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PG&E first utility to embrace new gas leak detection technology

Posting in Energy

The Picarro Survey detection system can sniff out and pinpoint gas leaks at much higher speeds than previously possible, allowing crews to identify problems much more quickly.

Pacific, Gas & Electric, the utility involved in the tragic 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., this week became the first company to commit to using a new natural gas leak and detection technology from Picarro.

The technology, called Picarro Surveyor, uses something called Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy (CRDS) analyzers that monitor the air for methane plumes. More simply, the Surveyor is a system that utility crews can use in their field service vehicles. It monitors for natural gas leaks and lets repair crews know when something is amiss in real time.

The detection technology is mounted in the vehicle on the dashboard; it communicates with software running in the Picarro P-Cubed cloud analytics service via an integrated global positioning system (GPS). When a potential issue is detected, the location of the leak is mapped and displayed in real time in a Web browser.

What makes Surveyor different from other detection systems, you ask?

The main thing is its reaction time. Typically, crews use technologies such as these on foot. This technology can be used in vehicle, so that more ground can be covered. What's more, the analytics capabilities on the back end also help speed the process of accurately locating a leak when one is detected. As we all know, speed is of the essence when it comes to finding natural gas leaks.

Picarro suggests that its technology can also help reduce the potential for false positives.

"Technology is a must-have tool in helping us increase public and employee safety and the efficiency of our natural gas network," said Nick Starvropoulos, PG&E's executive vice president of gas operations, in materials about the relationship. "We are excited about testing out Picarro's natural gas leak detection analyzer."

Picarro produces diverse technologies focused on instrumenting all sorts of different chemicals and gases. It is involved in atmospheric science, greenhouse gas measurement, air quality monitoring and so on. The company provides the analyzers for the state of California's greenhouse gas monitoring networking, and it recently completed a short-term project providing a snapshot of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the impact of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. When you're meeting to discuss climate change, it sort of helps to have an idea of the impact that you, yourself, have.

Technologies such as Picarro Surveyor are clearly one piece of the overall smart grid movement. They are also a critically important component of keeping our ever more crowded planet a safer place.

(Image of Picarro Analyzer courtesy of Picarro)

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure