Methane leaks are problematic for gas utilities, mainly because methane is extremely flammable. And although methane-induced gas disasters happen less frequently than emergency events within the electric utility industry, they are far more likely to involve loss of life. That’s why I applaud a recent Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G)-Google collaboration that utilizes Google Street Car View to proactively detect methane leaks in the underground infrastructure in order to prioritize gas line replacements.
The 3-year, $905 million program was approved by the NJ BPU in November 2015. The program works via methane sensors that are attached to a Google Street View car, which drove around the service territory for an initial 6-month period to gather the necessary data. The car took millions of readings that were analyzed to prioritize the replacement activity.
This method allowed PSE&G to mitigate methane emissions more quickly by targeting the largest leaks first. For example, the data revealed that 9% of the infrastructure accounted for 37% of the emissions, so this 9% was targeted first. Overall, PSE&G claims that this program enabled an 83% drop in methane emissions despite replacing one-third fewer miles of line than would be required without this initiative.
This innovative concept worked so well for identifying methane leaks that I hope similar technologies designed to prevent or mitigate disasters will emerge, such as utilizing drones and biobots for electrical grid damage assessment, deploying smart sensors to detect drinking water contamination, and even deploying smart digital sensors that evolve to protect against cyber threats.