Bringing safety to the edge


When it comes to the delivery of natural gas, safety is always top of mind. Technology advancements are making it possible to reduce safety incidents and the millions of dollars spent to cover damage. To ensure safety, utilities are analysing near real-time data to protect consumers and the utility workforce.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International issue 4-2018. You can read the full digital magazine here

With a network of connected meters, like the recently announced Itron OpenWay® Riva Intelis gas meter, utilities can monitor numerous conditions and make decisions to control excess flow, preventing potentially dangerous situations before they arise.

Utility challenges

Aging infrastructure, natural disasters, leaks and tampering can create dangerous and costly incidents for gas utilities, consumers and first responders. These stressors on safety are not simple to fix and some incidents, like natural disasters, are impossible to prevent. Natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other acts of God, can create substantial damage to the delivery system, disrupting gas delivery, damaging gas appliances or breaking supply lines. Since preventing these events is not an option, gas utilities can only prepare and respond.

Outages or incidents can also be caused by other events on the distribution system, like low pressure. Challenges on customer premises, such as house fires, open fuel lines or theft, can also challenge the safe delivery of natural gas.

The active network

To ensure safety in the most unpredictable circumstances, utilities require visibility into their gas distribution network. By setting up an ecosystem of devices hosted on an open network, gas utilities can proactively address safety concerns. This is where the active network comes in.

The modern utility network must be active, responding to problems promptly and address threats to the network before incidents occur. In an active network, intelligent devices have computing power and make decisions at the edge in real time.

Utilities can leverage data to make changes in the field as problems occur, harnessing the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve safety. With this approach, gas utilities can capitalise on the potential of these connected devices that have the computing power to not only measure and communicate, but also solve problems on the network. Imagine data analysis and decisions taking place where it makes the most sense – at the edge of the network rather than only in the utility back office. Imagine using devices that dynamically detect a gas leak, corrosion or low pressure before they become a serious event – thus improving safety, reliability and profitability.

On the active network, smart gas meters can recognise an open fuel line and methane sensors are able to detect the presence of a methane leak before levels become hazardous. Smart devices can also detect heat and unusual flow conditions, sending an alarm to the utility when there is a possible fire or if it appears someone is tampering with a device.

The intelligent meter

Harnessing the power of the active network, Itron’s OpenWay Riva Intelis ultrasonic gas meter is equipped to take action in real time. The meter has been developed to enhance safety for utility personnel, end customers and the community at large by controlling excess flow at all service points. The meter features a built-in high flow alarm and a temperature sensor that identifies potentially dangerous conditions, such as open fuel lines or fire, and can automatically trigger a safety shutoff device to control the flow of gas. Air detection identifies meter removal while also sending an alarm to utility personnel, helping prevent incidents before they arise.

Utilities can use the meter to temporarily shut off service for situations such as nonpayment, move-outs or line maintenance. OpenWay Riva Intelis transforms the gas distribution network from a one-way gas delivery mechanism to an interactive energy network offering numerous benefits to utilities.

With safety and control integrated into smart gas meters, utilities have access to high-resolution data in the field. Leveraging edge computing, every device in the network is a computing and application platform. This provides high-resolution data in near real time and can be used for post-processing analytics. With this innovative technology, gas utilities can identify vulnerabilities in the system with connected responses to changes in the network.

Ahead of natural disasters, utilities can proactively shut off gas service to impacted areas. Dangerous situations like flooding could cause gas meters and appliances to become displaced and potentially cause free flowing gas at customer sites. With the active network, utilities are empowered to be proactive and enhance safety for citizens in new ways.

Creating a safer future

With intelligent meters such as Itron’s OpenWay Intelis gas meter, utilities can face challenges to safety with the right tools. By utilising highly detailed data analytics throughout the gas distribution system, the pipeline is more secure.

The active network constantly evolves, adapting to changes in the gas distribution system. As new challenges arise, devices are built to address them and with this foundation of intelligent devices in place, utilities can take advantage of new applications that are emerging to bring more intelligence to the network. Because of Itron’s open, standards-based smart meters and network, utilities can add numerous third-party applications to their existing network to continue to enhance safety.

When it comes to delivering natural gas, safety is paramount. Advances in technology are giving utilities more visibility into their systems to prevent incidents before they happen. With the active network, utilities can help ensure the safety of their customers and their employees while also limiting waste and conserving natural gas. SEI


Annette Gardiner is vice president of strategic development for gas at Itron. Before joining the company, she held several leadership roles in the gas utility industry, including vice president of shared services at Consumers Energy and president of
New Mexico Gas Co.


Itron enables utilities and cities to safely, securely and reliably deliver critical infrastructure services to communities in more than 100 countries. Our portfolio of smart networks, software, services, meters and sensors helps our customers better manage electricity, gas and water resources for the people they serve.