Technology from Bay Area companies, including PG&E, evolving to fight greenhouse gasses

PG&E's mobile gas leak detection system has evolved into a significant tool in the fight against climate change
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When we first profiled PG&E's mobile gas leak detection system five years ago, much of the focus was on safety, mobile labs outfitted with methane detection technology cruising Bay Area streets, identifying potentially dangerous leaks.

But flash forward, and the technology has also evolved into a significant tool in the fight against climate change.

"So, the technology now is able to estimate the size of the leaks that are detected by the car. And so we are using this to use a car across our territory. So he covers in one year, the full territory of PG&E," says Francois Rongere, head of research and development at PG&E's gas division.

He points to findings by Washington State University that two-percent of leaks are responsible for more than half the methane released by the country's gas distribution system.

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"And that's what's called the super emitter concept," Rongere explains.

And finding and repairing those super emitter leaks has thrust another Bay Area-based company into the climate spotlight. Alex Balkanski is CEO of Santa Clara based Picarro.

In 2016, he showed us a miniaturized version of the technology PG&E, and other major industries are using capable of measuring greenhouse gasses like methane down to parts per billion.

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And, in the wake of the Glasgow climate summit, he believes the company is providing critical tools for tracking international emission goals.

"Everybody from China to the European community to North America. We're getting big governmental contracts to help them with this extraordinarily important issue of geo-locating, finding where they are finding the needle in the haystack," says Balkansky.

And providing a critical layer to a fast growing network of international monitoring programs, including the airborne methane detection flights started by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and the state of California with a space-based version in the works.

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"You need to look at it globally. And so you need multiple technologies to be brought to bear on this enormous problem," Balkanski believes.

A challenge, now being attacked from the air, from space, and the ground, with innovative technology pioneered in California and here the Bay Area. PG&E supported the NASA/JPL imaging project and also developed its own detection drones in cooperation with U.C. Merced.

PG&E's mobile gas leak detection system has also evolved into a significant tool in the fight against climate change.
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