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GIANT & AI: the answer to Methane Emission

GIANT & AI: the answer to Methane Emission
  • June 18, 2024
  • News
Gruppo TEA and Automa, a successful collaboration in innovation, sustainability, and efficiency

According to recently released International Energy Agency data, the energy industry produces 70 per cent more methane emissions than officially declared. In 2021, leaks in the sector could have resulted in the supply of 180 billion cubic metres of gas, which makes clear the extent of the problem both in terms of the need for raw material that is instead wasted, and in relation to the European objectives of reducing climate-changing gas emissions by 2050. This is an issue that must now be considered from an international perspective, but whose solution starts from a local sensitivity and, especially, from territorial energy operators.

The technologies related to this important field are increasingly sophisticated and advanced, thanks also to the support of Artificial Intelligence platforms, which are able to analyse complex data and identify patterns that were not immediately identifiable until now. The players capable of guaranteeing advanced public utility services are the territorial utilities, as demonstrated by Gruppo TEA of the city of Mantua (Northern Italy), which can certainly be recognised as a virtuous example at a national level in terms of sustainability and innovation-oriented paths; a case of great interest also for the ability to approach high-level technological providers, thanks to skills and partnerships built over time and truly innovation-oriented.

In this sense, the 20-year agreement between SEI Gruppo TEA and Automa has led to the development of solutions that, thanks also to the use of AI, have not only made it possible to identify and mitigate energy losses, but have also paved the way for more efficient resource management, thus indirectly contributing to the progress and enhancement of the Mantuan community. This was presented at the event ‘The Shape of the Future‘ organised by the Tea Group and Ammagamma on 17 April at the Bibiena Theatre in Mantua.

Bringing innovation to the gas distribution sector has generally meant enhancing strategic assets for territories and therefore for our country. This has been well understood by SEI, which has actively contributed to the development of GIANT (Gas integrated Automated Network Technology), the solution conceived and produced by Automa that is being continuously implemented at the Mantua-based utility, and which is able to have a highly effective impact on specific key service factors:

  • monitoring cathodic protection to prevent corrosion of underground metal pipelines;
  • monitoring and management of gas and odour pressures,
  • odour analysis for optimised and safe gas distribution.
Artificial Intelligence: a digital leap for gas networks with GIANT

We are therefore talking about a concrete case of digitisation of gas networks that has guided punctual corrective actions on devices capable of detecting real data directly from the field; moreover, thanks to the use of Artificial Intelligence, it has ensured a dynamic regulation of the current delivered and pressures, thus optimising the protection process with a constant and safe distribution of gas. This process also facilitated the early detection of any leaks and a consequent longer life of the infrastructure. Service management used to be carried out through methods based mainly on the experience of personnel, with a subjectivity that, while it has become an asset for companies, needs to be enriched with technologies that allow for the continuous evolution of gas networks.

The assessment of the service levels required today by the regulator and new environmental constraints, the compliance with regulations and the opportunities offered by incentive/tariff schemes inevitably lead to a cultural approach and technologically increasingly sophisticated solutions. In this context, the introduction of artificial intelligence undoubtedly represents a turning point, a challenge that Automa has taken up with GIANT: a solution based on the use of neural networks capable of learning from available historical data, allowing predictive rather than corrective actions. This solution can be used, for example, for changes in network conditions, so that pressure regulators, cathodic protection feeders and injection systems can be acted upon with the necessary anticipation, thus avoiding late reactions to any criticality. A digital AI platform that interfaces with traditional remote control systems can collect data from the field in real time and, through advanced analysis and prediction algorithms, return commands and set-points to the field.

Gruppo TEA, Automa and the Mantuan Community: innovation laboratory for the country

The impact of technological innovation on territories must lead to a decisive step change in terms of sustainability of services. In this sense, gas distribution represents a great contribution. In fact, not only it contributes decisively to the mix of resources to be used for an optimal energy and ecological transition, but also because with the reduction of methane gas emissions made possible by solutions such as GIANT (the first Italian project of integral dynamic regulation for the sector) it contributes to useful actions to mitigate climate change and improve air quality in the region: in the Lombardy region (Northern Italy) we estimated potential reduction of about 200,000 Nmc/year of methane gas.

The issue of economic sustainability remains central: GIANT makes it possible to optimise operations in the field, reducing annual direct and indirect operating costs, with a reduction in the consumption of electricity used by cathodic protection feeders and the odourant fed into the network. Whereas if we talk about social sustainability, it undoubtedly improves the overall security of the network, with long-term strategic benefits, making the Community at the forefront of innovation in the energy industry. These are results that can be achieved not only with the introduction of technological innovation, but also with real collaborative processes between companies and between people. In this case, the relationship between Automa and Gruppo Tea was decisive: the experience and skills of the Utility’s IT Department contributed significantly, for example, to the identification of the Oracle Cloud platform as the optimal solution for the group’s remote control area (it guarantees an extraordinary uptime of 99.99%).

This partnership is crucial for achieving the high standards of resilience, flexibility and security to which the important Mantuan Multiutility looks for the evolution of its services, thanks also to the implementation of AI on areas such as backoffice processes and company portals aimed at customers.

Automa and Gruppo TEA demonstrate how the relationship between technology companies and utilities can really contribute to the evolution of Italian territories by looking at the wellbeing of their citizens with far-sightedness and concreteness.

By Emanuele Martinelli
on behalf of Automa Srl