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PG&E Becomes First US Energy Company to Pilot Methane-Detection Device

Images credit: EDF

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has officially become the first U.S. energy company to pilot a methane-detection device. The new technology, which PG&E developed for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)’s Methane Detectors Challenge — a groundbreaking partnership between the EDF, oil and gas companies and distributors, U.S.-based technology developers and other experts — was installed at the company’s natural gas storage facility in northern California last month and will continuously detect methane leaks, reducing harmful emissions and minimizing waste.

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“At PG&E, we believe that climate change is, in fact, a reality and we maintain a steadfast conviction to doing all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The State of California has set clear goals regarding emissions reductions, which PG&E proudly supports and is actively working to help achieve,” said Gas Regulatory Senior Director Jim Howe. “This work with EDF and innovative methane-detection technologies will be instrumental to this effort, as well as our support of industry partners as they set and achieve their own emissions-reduction goals.”

Methane, the key component of natural gas, is emitted across the U.S. oil and gas supply chain at a rate of more than 9.8 million metric tons per year. In addition to limiting companies’ contributions to climate change — 25 percent of today’s global warming is driven by methane emissions — technologies that continuously detect methane emissions offer opportunities to not only improve air quality and operational efficiency, but to also recapture resources that would otherwise be wasted.

Continuous, 24-hour monitoring offered by this technology could cut the time it takes to detect leaks from the months to hours. This would lead to improved environmental performance and operation efficiency of gas infrastructure.

“The U.S. oil and gas industry loses about $2 billion of natural gas a year from leaks at dispersed sites, much of them undetected for months due to lack of continuous monitoring,” said Aileen Nowlan, manager of the Methane Detectors Challenge. “By building bridges between innovators and customers that need scalable solutions, EDF is accelerating technologies that can help the oil and gas industry improve operations and forging solutions that build safer communities and let the planet thrive.”

Acutect Inc., a San Francisco-based startup, developed the low-cost laser technology being piloted by PG&E. Acutect’s technology was selected as one of 20 submissions received as part of the Methane Detectors Challenge, which aims to catalyze and bring to market new technologies that quickly detect methane leaks.

“The Methane Detectors Challenge created the framework through which I was able to bring together a Chinese manufacturer of laser-based methane detection components and a team of product development engineers I’d previously helped spin out of Carnegie-Mellon, SenSevere LLC,” said Acutect founder Peter Foller. “After our technology successfully made it through third-party testing during the Methane Detectors Challenge, Acutect is now in licensing negotiations with a well-established supplier of industrial sensing solutions. We feel we will be able to, together with this licensee, go to market on a national scale.”

By working with EDF’s oil, gas and utility partners, Acutect and PG&E will study the reliability, accuracy and durability of the technology over three months in true field conditions.

The partnership will reach another major milestone in 2017 when energy giant Statoil conducts real-world pilot-testing of another laser-based technology developed by Quanta3, a Colorado-based startup founded specifically to participate in the Methane Detectors Challenge.


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]