Transformative technology was the focus of the latest conference in IGEM’s Road to 2050 series, Digitalising the Energy Networks.
Having previously looked at the impact of decarbonisation and decentralisation on the UK’s energy networks, we sought to complete the energy trilemma by considering the opportunities presented by the digitalisation of the sector.
In July, delegates gathered at London’s No.11 Cavendish Square to hear a range of perspectives on how digitalisation could impact (and has already impacted) the gas industry and how it can support the country’s transition to a low carbon economy.
The programme was opened by Laura Sandys, Chair of the Energy Data Taskforce. The organisation was established to provide government, Ofgem and industry with a set of recommendations on how data can help unlock opportunities provided by a modern, decarbonised and decentralised energy system, giving the best value to consumers.
Laura explained that while there is already a lot of data within the sector, there are some issues around quality. She spoke of a number of core building blocks that need to be put in place in order to take the industry forward, these being: data visibility, new asset visibility, infrastructure visibility and operational optimisation. She also stressed that, in future, communication between the sector and consumers will be increasingly two-way.
Next up was Michael Wilkinson, a digital technology expert from DNV GL. Michael’s presentation began by explaining the difference between digitisation and digitalisation. He went on to discuss how digital tools can be deployed within the energy sector and showcased a number of interesting examples. Michael explained that a lack of digital skills is a significant
barrier, which must be addressed in order to maximise the potential of the digital revolution.
The first session of the day was concluded by Dan Shears, National Health, Safety & Environment Director at GMB Union. Coming from a completely different angle to the previous two presenters, Dan focused on the current and future impact of digitalisation on the UK workforce.
The second session of the day was all about smart. We kicked off with Dr Will Cavendish, Global Head of Digital Services at Arup, who spoke on the theme of a digitally-transformed infrastructure. From large scale infrastructure to smart cities, Professor Allan Mayo shared details of the digital transformation taking place in Greenwich.
In a last minute change to the programme, Alan Newbold, Digital Services Leader for Arup, kindly stepped in to introduce the concept of digital twins. Utilising real life examples of a digital airport and digital bridge, Alan explored the importance of the feedback loop in enabling technologies to be adopted.
Shifting focus back to the gas sector and consumers, Maxine Frerk, Director of Grid Edge Policy, spoke of her work with Sustainability First and the Centre for Sustainable Energy on public interest uses for smart meter data and how these can be balanced with customers’ legitimate privacy concerns.
If that wasn’t enough food for thought, following a delicious lunch delegates heard from Angus Paxton, Principal at Poyry Management Consulting, on decarbonising electricity, shifting patterns of consumer behaviour and alternative models for the sale of goods and services.
Fans of Forumla One were pleased to see Dr Peter Van Manen, of Frazer-Nash Consultancy, who shared how the energy sector could emulate the sport’s adoption of technology, allowing innovation to flourish while maintaining standards of safety and reliability.
Sticking with the theme of learning from other sectors, David Pugh, Manufacturing Partnerships Lead of the Digital Catapult, shared key learnings from other sectors that have already undergone digital transformation and explained the role of the Digital Catapult in bringing together the manufacturers of the latest innovations with those working in industry.
Rob Graham, CEO of QEM Solutions, sought to clarify what blockchain is and how it can be used to improve data security within the energy sector.
For the final session of the day, we returned to familiar ground with updates from SGN, Northern Gas Networks (NGN) and Wales & West Utilities (WWU) on their respective digital projects taking place within gas distribution.
Alex Webb, Innovation Project Manager at SGN, presented insights gleaned from the network’s Real-Time Networks project, including the data collected from 1,200 gas meters in the South East of England. Richard Hynes-Cooper, Head of Innovation at NGN, shared details of the company’s efforts to enhance its use of data and its digital capabilities. Finally, Grant Rogers, Asset Integrity Manager at WWU, explained how his network has used data to transform its business, from access to better quality business performance information, to using data to manage assets.
After a morning of aspirations, it was refreshing to see that digital technology is already being incorporated into gas network operations and exciting to see that the digital transformation has begun.
As always, IGEM would like to thank the sponsors of this conference, National Grid and SGN, and each of the individuals who shared their knowledge and experience with delegates, delivering an interesting and varied programme of presentations.