New technologies driving operational performance: Connecting smart stations to distribution networks

Rossella Mimmi's picture
Rossella Mimmi, Business Development Manager O&G Midstream, Emerson Automation Solutions
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Gas distribution companies have a lot on their plates. They must manage entire natural gas grids with diversifying sources (pipelines, LNG, biomethane, fracking gas) and expand the customer base (more users, new usages such as natural gas vehicles) while improving their operation, making it safer, more reliable, productive and emission-free. These critical strategies often come with execution challenges that cost operators unnecessary expenses and lost product. However, applying smart station solutions can help operators overcome these challenges to reach their strategic goals.

Gas Distribution Challenges: The gas supply diversification should be controlled. Not only do gas utilities have clear objectives to meet the target quantity for each source, but they also need to ensure that the gas quality is acceptable before injection.

At the distribution end, new pressure-reducing and metering stations are oversized, include redundant layers of safety, and are set at higher than the necessary pressure to anticipate further demand growth, or plan for failures and emergency demand picks.

These practices increase upfront investments, creates stress on the pressure management equipment, while higher set pressure results in downstream gas leakages. Frequent onsite interventions are still necessary to prevent failures and upgrade set points to accommodate seasonal demand evolution and to keep the supply/demand ratio balanced.

Effective Smart System Solutions: Smart systems consist of:

  1.  A central unit, which receives system parameters (temperature, pressure, flow rate), processes that information and controls pressure management equipment, and interfaces with control loops. It can be used as an individual station or for multiple pressure reducing and metering points across the distribution grid.
  2. An interface that can control various components such as solenoid valves, pressure transducers, and temperature sensors.
  3. Local and remote communication capabilities (webserver, USB, Ethernet, GPRS, etc.) with existing networks, that are also vitally important for the success of any system upgrade. The possibility to interface with existing SCADA systems is desirable, as well.

The applications for this technology in Gas Distribution Networks are many: first, it controls the entire PRMS, monitoring each equipment and providing remote operations. This will help in lowering the working pressure to reduce emissions and gas loss. The possibility of precisely splitting the entire flow rate into two or more lines reduces the total noise level and avoids stressing the equipment to their limit.

It can optimise the gas heating system, controlling gas and water temperatures and reducing energy consumption.

In Custody Transfer applications, it can control flow capacity to guarantee an acceptable level of accuracy and ensure compliance with regulations.

Another great application is relevant to odorant injection; the control of the complete system from just one panel ensures system accuracy and reliability and reduces system complexity. In the case of unconventional gas sources such as Biomethane, the new technologies make sure that the new stations are fully integrated into the grid, making the use of these sources easier and efficient.

Benefits of Applying Smart System Solutions: Many control systems developed by industry experts can generate continuous savings and a return on investment in less than a year, depending on the size of the network and the complexity of the system. At the network level, the system advances critical strategies of gas utilities through smarter grid management and savings in maintenance costs, lost gas, and more efficient resource deployment.

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Image courtesy of Emerson Automation Solutions