We stand out in the market for our long tradition and ability to innovate: the digitisation of networks and business processes is our challenge today.
We have chosen to invest a total of 1.4 billion euros in digital innovation initiatives capable of adding value to all players in the system and making Italgas unique at European level. Our development as well as our contribution to the creation of a net-zero energy mix by 2050, as envisaged by the European Union, continue to revolve around digital transformation.
Digitisation concerns two key aspects of our work:
- Digitisation of assets
- Transformation of processes and people
Digitisation of networks and smart meters
Our business plan has given a strong impetus to the digitisation of our network and the completion of the smart meters installation plan. This commitment will make us the first utility in the world with a fully digitised network.
A digital network is an infrastructure that integrates devices capable of providing and receiving information and of being controlled remotely and in real time: it is a necessary condition for the accommodation and distribution of renewable gases other than methane, such as hydrogen, biomethane and synthetic methane.
In Sardinia we experiment with hydrogen
In Sardinia we are constructing the most modern network in Italy and Europe. And it is here that we have decided to launch the Power-to-Gas pilot project that will transform renewable energy into hydrogen and allow its storage.
Digitisation and smart meters
The network digitisation programme involves the installation of digital devices and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies for the large-scale acquisition of physical network parameters and their interpretation by means of specific algorithms. This enables the real-time monitoring of network operation, alarm management, big-data analysis and predictive maintenance, leakage detection using the world’s best technologies, and further process optimisation.
The plan to install smart meters is progressing in parallel, which represent the enabling factor for the broader network digitisation project.
Smart meters are meters or smart metering devices that collect accurate consumption data. One of the main functions of these devices is the remote reading of consumption. In practical terms, end consumers benefit from having their bill more closely reflect their actual consumption, and for us it means not having to go to people’s homes all the time – in some cases going back several times – to measure consumption. Travelling kilometres and kilometres by foot or by car.
In 2020, the plan to replace all 7.6 million traditional gas meters managed by Italgas with the same number of latest-generation meters was almost completed – except for a marginal amount which will be completed by 2021.
We have chosen to share the innovations and best practices we have acquired in gas distribution with other business areas.
In 2020 we also released the new IoT (Internet of Things) platform for all the Group’s distribution companies to remotely manage not only all the new smart meters, but also the new “smart” components we are installing along the network. All the data collected from the ‘field’ can now be analysed by Big Data and Analytics tools which enable further developments in automation and machine learning to ensure an increasingly high-quality, sustainable, efficient and safe service. The analysis of big data, among other advantages, allows us to activate a predictive maintenance of assets process and therefore to further optimise processes.
Transforming digital processes and our people
To be truly innovative, digital transformation must not only affect assets but also how we live and work. In the case of business processes, the driving force of change is our Digital Factory, where physical and virtual rooms work to optimise and digitise business processes.
Digital factory: driving force of business transformation
Some practical demonstrations of Digital Factory innovations include the WorkOnSite application, which uses artificial intelligence to remotely check the compliance of construction sites and the progress of works, or Shareviewsmart-glasses which allow experts to share their technical knowledge with colleagues located far away.
However, there is no innovation without people’s in-depth involvement. This is why we are promoting a new “digital mindset”, pursuing a gradual development starting from the capillary mapping of the digital skills in the company and continuing with the identification of Italgas Digital Ambassadors, who, trained according to the train-the-trainer model, have become responsible for the promotion of the company’s digital transition.
We have also launched an extensive upskilling and reskilling programme, as well as projects to improve accessibility in order to include disabled colleagues and customers. More specifically, the collaboration with SAP Italia has led to adjustments being made in support of the main internal administrative and organisational processes, making native instruments available that also allow people with impaired sight to use a reader that interprets the text shown on a computer screen, presenting it by means of vocal synthesis or a Braille display.
Ideas4Italgas: Open innovation in Italgas
Innovation does not only take place in-house, which is why we have always searched the market for innovative solutions to integrate. Consistent with this approach, we decided to launch “Ideas4Italgas”, a call for 4 startups initiative that allows us to intercept the widespread intelligence found throughout the country and in universities. It is important to emphasise that we do not always work exclusively to develop the solutions proposed to us, but we do help startuppers to identify the right routes to introduce their innovations also in other potentially interested areas and sectors. One example is the technologies developed by some start-ups that we have identified and selected through I3P, the incubator of the Polytechnic University of Turin:
- Composite Research (CoRe): young start-up operating in the innovative materials field. It has developed and patented ‘MadFlex’, a technology that can make ultra-light multilayer panels that can be used to create patches for the rapid, durable and resistant repair of gas pipes. We will work with CoRe to test the effectiveness of this solution.
- i-Tes: produces innovative thermal batteries that can more efficiently accumulate, manage and use thermal energy from renewable and traditional heat sources. Together with i-Tes we will test a thermal storage system at the IPRM plant in Novara.
- StoreH Energy Storage Technologies: developed an energy storage and hydrogen on-demand “HOD” production system to solve the problem of the intermittency and non-programmability of renewable sources, making seasonal energy storage possible. The collaboration with StoreH is aimed at introducing the proposed solution, possibly coupled with a fuel cell for the production of electricity, into the Power-to-Gas pilot project in Sardinia.