Shrinkage is the dominant element of Great Britain's gas distribution networks' business carbon footprint, accounting for more than 1% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
New robot technology will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from utility networks while reducing the excavation required to find leaks.
The issue is a significant one for the gas companies. Recently, a significant methane leak in the UK was detected from space. Over three months, a gas main in Cheltenham experienced a leak visible by satellite. 7,500 houses might have been powered for a year by the amount that leaked, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas.
Synovate, a Harrogate-based advanced engineering company, is working with the gas networks to deploy a state-of-the-art robot to combat shrinkage. The LeakVISION robot can detect and repair gas leaks within the pipeline without affecting customer supplies.
LeakVISION inspects pipelines using heat-seeking sensors to identify leakage points. Compared to traditional excavation techniques, LeakVISION is easy to deploy and provides immediate information to technicians, which speeds up leak detection and repair.
The robots were trialled by Cadent, the UK's largest gas distribution network, to check for and pre-emptively prevent leaks ahead of the Coronation festivities in the capital. The use of robots minimised the need for roadworks at a time when London was extremely busy with hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Simon Langdale, engineering director at Synovate, said: "We continue to develop and invest in a large fleet of robots and operator training to support the utility companies fight against leaks. Addressing shrinkage in a low-impact manner is crucial to reducing road disruptions for councils and road users. It will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the nation's climate goals.
"We believe this scalable rapid-response technology is essential to maintaining services for homeowners and businesses across the UK. Synovate's technology ensures the faster and more efficient detection and repair of gas leaks, contributing positively to households, communities, and the environment."
The design and development of the robots took two years and an investment of £1.2 million. Synovate collaborated with engineering experts from Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, and Leeds Universities.
LeakVISION's development was backed by the Strategic Innovation Fund, a collaboration between UK energy regulator Ofgem and Innovate UK under UK Research and Innovation.