By Pierre Dufour, HPS Global Product Marketing Manager, Honeywell
For natural gas companies, there is growing pressure to deliver more energy, increase profitability and minimize financial losses. Greater expenditures are needed to ensure system integrity and replace aging infrastructure. Operators must also reduce operating costs and tightly control capital budgets. This requires optimization of the distribution infrastructure used to deliver natural gas to households and commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers.
The following article describes recent developments in integrated gas metering, which are intended to meet smart metering requirements from the gas wellhead to burner tip applications.
Today’s industry demands
The natural gas industry presents complex challenges. Companies must find ways to operate safer, make better decisions and act quicker by more efficiently delivering crucial asset data from operations to enterprise.
The specific demands on gas utilities include:
- Higher operating costs impacting business performance and profits
- Increased risk to assets posing threats to operational reliability and uptime
- Time-consuming data collection making it difficult to determine asset health
- Technology obsolescence limiting efficiency and productivity improvements
Gas operators require the tools and know-how to effectively store, transport and deliver gas to meet rising demand. Gas metering data must be collected more frequently and in smaller increments. The trend towards smart metering has demonstrated the importance of meter data management (MDM) in realizing the full potential of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
Need for effective technology
Natural gas transmission and distribution firms require gas measurement,control and analysis solutions providingthe lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) while optimizing the entire gas value chain.This includes the ability to exercise full control over gas regulating and metering procedures.
Utilities migrating from legacy measurement and control systems seek to take advantage of systems that are future-ready for emerging technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), as well as mobile applications providing valuable productivity benefits.
In gas industry operations, IIoT-enabled solutions support the move from “monitor and respond” to a “predictive and proactive” approach supporting better decision-making. Improved situational awareness creates intelligence out of data, with better visualization so operators can see changes in the system quickly.
With a fully integrated platform for data collection and management, and remote meter monitoring, gas operators can improve the output from equipment assets, avoid unplanned downtime, implement preventive maintenance, and maximize their total return on investment (ROI).
Ultimately, the latest solutions for integrated gas metering can help industry firms make their own businesses more profitable. By pairing advanced MDM software with the precision instruments for gas volume correction, they’re able to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize risks to operation.
Identifying the right solutions
Now is the time for natural gas distributors to embrace advanced measurement and control technologies to drive improved financial and operating performance. Whether organizations are utilizing these technologies to better manage their assets, be more productive in the field, optimize production or handle predictive maintenance, the case is clear for digital innovation.
For example, local gas distribution companies utilize electronic volume correctors (EVCs) to convert gas volume from operating conditions to reference pressure and temperature conditions. These instruments are a key element in the gas value chain – from the meter to billing data.
Innovations in PTZ gas volume corrector technology help simplify and optimize custody transfer and industrial measurement. They offer improved accuracy, expanded memory, advanced diagnostics and integrated cellular communications. The latest equipment also has reduced maintenance requirements, and is intuitive and simple to use.
Some of the most significant advancements in EVCs include:
- Greater flexibility in gas volume correction
- Expanded communication options via internal cellular modems
- Advanced audit trail capabilities
- Robust diagnostics to reduce maintenance
- Extended battery life
- Versatile UMB-, rotary- and wall-mount options
The new breed of gas volume correctors like Honeywell’s EC 350 PTZ gas volume corrector provides many operational advantages by utilizing state-of-the-art technology such as a reverse flow capability; highly accurate, plug-and-play digital pressure transducers; and enclosures optimized for serviceability. With long-term stability and extended battery life, the instruments also minimize the need for site visits and simplify field repairs.
Gas distribution companies require very accurate and dependable volumetric gas measurement devices in various areas of operation. These applications call for gas meters with low pressure drop, wide rangeability, and high maximum operating pressure.
Rotary gas meters provide precise measurements and exceptional long-term performance in gas custody transfer. The positive displacement rotary design has a proven track record as a leading metering technology in the natural gas utility industry. Key developments in this field include:
- Meters with greater rangeability to reduce device inventory
- Increased maximum operational pressure (MAOP)
- Low pressure drop enabling flexibility in station design
- Reduction in hazardous noise for safer operations
- Reduction in piston speed for longer asset life
- Low total cost of ownership
Automation suppliers now provide integrated software solutions that can work across an entire gas measurement, control and analysis platform. Not only does this type of software provide a single environment to configure, calibrate and access data from a gas volume corrector, but it enables users to quickly determine the overall health status of the instrument. The software makes it easy to import data, and generate reports and graphs – eliminating time-consuming manual effort.
Ongoing software enhancements enable:
- Automation of routine configuration and calibration tasks
- Increased productivity and cost savings
- Reduced time spent in the field
- Easier location of devices at unfamiliar sites
- Integration of meter data and cloud solutions
Software developers are addressing the increasing adoption of mobile devices for functions like checking the health of field devices, downloading reports, instrument calibration and other activities once performed exclusively on a laptop. Honeywell’s latest version of MasterLink software offers wireless connectivity and is compatible with the latest versions of both the iOS and Android operating systems.
The value-added services have transformed the MasterLink software from simply a configuration and calibration tool to a robust collaboration solution driving increased productivity throughout the customer’s instrumentation maintenance department.
For gas operators, MDM systems are an essential tool for realizing the full potential of AMI or smart metering, especially for industrial and commercial meters used in gas distribution. Modern MDM solutions enable users to access metering data from the cloud and frame it into manageable and familiar information. This approach eliminates operational blind spots, as well as isolated silos of important asset data.
Important innovations in MDM technology include:
- Optimized data collection capabilities
- Enhanced data management solutions
- Expanded repositories for data storage
- Intuitive web-based user interfaces
- Customizable, flexible, and scalable architectures
Advanced MDM systems utilize their database repository and gas distribution business logic to automate the complex process of collecting meter data from multiple technologies. The systems also evaluate the quality of data and publish it in the appropriate format to utility enterprise systems for billing, metering, operations, engineering, customer service, etc.
In addition, modern MDM solutions like PowerSpring Meter Data Management Systems aggregate large volumes of granular interval meter data, and then pre-process it efficiently for commercial processing by various enterprise utility applications. Some systems also handle the storage and distribution of non-billing data and messaging such as two-way commands, Hi/Lo pressure alarms, outage alarms, zero flow conditions, tamper alarms, and more.
Protecting your critical assets
Gas utilities are wise to choose a measurement and control platform following strict cyber security and IT data security guidelines uniformly across all components. In this way, there is no weak link to be exploited by cyber criminals.
Among the most sophisticated security features for automation assets are:
- Role-based login mechanisms with different levels of authorization for greater flexibility and secure access control
- SSL security for EVC radios
- Safe lists to enter trusted IP addresses, thus preventing incoming connections from any unwanted device
- IPv6 built-in security to reduce chances of hacking and phishing
- Push notifications on critical alarms or events
- Cloud storage and AMR software providing redundancy on multiple levels
- Advanced event log to record user access and changes made
Benefits to Gas Operators
Natural gas transmission and distribution companies are striving to improve the way they monitor and report gas consumption so they can better address environmental and efficiency concerns. They are beginning to realize the operational savings that can achieved from smart metering technologies and related processes.
The benefits of an integrated, holistic approach to gas metering include:
- Reduce trips to the field and minimize revenue losses thanks to optimal system accuracy and long-term stability
- Simplify EVC installation, configuration and set-up while improving operational efficiency and reliability
- Avert potential problems and perform root cause analysis with insightful analytics
- Understand operational procedures more clearly using intuitive, field-proven technology
- Identify alarms quickly and easily to assist field operators and save extra truck rolls
- Improve auditing capabilities and mine data efficiently to support maximum resource utilization
Thanks to continuing development of measurement, control and analysis technology, gas industry firms are able to reduce operating costs, minimize risks to crucial assets, simplify routine tasks by personnel in the field, and maximize returns on technology investments.
With the right choice of instrumentation, software and the supporting eco-system, utilities supplying natural gas can minimize their downtime, generate more return on installed assets, leverage current industry trends, and prepare their operations for a challenging future.