While considerable research is being conducted into the technical and economic feasibility of switching from methane to hydrogen as a primary energy source, the greatest challenges lie in the often-overlooked areas of planning, logistics and consumer acceptance. The energy transition process is, by its nature, heavily reliant on data, and it’s becoming apparent that the use of digital tools and services to automate and optimise such data can accelerate processes to meet net zero targets successfully.
Partnering with Cadent Gas, Arup is using the Government’s Digital Service (GDS) framework – typically implemented in agile experience design projects – to explore how digital and data could streamline the time-consuming and repetitive task of planning the hydrogen conversion and removing uncertainty from the journey. Our ultimate intent is to help Cadent prepare for a resilient hydrogen future and to develop a scalable and repeatable service that can be applied to other UK and international gas utilities as we seek to decarbonise our energy systems.
2digital tool concepts identified
11 millionhomes supplied by Cadent
Streamlining conversion planning
Cadent aims to be the first gas distribution network operator (GDNO) to plan and convert a city to be hydrogen fuelled. As one of the largest GDNOs in the UK, supplying gas to more than 11 million homes and businesses, planning the enormous task of converting its gas network from methane to hydrogen safely, efficiently and without disruption, presents two significant logistical challenges:
Separating Cadent’s network into zones covering approximately 2,500 homes, allowing conversions to be completed in one day to avoid time-consuming and repetitive manual processes.
Improving Cadent’s data on asset location and condition, such as pipes and meters, to create a complete and consistent picture of its network across the UK.
We approached Cadent with the idea for this jointly-funded project as the potential for digital technology to streamline the conversion planning process was clear. Together, we hoped to develop a digital service that would give Cadent certainty on costs, a detailed breakdown of activities required for conversion, and a roadmap for achieving the network needed for the future.
The GDS framework is made up of four phases: discovery, alpha, beta, and live, and is focused on delivering a built solution that responds to different user needs that are identified through discovery.
Our specialists interviewed over 35 people across Cadent’s business, from operations to stakeholder engagement, to understand the hydrogen conversion process and the significant challenges. We used the British Design Council Double Diamond process – exploring an issue more widely or deeply (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking) – to research the problem. We then conceptualised solutions to help mitigate two of the most challenging aspects of digital development; “building the right things” and “building things the right way”.
The 20-strong collaborative project team completed the discovery phase in just eight weeks, working entirely remotely using digital collaboration tools during the Covid-19 pandemic. We adopted an agile delivery approach from the outset with deliverables achieved, reviewed and monitored weekly.
I was expecting this work to only focus on the primary challenge of planning and zoning our network of conversion. Arup has also discovered a wide range of other business opportunities that are certainly worth exploring at a strategic level to help us prepare and transition to a net zero business. ” Angela Needle Director of Strategy, Cadent Gas
Digital concept tools
Seven initial solutions emerged from our design challenges. After conducting further interviews and workshops to look into these solutions, we arrived at two priority concepts for digital tools:
An Automated Zoning Tool that automates the zoning of the network for conversion, determines the optimal conversion sequencing and enables comparison of scenarios.
A Data Validation Tool that aggregates and analyses data sources to obtain and visualise data confidence on any asset type (such as pipes and meters), which Cadent can compare to the requirements for a hydrogen network.
We are now discussing with Cadent how to take these two concepts forward for further development in the Alpha phase. In addition, the process identified opportunities for organisational changes that Cadent could adopt to support the hydrogen conversion journey. The findings from the discovery phase have the potential to be hugely influential even at this early stage, not just for Cadent and the UK, but for gas networks around the world that are facing similar logistical challenges in hydrogen planning as they decarbonise their gas networks.