TC Energy

TC Energy Maximizes Operational Capacity by Innovating on AWS


Across Canada, customer demand for natural gas pipeline capacity is rising. However, because of regulatory processes, it can take energy companies several years to build new capacity to meet this demand. This is the challenge TC Energy Corporation addresses every day.

Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, TC Energy is a major North American energy company that develops and operates energy infrastructure throughout Canada, the US, and Mexico. In Canada, TC Energy manages 44,000 kilometers of pipelines. To address the capacity dilemma, the company works to identify pipeline anomalies to optimize available capacity in the pipeline network. TC Energy’s operations planners would spend days and weeks analyzing information from disparate data sources to gauge operational capability recommendations for the company’s pipeline. However, the identification process was manual and became increasingly time-consuming because of the sheer volume of data and 88,000 points that needed to be monitored and assessed in real-time.

Additionally, senior team members needed to review and validate the process, which negatively impacted the decision-making timeline. “We have a very large, complex pipeline system, and we transport on average 13 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. It’s extremely difficult to operate a system like that efficiently, especially when relying on people to do the processing and figure out what the daily gas capacity should be,” says Joe Zhou, director of capacity management for TC Energy. “We knew we needed to streamline this process if we were going to truly optimize pipeline capacity for our customers.”

Worker in TC Energy natural gas station

We can now maximize capacity from our existing system to serve our customers’ needs immediately, instead of building new facilities.”

Joe Zhou
Director of Capacity Management, TC Energy

Expanding an AWS Implementation

To improve its capacity optimization process, TC Energy decided to expand its Amazon Web Services (AWS) implementation. The company originally chose to migrate critical business applications to AWS in 2017 to modernize its infrastructure. In 2018, TC Energy moved the remainder of its applications, including its full SAP environment, to AWS. “We made a strategic decision to move to AWS because of the scalability and innovation of AWS services,” says Andy Savu, product manager at TC Energy.

TC Energy now runs 90 percent of its business applications on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) instances. “By moving to AWS, we put ourselves in a place where we could start doing major transformational work,” adds Savu.

Working Backwards to Create a Pipeline Optimization Solution

TC Energy began this transformational work in late 2019 by engaging AWS to help streamline its pipeline optimization. During the engagement, AWS led TC Energy through the Amazon Working Backwards process, a technique used to help envision the future end state for new products or services from a customer’s perspective. TC Energy operations planners used the technique to determine how to design and develop a new operational pipeline capacity solution.

During the Working Backwards process, TC Energy operations planners worked with AWS to find ways to streamline the pipeline optimization process and used the findings to develop a fictional press release and FAQ about the launch of the new solution. “The Working Backwards approach from AWS challenged us to think differently and not be limited to traditional problem-solving techniques,” says Jawad Masud, senior vice president of operations, engineering, and project execution for TC Energy. “We stepped outside of our comfort zone to think into the future. The results of this process, led by the strong facilitation team, are a clear winner for us and have enabled value in our organization.”

Launching ORBIT on AWS

By taking advantage of the Working Backwards technique, TC Energy developed and launched ORBIT, an operational business intelligence application that uses machine learning to help customers optimize gas throughput. Relying on Amazon SageMaker to train and deploy machine learning models, ORBIT integrates data, including historical pipeline data and operator knowledge, in one place and optimizes the data for maximum operational capability every day. Once completely implemented, the solution will collect operational data every 10 seconds from every high-value station and pipe segment. “This was a great opportunity to leverage the ability to process data and bring intelligence to enable people to make the best decisions,” says Zhou. “ORBIT helps our operations planners augment the data with the expertise of our people into one place and then use statistical models to provide anomaly detection capabilities.” ORBIT, which provides anomaly detection, system optimization, and a unified user experience, will go into production by the end of 2021.

TC Energy collaborated with Slalom, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, to perform the prototype’s technical implementation. In addition to assisting with this deployment, Slalom is continuing to work with TC Energy to prepare the product to move into production in late 2021. TC Energy also used the Working Backwards process to develop MAX Pipe, a solution that considers historical information regarding how much capacity has been turned back, allowing for maximum pipeline utilization.

Maximizing Pipeline Capacity

Using ORBIT, TC Energy customers can integrate disparate pipeline data and optimize it for maximum operational capability on a daily basis. Operational planners can also share the data with teams such as gas control and field operations, which can optimize maintenance and asset utilization. “We can now maximize capacity from our existing system to serve our customers’ needs immediately, instead of building new facilities, which could take 3 or 4 years,” says Zhou. “This is a critical piece to enable our customers to connect supplies with markets across North America.”

Increasing Natural Gas Throughput, Saving Millions Yearly

TC Energy is taking advantage of ORBIT to increase its overall daily natural gas throughput volume by leveraging the anomaly detection engine, without the need for additional capital expansion. As a result of optimizing its gas capacity and throughput, the company will increase revenue.

Additionally, TC Energy expects to reduce its fuel and greenhouse gas costs. “We will save millions of dollars in greenhouse gas emissions costs by innovating on AWS,” says Peter Jarmola, senior manager of Canada business unit information systems product delivery for TC Energy. “That’s an important benefit because it helps us demonstrate to our customers, our regulators, and the government that we are a responsible operator.” The company also anticipates saving additional money by avoiding operations and maintenance costs associated with operating its existing assets.

Enabling Innovation

TC Energy is now poised to develop innovative new solutions that help lessen environmental impact. “ORBIT has become a catalyst for new initiatives within our company and other parts of the business,” says Jarmola. “We have adopted the Working Backward methodology across the gas, liquids, power and storage, and other parts of our organization. We’re being asked to see if we can help our business partners prioritize goals and define opportunities for 2021. This methodology transcends the technology—it builds a lot of excitement within the business, and our ability to deliver prototypes brought us credibility. I’m bullish on where we’re heading in the future.”

About TC Energy

TC Energy is a major North American energy company, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, that develops and operates energy infrastructure in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The company operates three core businesses: natural gas pipelines, liquids pipelines, and energy. Founded in 1951, TC Energy employs over 7,000 people in its facilities.

Benefits of AWS

  • Maximizes natural gas pipeline capacity
  • Increases daily natural gas throughput volume
  • Anticipates saving millions of dollars in greenhouse gas emissions costs
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions by operating systems more effectively
  • Gains better visibility into operations

AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

Amazon RDS

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

Amazon SageMaker

Amazon SageMaker helps data scientists and developers to prepare, build, train, and deploy high-quality machine learning (ML) models quickly by bringing together a broad set of capabilities purpose-built for ML.

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