Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th January 2015

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UTILITY WEEK | 30Th JanUarY - 5Th FEbrUarY 2015 | 11 100,000 Metal service pipe replacements carried out each year. £380 million Amount spent annually on metal service pipe and gas main replacement. 11 million Number of service points to customers, spread across four gas distribution networks. 81,000 miles Amount of gas distribution mains pipelines. Over the course of the past six months, National Grid Gas Distribution has grown its internal innovation team from four to 16 people. The team is responsible for project managing programmes such as Tors, but also for seeking out new partners and potential problem-solving technologies or processes which might be game changers for gas distribution. Under RIIO's innovation allowance rules, National Grid has circa £10 million a year to spend on such projects and Darren White is keen for potential partners to come for- ward with proposals on how to put this money to best use. "We are looking to increase our innovation commu- nity," says White. "Not just within the gas sector, but across all sectors. Our portfolio at the moment includes projects with companies in the water sector and pharma- ceuticals sector, for instance." Tors is a "polymorphic" robot that can intelligently perform a range of tasks from with a gas mains pipe- line, including identifying connection points, drilling, welding and pressure testing. Short modules with dif- ferent tools and capabilities can be added, subtracted or changed in sequence to increase its flexibility. National Grid required Tors to help with its UK-wide programme of iron mains replacement. This involves inserting polyethylene liners into the ageing iron pipes that have carried gas around the country to date. Once the new main is in place, service-to-mains connections need to be reinstated, and this is currently a labour-intensive process. On a typical 100 metre-long street in the UK, using con- ventional methods, this might entail 22 excavations. Using Tors, once the plastic inner pipe has been inserted, the robot can enter the pipe, propelling itself with a wall press technique. Using onboard sensors, it can detect where replacement connec- tions need to be made, drill a hole and complete the new connection before pressure testing it. The robot is designed to operate in 75mm to 180mm pipes. Five patents have so far been filed for Tors relating to its tools and processes, including a first of a kind spiral drive. Although Synthotech needs to protect its intellectual property, National Grid is obliged by the rules of RIIO to share the benefits of its innovation investments. Consequently, infor- mation about the design and functionality of this platform is already being shared with gas distribu- tion networks internationally. A key reason for this, in addition to maximising its impact, is to ensure resources are not wasted in the industry because of project duplication. Could it be you? How does Tors work? April 2014-October 2014: Synthotech begins stage-gated development of Tors prototype in earnest. In October, National Grid showcases the Tors prototype for the first time at the Low Carbon Networks & Innovation Conference, Aberdeen. What happens next? This summer will see field tests at sites across the UK to establish what still needs to be done before Tors can become a business-as-usual technology for National Grid and other UK gas distribution operators. This process will include skills base and training reviews, a close look at business processes, and testing the interoperability of opera- tional and business IT systems. If field trials are successful in establishing a clear plan for mobilisation, National Grid will adopt Tors for everyday operations in early 2016. With an eye to the longer-term future, Synthotech is already working on ways to apply what it has learned through Tors to robotic platforms for gas transmission. It will do this via a £5.7 million Ofgem-funded innovation programme called Graid, which challenges Synthotech to build a robot able to negotiate its own route around the network and withstand pressures of up to 100 bar. Game changer: Tors National Grid: CAD modelling of the Tors platform in action Tors stage 2, the proof of concept model Field testing this summer will put Tors and associated business processes to test in real life scenarios I'm a game changer Utility Week's Game Changers series seeks to champion disruptive innovation in the utilities sector. To put forward a technology for coverage contact Insights Editor Jane Gray, email: janegray@ fav-house.com

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