Pacific Gas & Electric has begun using a natural gas leak surveying technology that it says is 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional leak detection equipment, and has trained its first batch of five employees in using the new tools mounted on SUVs.
The utility worked with Silicon Valley-based scientific instrument manufacturer Picarro Surveyor to refine the natural gas leak detection technology, which uses lasers. The New York Times reports that Picarro’s technology can actually distinguish and pinpoint whether a gas leak is from a well or comes from bacteria in swamps and sewers.
PG&E employees received instructions on driver safety, since the equipment mounted on the SUVs has a 10-foot long anemometer that is similar to a sophisticated wind meter. Then they drove around a training facility that had 14 miniature houses where gas was released into a safe, controlled environment. The equipment has GPS technology that can accurately pinpoint where a particular gas leak originated and a near-infrared laser that can measure natural gas molecules. A monitor ensures that only natural gas is tracked, without interference from other gases.
If a leak is detected, it is displayed on an iPad mounted on the SUV’s dashboard. When the equipment is in survey mode, data is sent to Picarro’s headquarters automatically.
PG&E says the technology makes surveying its gas infrastructure easier and allows for better visibility into its pipeline. Its customers can expect to see full crews making repairs to a larger area, rather than small crews handling one-off leaks.
Increasing natural gas use in businesses and homes as well as within the transportation and manufacturing sectors can help the US cut greenhouse gas emissions in the near to medium term, according to a June report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Photo Credit: PG&E