National Grid has finalised the details of a shared IT blueprint using established technologies for a replacement gas distribution network control system (DNCS) and has begun initial stress testing.
The utility began work on the national IT blueprint 14 months ago, alongside three other network operators, having sold its distribution networks to Scotia Gas, Northern Gas Networks and Wales and West Utilities in 2005.
Rolling out standard technology blueprints which are then integrated and adapted locally is established practice in the private sector, with Tesco being a recent adherent.
David Salisbury, programme manager at National Grid UK Distribution, said the work between the four gas distributors to specify and tender the system from Serck Controls and Atos Origin went surprisingly smoothly, given the complexity and scale of the project. The tender document which sets out the blueprint runs to 320 pages.
"We decided from the outset to go for a simple approach. It had to be a proven solution and as out-of-the-box as we could get it. We were trying to minimise the technical challenges."
The DNCS is a critical system to handle the practicalities of gas transportation across the national network.
It includes real-time monitoring and control of the distribution network, including pipes and valves, as well as business reporting, demand forecasting and network balancing to calculate gas demand throughputs.
Daniel Dresner, security analyst at the National Computer Centre, said National Grid and the other network operators were right to opt for a secure approach which consciously avoided using unproven technologies.
"It is vital that they have a solid kernel they are building on to limit known risks, unknown risks and unknowable risks," said Dresner.
The DNCS system will be based on Serck Controls' SCX6 platform as the engine for both supervisory control and data acquisition, plus core business applications.
SCX6 was designed using industry standards such as OPC (open connectivity via open standards), Open Database Connectivity, and the OPC XML-DA markup language.
National Grid will be the first of the four network operators to implement the DNCS system, and will go live in June or July next year, though the initial customisation of the platform's core code to support particular operational and business processes is expected to take just 44 days.
Salisbury said he would not move to the new system in the winter for safety reasons.
Related article: NGN readies IT for distribution control
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