4 mins read 13 Nov 2020

Fleet Space to monitor Gas Pipeline using IoT and Nanosatellites

Fleet Space Technologies is set to deploy its latest space-based remote monitoring technology for the SEA Gas pipeline, covering over 700 km of natural gas pipeline that runs from South Australia to Victoria.

Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

Fleet Space Technologies will continue to build its reputation as a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) services, which refers to a network of wirelessly connected devices which provide information to an end-user. It is exactly this type of system that is an ideal solution for a company like SEA Gas, which manages hundreds of kilometres of pipeline and thus requires efficient, reliable monitoring of these assets. 

Specifically, the IoT solution, formally titled the “Smart Sign Technology for Continuous Easement Interference Monitoring”, will monitor activity around and threats to the large pipeline system that SEA Gas manages, whether these threats arise from vehicles, machinery, humans or the environment. This new surveillance system will be a substantial improvement on the current method of manually patrolling the pipeline from the air and the ground, which seems simply archaic in comparison. 

The collaboration involves many key stakeholders coming together to deliver the solution, with Fleet Space at its core. The project is partially funded by Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which is working to decarbonise Australia’s energy networks while maintaining the safety and integrity of existing infrastructure. Along with the CRC, the University of Wollongong is contributing research which is being conducted at its national centre for infrastructure solutions, aptly named the SMART (Simulation, Modelling, Analysis, Research and Teaching) Infrastructure Facility. At the user-end of the chain is Fleet Technologies, which provides the IoT infrastructure and network validation. 

SEAing potential threats in the pipeline

Fleet’s ground station, opened in July 2018 in Red Banks Reservoir, Pinkerton Plains. Its job is to track and transmit data from nanosatellites in space. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

In a time when environmental and economic sustainability is a hot topic for discussion nationwide and worldwide, optimising the way we maintain our energy networks is more important than ever, and that includes mitigating potentially disastrous interference and threats to pre-existing energy infrastructure. This is what makes the partnership between Fleet Space and SEA Gas so harmonious.

The monitoring system works by utilising hundreds of small, low-cost, ruggedised cameras called ‘Smart Posts’ along the pipeline. No larger than an index finger, these devices will stay switched on 24/7 and employ machine learning algorithms to automatically recognise any unwanted activity along the pipeline, including people, animals and vehicles. 

Data obtained from these cameras is then transmitted to SEA Gas over the Fleet Space nano-satellite network, without the need for large transmission towers (which are essentially scarce to non-existent in the remote areas through which the pipeline runs). Currently, it is expected that the first stage will begin rolling out in Murray Bridge in South Australia, with the installation of Smart Posts along 13km of pipeline. Eventually, it is projected that these posts will be placed along the entire 800km length of SEA Gas’ pipeline assets.

These cameras, however, are only the start of what Fleet can do for SEA Gas: after the first successful deployment of the camera devices, the expansion of these monitoring capabilities to include leakage detection and other data logging becomes possible.

SEA Gas is a gas transmission business based in Adelaide which owns and operates two pipelines: firstly, the SEA Gas pipeline, which connects Port Campbell in Victoria, to Port Adelaide in South Australia; and secondly Mortlake Pipeline which connects Port Campbell to Mortlake in Victoria. In total, the network consists of 800km of high-pressure natural gas pipelines, two compressor stations and a delivery facility. 

SEA Gas’ Head of Operations, Eric Bardy, predicts that this ‘more efficient surveillance’ will ‘continue to reduce the existing low risk of our operation’ by reducing the need for sending humans to monitor the pipeline as well as by diverting workers towards ‘higher value-add activities’. Furthermore, he suggests that the better cost efficiency will greatly appeal to the greater pipeline industry. In fact, the projected savings of the new automated monitoring system may be as high as $200,000AUD per year. Importantly, the system also eliminates the human safety risks associated with manual inspections.

The team from Fleet Space Technologies. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

Fleet Space Technologies was founded in South Australia in 2015 by aerospace engineers who wanted to solve the issue facing businesses globally over the next decade: how to connect billions of sensors and devices, simply and cheaply. Headed by Flavia, in 2018 the company launched four nanosatellites with plans to launch three more in 2021. By 2019, Fleet Space had booked 3 million sensors on their IoT network to integrate into their remote sensing network. Recently, the company has also received a $275,000 grant from the South Australian Government to optimise mining exploration with Oz Minerals.