by new market participants who will require very dynamic and flexible conditions in line with the dynamics of renewables and services they can offer, while traditional interconnection and handover points will be secondary in focus. Finally, there are regulatory and legal challenges that have yet to define the conditions and relationships under which it will be possible to replace natural gas with other energy sources, the mixing of several types of gases, as well as the market consequences of the energy transition.

According to information provided by relevant studies and leading EU organisations (such as ENTSO-G), there should be no major technical challenges accepting 10-20% of hydrogen in a mixture, which is confirmed by the proposal of gas market directive to allow exchange of 5% gas mixtures, but the problem is how to control such a medium.

From the management point of view, with SCADA still in the heart of control management, it is important to ensure continuous monitoring of gas composition at network entry and exit points to ensure a technically suitable gas supply for use, and to take appropriate operational measures in case of deviations and gas composition. In other words, the traditional control of the gas network operation by monitoring the volume flow and pressures is no longer sufficient, but the approach of monitoring and tracking the composition of gas in real time must be applied - in order to ensure reliable detection of hydrogen (and other components) in mixture.

Monitoring of the gas composition is ensured by the installation of appropriate gas chromatographs that can give the results of the analysis every 3 to 5 minutes. The results of the analysis can be sent to the SCADA system using the existing communication infrastructure on the facility (measuring reduction station, production facility, nodes, etc.) or reading via the Tele-reading system. Visualisation of the network, ie transported gases, in relation to the gas composition must be performed in a way that quickly and intuitively displays the parameters of quality and energy, with emphasis on critical levels of mixing. In addition, for the purposes of calculating the delivered quantities, it is necessary to use data on gas composition and convert the measured volumes into energy at a much higher resolution (hours or even less), because the calorific value will vary significantly. Today's sampling principles on a daily or multi-day basis will not be applicable.

In order to enable the proper operation of the gas pipeline network and transmission system and maintain the prescribed quality of delivery, the should be in planning and installation of chromatographs with continuous reading of gas composition and energy calculation at all points of delivery.

Apart from the issue of gas mixing, the technical concept of cross-sectoral integration, primarily the gas and electricity sector, is becoming increasingly important for a successful energy transition. On the one hand, the electricity system needs support for energy storage in periods of surplus and use in periods of energy shortage, due to the unpredictability of renewable sun and wind sources. On the other hand, the gas sector needs to make full use of, depreciate, existing infrastructure and convert it to renewable gases and thus maintain the level of knowledge, employment and income. In order to achieve both goals, it is necessary to harmonise the future development and planning of both systems in order to identify places of integration and meet the needs of the parties to the maximum. The challenge on the gas network side is unpredictability and dynamics at entry-exit points (produced hydrogen or bio gas can fill the network in one location and be used in a completely different location in different time), which can significantly affect customer supply and operation, but also connected production plants, especially if we take into account that the dynamics of the power system is in the second range, and gas networks in the minute or hour range.

Advanced management concepts are linked to application of new ICT technologies in SCADA systems, but also associated systems that together form an integrated management environment (remote reading system - Tele-reading, gas network calculation and analysis, GIS, maintenance management, cybersecurity, etc.). New technologies enable and accelerate both physical and technological change in a way that management becomes more automated and independent, dispatchers are not necessarily location-specific, field teams gain more autonomy, and reports and analysis become a function of network development planning and business decision making. The application of new technologies will become necessary in order to overcome challenges, primarily due to a significant increase in the amount of information that will have to be processed to detect gas composition in real time, but also new procedures in the management process.

Although there are many technical solutions already feasible today, there are only a few transport system operators who would opt exclusively for the latest technological solutions. Therefore, new concepts need to be thoroughly tested in use and the advantages and disadvantages carefully considered before implementation, and special attention should be paid to cyber security. Pilots, proof of concept and development of supporting processes with careful change and transition management are in our experience best practice examples on how to execute this change.

What we can predict is that the traditional management concept will not withstand the new demands of business-as-usual in the changed conditions over a long period of time, and the transition to new technologies will be significantly accelerated in the future.

The advanced management system of the future will be based on:

- WEB technologies - which means that it will be scalable and independent of the hardware environment, and applicable to all platforms, operating systems and databases, including cloud computing for real-time systems.

- System integration - which means that it will enable the exchange of data and models between all systems used in order to build a unique network model, platform for data analysis and application of business intelligence, machine learning and artificial intelligence

- Internet of Things (IoT) technology that will enable fast communication with a large number of objects, devices, sensors using optical and 5G infrastructure

- Extensive cyber security capacity and compliance in line with EU standards

- Global standards – to be updated, extended and functionally independent of manufacturers and suppliers. Standards apply to system integration (eg IEC 61970/61968), communication protocols (eg IEC 60870-5-104, DNP 3.0, IEC 61850), security (IEC 62443, guidelines VDI 3699 and DIN 19235), as well as performance of equipment.

The natural gas transmission network is facing the biggest challenges in the next 5+ years, facing transformation in several areas, and the network operators themselves must adopt new paradigms for network management and development. Europe's energy transition is moving towards decarbonisation of all areas, with the role of natural gas taking center stage in the transition by gradually replacing fossil fuels with "green" gases (hydrogen, biogas, synthetic methane) and leveraging large gas infrastructure across the continent.

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