7 December 2022

Graham Faiz, Head of Growth & Innovation - UK and Ireland Energy Systems, DNV Services UK Limited

As gas production is expected to become increasingly decentralised, Graham explains how digitalisation can drive collaborative partnerships across the industry.

He also highlights ‘digital twin’ projects already underway – all aimed at improving knowledge and information sharing between industry participants.

As the UK gas system evolves to support low and zero carbon alternatives to natural gas, it’s clear that there are both exciting opportunities and significant obstacles ahead. In a net zero energy world, gas production - in the form of hydrogen or biomethane - will become increasingly decentralised and new system architecture components will need to be introduced; bringing deployment and integration challenges along the way.

There are many things we already know, including what many of the new architecture components will be and what the associated challenges of deploying them might look like, but much remains uncertain. For example, how will the UK’s gas network manage our future system’s complexity? And how will safety and security of supply be sustained while work is underway to ensure assets and infrastructure are compatible with new gas blends, or eventually 100% hydrogen or biomethane?

One thing that is absolutely certain is that achieving a net zero gas system for the UK will require industry-wide collaboration and an improved understanding of how others within the industry operate.


Why is industry collaboration so crucial?

The development of hydrogen fuel technologies will be key to decarbonisation of our gas system. The coming decade will see increasing cost competitiveness for low-carbon hydrogen from electrolysis, as technology advances and becomes more efficient and CAPEX requirements are reduced. In areas with abundant renewable resources and low-priced electricity, the costs of hydrogen will drop even further.

But if we are to successfully introduce hydrogen to the UK gas mix, other things must change too: ensuring sufficient supply will mean handling generation from distributed sources; the pipes which carry gas to homes and businesses may need to be modified or replaced at altered timescales; new gas storage facilities will be required; the calorific content of gas passing through meters will change, and all of this will change the way short term modelling of networks is managed. Achieving a successful transition will mean breaking down silos and sharing important operational information.

The requirement for improved knowledge and information sharing across the gas industry has been highlighted by the hydrogen trials already underway, as has one of the major obstacles to true collaboration: low levels of digital and data maturity. For example, there is currently an inability to rapidly share data held by energy networks, including information regarding planned maintenance, strategic planning and future developments. Information like this could be invaluable to other industry players in managing their own operations, innovating towards net zero and reducing risk.

At DNV, we want to support digital and data maturity in the energy sector – in line with the ambitions outlined in the 2022 UK Government Energy Digitalisation Taskforce Report. Our overarching purpose: to safeguard life, property and the environment, is what’s driving us to play our part in the global energy transition. Here in the UK, we’re already working alongside energy networks in programmes funded by BEIS and Ofgem to understand and overcome the digitalisation challenges that exist in the gas industry - and we believe digital twins will have a crucial role to play.


The value of digital twins

Let’s start with a definition. We define a digital twin as ‘a virtual representation of a system or asset, that calculates system states and makes system information available, through integrated models and data, with the purpose of providing decision support over its lifecycle’.

Digital twins have historically met with a mixed response. A lack of trust in their potential is possibly due to incorrect specification, where investment has been driven by the promise of technological capabilities rather than real and well-defined business needs. Problems may also emerge if a digital twin is inadequately maintained and updated as its real-world sibling evolves. Before any organisation invests it will be vital that they feel confident in specifying the scope of functionality for their digital twin, that they understand how the digital twin will operate alongside their existing digital infrastructure, and that they know how their organisation, assets and digital twin will evolve together over time.

Our own digital twin programme brings together ‘big technology’ with engineering expertise. It means that whether twinning takes place at our custom built facilities or on site at a customer’s project, the twin is built by a team that understands its real-life application.

Implemented correctly, a digital twin holds incredible potential for helping organisations to reduce costs and risks. It can become a platform where real-time simulations, advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning combine to collate, analyse and generate data that supports strategic planning and effective decision-making. For example, digital twins could allow energy transporters to have a better strategic understanding of energy production and supply/demand; leading to a reduced carbon footprint as ‘new gas’ is introduced much faster. Cost savings could also be passed onto the end consumer due to a better understanding of consumption patterns and supply and demand issues.


Digital twins in practice

It is our belief that digital twins will be a critical enabler for the future gas system - provided that trust in the data and a more open approach to data sharing across the industry can be established.

Let's look at some real use cases - and organisations that are building digital twins today with one eye very much on a gas network of the future transporting hydrogen.

FutureGrid, from National Grid Gas Transmission (NGGT) will build a hydrogen test transmission facility from decommissioned assets at the DNV Spadeadam test facility, to demonstrate that the National Transmission System (NTS) can safely transport hydrogen and gain an understanding of how the gas network will need to be developed and operated to deliver sufficient quantities of hydrogen to customers.

As NGGT explains: ‘The aim of FutureGrid is to gain a full understanding of working with hydrogen, to develop processes and procedures – like those we currently have for natural gas – to allow us to run a safe and reliable national hydrogen network’.

The work being done at DNV Spadeadam will be supported by a digital twin, enabling NGGT to develop a robust testing plan and create an updated safety case for the NTS. Historic and live data will be introduced, creating an advanced and intelligent model to visualise and understand asset changes due to the effect of hydrogen and enable the project to accelerate time and predict future areas of concern. The demonstration of this data model as part of FutureGrid will also drive the digital twin activities of their wider business.

Gas System of the Future is an innovation project from SGN which will connect a digital twin concept to three specific use cases: a low carbon hydrogen project at H100 Fife, a local authority planning project, and a medium pressure network planning project. The digital twins will perform against different objectives in each use case. In Fife it will help SGN understand and manage risk and provide a visualisation of hydrogen production forecasts, storage and assets. In the planning projects it will provide visibility of network capacity and constraints, and help SGN understand how to build resilience and security of supply into their future energy planning.

Working via a project funded by the Ofgem Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), the SGN team is currently working to build out a number of prototypes, exploring required datasets, defining the API integration layers and looking at approaches to data governance. They are also producing recommendations to the regulator, specifying which data sets they believe should be made available, accessible, and shareable.


What’s next?

It's great to see NGGT and SGN really driving forward their use of digital twins and exploring the possibilities of data sharing beyond their organisation. At DNV, we’re proud to be connected to them both. We believe that balancing supply and demand in a net zero system - and managing the risks associated with innovation - will be easier in an ecosystem of connected digital twins.

Our digital twin programme has the potential to support connectivity and collaboration across the energy industry, by helping improve understanding of the relationship between the production and transportation of hydrogen gas, for instance, or supporting the connectivity of the gas network to other utilities like power and water, to optimise network planning and operational efficiency across them all. Wouldn’t it make sense if the oxygen produced alongside hydrogen during electrolysis was used to accelerate water treatment processes? A digital twin can help organisations model and test these kinds of scenarios, while also providing the data to inform other operational decisions, including the skills needed for the future energy network workforce. or when to carry out critical maintenance, or when to store excess energy. The applications are almost limitless.


Driving partnerships in the energy community

In our vision of a digitally collaborative gas industry, we don’t expect any single organisation to be responsible for warehousing all of the data; rather we very much expect to see a concept of ‘linked data’, where thousands of relevant data sets are produced and consumed, marked as presumed-open with suitable meta data made available. This will support not only those established actors already working to transform our energy system, but also an emerging community of industry innovators, data smart start-ups, academics and entrepreneurs. We also hope that it will drive more partnerships across the energy community - and help us get to net zero faster.


For more information on digital twins, please contact graham.faiz@dnv.com.


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