Rumors about a special project had been spreading through the corridors of Lvivgas. "They're trying to domesticate and train robots." That was one of the wilder theories – others involved 3D printers being used to create outlandish new equipment.
But it wasn't robots taking charge – rather, employees of the Regional Gas Company were simply implementing a vision developed during a battle of ideas. One of their goals was to build a next-generation gas control cabinet – a critical piece of the gas distribution infrastructure that helps manage pressure in the system, reducing risks of explosions, but also leaks that drives prices up.
Not only is this story remarkable for the fact it resolved a particularly pertinent problem for Ukraine's gas distribution system, but also that it did so by using one of the nation's most underutilized natural resources – its creative and technically gifted minds.
Ukraine has long suffered from a derelict gas infrastructure.
The notoriously energy-inefficient country is heavily dependent on natural gas since Soviet days, but there haven't been enough investments to replace or modernize the creaky gas infrastructure.
One of the weak points of that infrastructure are so-called gas control points or cabinets, metal boxes about the size of a large wardrobe that are used regulated pressure on the retail end and ensure the safety of the system. The pipes and valves within each cabinet can carry out such functions as maintaining pressure in case of uneven inflow rate, gas purification, or automated shut-off in case of an emergency increase or decrease of pressure.
The old, rusty control cabinets being used in Ukraine come at a price. Difficult to maintain, mostly past their operational life, they create inefficiencies that are both a hassle and a financial burden on ordinary citizens.
That's why RGC decided to put the challenge to some of the most promising technical minds – to invent and deliver the gas control point of the future.
In late 2018, students attending courses at the prestigious Kyiv Mohyla Business School and Lviv Business School were presented with a series of technical challenges.
Their task – to develop a plan that would address them from both a technical and business perspective.
Participants came from different DSOs (distribution system operators). Alexander Volovich's group was presented with the challenge of creating a production process of gas equipment. From November through February they worked on developing their business idea.
One of the processes driving this was the idea that DSOs should work together to innovate production and processes. More directly, an earlier audit had found that much of the equipment being used was old and outdated.
As a result, Volovich's group jumped into action looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of Ukraine's gas market. They came up with the concept of building innovative gas control points, and ended up winning first prize in the national battle.