PG&E to build natural gas control center

December 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
PG&E is showing off the location for its new natural gas control center. When finished, it will become the nerve center for the system when it's running normally and in an emergency it will be a critical part of the response. This new approach comes after a costly disaster.

An empty space in a San Ramon office building will one day be the PG&E gas control center. The space and another next door, will house 1,600 people, responsible for keeping the gas system running smoothly and responding when it doesn't.

"We're going to have under one roof gas transmission control operation and our gas distribution control operation. They're immediately going to be adjacent to our emergency dispatchers and all of our reliability planners are going to be on the same floor," said executive VP gas operations Nick Stavropoulos.

When a gas transmission line failed and exploded in San Bruno in 2010, PG&E's gas control was spread out over a number of locations all across the Bay Area. Although the technology performed adequately, human confusion and difficulty interpreting data contributed to the slow response.

PG&E gas executives say new technology and the consolidation should change that, in part by having all kinds of real-time information coming in to the same place.

"So whether it's a phone call coming in from a customer that they smell gas, or if it's information coming in from a control center about changes in pressure or flow, all that information will come into one location," said Mel Christopher, a senior director gas system operations.

Christopher says they're also working on new tools to predict trouble before it happens. The utility is hoping it has a lot less trouble with its gas system going forward. It has completed miles of pipeline inspections, testing and replacement. It's begun installing automatic and remote control shut-off valves.

"You can never guarantee 100 percent because there's so many potential risks that you're guarding against, but that's what we're trying to do here. To demonstrate that we're doing the things that really make a difference," said Stavropoulos.

The new control center should be completed in the middle of next year, with installation of new monitoring tools in the field continuing for another five to six years.


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