Innovation for business development
Snam’s short, medium and long-term goals require huge efforts and investments in innovations, to ensure it always finds the best technical and management solution. To this end, the Group will invest around 2 billion euros with the aim to enhance its innovative capacity to transform and manage its assets and seize opportunities offered by energy system developments.
These resources will contribute to the evolution of research and development initiatives, digitalisation and innovation to increase the Group’s ability to transmit and analyse data in real time. The most important experiment that highlights the benefits of digitalisation on the energy system will be represented by the first “future” district in 2021, also known as the Bologna ‘Flagship’ District. The experiment will make use of the most advanced technologies to measure results in relation to its operational effectiveness, security, integrity and the reliability of assets, to highlight the benefits of digitalisation on the energy system.
Snam’s innovation efforts are most prominent in three strategic areas:
- energy efficiency and reducing emissions within the core business;
- digitalisation of the core business;
- investment in energy transition.
Energy efficiency and reducing emissions within the core business
Snam invests in activities aimed at energy efficiency and reducing emissions within its core business to maintain a high performance levels and, at the same time, contribute to the fight against climate change. In 2020, Snam:
- implemented an Asset Control Room project to improve and innovate asset management and operating;
- continued the experiment on the Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) system, and also completed a related pilot project, aimed at identifying and localising gas leaks along the gas transportation network;
- completed the new Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) for the network area (monitored and remote) and the Snam Rete Gas plants.
Alliance for Sustainability: for the promotion of sustainable and digital growth throughout Italy
In 2020, Snam adopted the Alliance for Sustainability initiative, a project carried out in collaboration with growITup, an Open Innovation platform created by Cariplo Factory in partnership with Microsoft Italia, with the aim to promote sustainable growth of Italy through digital platforms, in line with the European plans to relaunch the economy.
Alliance for Sustainability involves strategic collaboration with large corporations, the world of academia and start-ups to develop new projects, through open innovation, able to address climate change and the most pressing environmental challenges and spread green culture, leveraging on new technological trends and contributing to the sustainable development of Italy.
The Alliance work plan involves meetings with each of the participating companies where environmental requirements are mapped out using Design Thinking methods. During a round table discussion, the areas identified will be outlined along with common objectives and synergies between the different companies, in collaboration with start-ups based on environmental issues that will present their solutions. Finally, the Digital Hackathon will be carried out, where the ideas proposed, and requirements identified will be brought together through definitive solutions.
Digitalisation of the core business
The new Plan includes technological innovation and digital transformation investments worth 500 million euros. To this end, in 2020, Snam:
- introduced a Digital Asset Model aimed at representing a digital version of Snam’s assets, providing the opportunity to interpret data identified by sensors on-site, in a similar context to the real one. This model will allow for new asset management logic to be adopted, including remote management, network alignment simulations, operator support in augmented and virtual reality, as well as reduce the risk of accidents and optimise on-site activities, resulting in reduced emissions;
- an agreement protocol was signed with the aim to integrate and seize opportunities offered by Cloud and Edge Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT). The Cloud Foundation Programme will lead to the transformation of Snam’s technical architectures through an hybrid and integrated model known as Hybrid Cloud, bringing benefits including an increased resilience of services and business continuity, flexibility, quicker activation of new services, scalability of technological infrastructures and innovation acceleration;
- the videoconference systems renewal process was completed for all the meeting rooms on the Campus and at Italian regional sites, ensuring full coverage of all the meeting rooms across Italy to date, with nearly 200 areas equipped with the latest generation videoconferencing systems. After digitalising corporate spaces, Surface HUB2 systems, also known as interactive Microsoft white boards, were installed in around 100 management offices in the first months of 2021;
- continued the Gas Transportation Network Asset Maintenance System (Smart Gas) project, a corporate initiative aimed at improving the effectiveness of technical and operational processes related to asset maintenance activities, was continued In October 2020, the Smart LNG go live was implemented for the maintenance unit, while the project for the prevention and protection implementation and service unit is still being developed. The dematerialisation of the archives in the regional units continued through the eDoc document system, which will be fully integrated into SMART GAS;
- the Smartness Matrix was continued, originally initiated as a means to analyse, in a structured way, the requirements of the acquisition processes and the management of data relating to the control and operation of the transportation, storage, and regasification assets, to increase their effectiveness levels and identify the best supporting technologies of the whole remote-controlled process;
- research into plant system solutions were continued for the creation of the SmartPipeline, with the identification and installation of new digital functional and diagnostic instruments used to make the gas transportation network even smarter. This project was also extended to the SmartPlant initiative launched in 2020;
- the IoT Foundation programme was continued with the aim to modernise technological components to support systems that monitor and control, in real time, the Group’s network and plants;
- an initial project to support the control room was developed, based on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms.
Managing cybersecurity to guarantee IT security
Business development, investments in digitalisation and the implementation of innovative solutions all require constant maintenance of cybernetic security systems, also known as cybersecurity. Snam’s approach to cybersecurity is integrated and based on a defined framework that complies with the standard principles on the subject: constant attention to the regulatory obligations and reference standards ensure that the Company complies with ISO/IEC 27001 provisions (Information Security Management Systems) and ISO 22301 (Business Continuity Management Systems).
In the cybersecurity system, all the domains are managed under the same operations system, through a Cybersecurity Incident Management model applied by the Security Incident Response Team that prevents, monitors and addresses remediation interventions and timely escalation plans to mitigate the most modern cyber threats that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.
In 2020, despite the changes to normal work practices due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Security Incident Response Team was able to operate without interruptions, guaranteeing high levels of cyber security. All of this was possible thanks to the experience gained during recent years in relation to remote working, leading to risk analyses and the adoption of security solutions suitable for safeguarding corporate interests, also while implementing this way of working.
The human factor is also an important element which contributes to cybersecurity: therefore, Snam promotes employee awareness raising actions through, for example, “White Phishing” campaigns or simulating fraudulent emails, aimed at identifying the company’s most vulnerable areas.
Cybersecurity is not only an internal issue, it also involves customers and the entire supply chain. Snam established an Ethics and Integrity Agreement with the latter that includes cybersecurity issues, with particular focus on the transparency of incidents and defence procedures in case of problems.
Energy transition investments
In 2020, with the view to use corporate infrastructure to promote and facilitate energy transition, Snam continued and initiated various research aimed at adapting its network for the transportation of mixed natural gas and hydrogen (H2). In particular, the Group:
- initiated tests, in collaboration with suppliers, on gas turbines for compression plants to validate the supply with mixed natural gas and hydrogen with 10% variable hydrogen;
- issued internal regulations to create a hydrogen-ready infrastructure by building new pipelines and adjusting the existing ones;
- joined research groups, specifically the European Gas Research Group, and collaborated with other European natural gas transportation companies to detect and measure the natural gas emissions from the gas transportation system, evaluating the state of the art and, consequently, selecting the most useful instruments in defining a testing programme for carrying out measurements on-site;
- participated in Joint Industry Projects to research the effects of hydrogen on gas measurement systems, also through specific tests carried out;
- continued the Power 2 Gas initiative, a process through which the electricity produced by renewable sources that is surplus to immediate consumption is transformed into hydrogen to be injected directly into the network or used for the production of synthetic methane (SINGAS). To this end, a feasibility study was carried out and basic engineering activities were instituted for the creation of a P2H pilot plant;
- the Absorbed Natural Gas (ANG) initiative was continued for the storage of natural gas in tanks containing a porous sorbent, allowing for larger quantities of natural gas to be stored than would be stored in an empty tank of the same volume;
- the Group joined the European Pipeline Research Group (EPRG), an association that carries out research on pipelines used by the most important companies in the European gas transportation and pipeline manufacturing sectors. EPRG manages projects, divided into Design, Material and Corrosion, aimed at constantly improving the knowledge and management of the integrity of gas pipelines during their life cycle (pipe manufacturing, pipeline construction and operation). During 2020, EPRG initiated a series of projects to research the behaviour of steel, used in existing pipelines, when introduced to hydrogen blends.
Digital management of the pandemic
To address the pandemic, Snam implemented a series of interventions to expand, on large scale, and consolidate the new ways of working that were already used, for some time, by the company, such as smart working.
Smart working involves connecting to company resources remotely and adopting secure technological solutions that guarantee this connection, and using platforms to carry out calls, message exchanges and, most importantly, virtual meetings that involve multiple users. Of all these aspects, the most complicated was the mass distribution of the required technological equipment to users. A total of 889 smart working kits (monitor and keyboard) and 147 headsets, 300 smartphones and 605 data SIM cards were distributed, 178 Pcs were assigned/replaced and 479 tokens were provided for remote access to the Snam network.