Whether you believe in climate change or not, one fact that cannot be mistaken is that greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise.  One of the more problematic greenhouse gases is methane, and one of the largest emitters is agriculture in the form of cow farts and cow burps.  If you came for a blog on cow farts, I regret to inform you that they will not be the focus of the rest of the blog, but instead, I’d like to focus on another source of methane emissions: natural gas distribution. 

Methane is emitted to the atmosphere in many ways throughout the natural gas value chain, in particularly during venting, flaring, and leaks.  While there may be instances where methane emissions in a natural gas pipeline are required, oftentimes oil and gas companies benefit from keeping the methane in the pipeline since lost methane is lost revenue.  This is one of the reasons that oil and gas companies are pushing legislators to keep methane regulations in place, and they are voluntarily regulating themselves through the EPA’s Methane Challenge or the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

So, what are utilities doing to reduce their methane emissions?  There are many different ways to reduce methane emissions and there is no one solution that will save the planet.  I had the opportunity to attend the CH4 Connections conference in Fort Collins, Colorado and discovered that there is so much innovation going on in the field of methane detection.  Some technologies are ready for prime time, while others are still working out the bugs.  One type of technology that got a few mentions is AMI or Advanced Metering Infrastructure.

There are several ways that AMI can help reduce a utility’s methane footprint:

Helping utilities capture copious amounts of consumption data

AMI is allowing utilities the opportunity to gather consumption data at higher frequencies.  This data can allow utilities to perform analytics and find customer leaks at appliances and BBQ’s or just anomalous gas usage in general.  This is something that one of the largest, if not the largest, gas utility in the US is doing today.  They identify a customer that may have a leak and give them a call to have them troubleshoot the issue.  Reducing these leaks reduces methane emissions. 

Utilities can also use this additional consumption data to do Time Of Use (TOU) pricing.  One utility envisions that TOU will reduce the load on its pipes, thus increasing the life of the pipe and reducing the risk of leaks due to stress and strain on the pipes.

Driving the migration to Smart Meters

An ultrasonic smart gas meter, like the Sonix IQ, is much smaller than an old diaphragm meter, and thus the volume that may be left in the meter during a change out will be less.  This reduced volume leads to less methane being emitted to atmosphere in the change-out process.

Transmitting cathodic protection and methane monitoring data

Using AMI, utilities can transmit cathodic protection readings more frequently along with alarms when readings cross a threshold.  This added data and alarms can allow utilities to better plan for maintenance activities and identify potential leaks much quicker.  It can also help them identify a pipeline replacement strategy, which is actually one of the commitments found in the EPA Methane Challenge. 

Methane data can also be sent over AMI provided that the sensor has a radio attached to it.  However, I mentioned previously that some technologies aren’t quite ready for prime time.  Methane monitoring is one of those technologies.  Quantification of methane emissions is still a work in process, but I have hope that we will get to a robust solution in the near future.

Here are some other technologies outside of AMI to be on the look-out for:

  • Drone leak surveys
  • Satellite methane detection
  • Renewable Natural Gas

Overall, I am encouraged that after a minor set-back in methane regulations, utilities are voluntarily regulating themselves and continuing to invest in technologies that help them reduce their methane footprint.  If you have ideas, or if you are interested in how AMI can help you meet your climate initiatives, let’s chat!