Truth and Transparency About What’s Being Emitted into Our Air

Truth and Transparency About What’s Being Emitted into Our Air

Methane and City CarbonTM have become buzzwords here at Picarro. Surely anyone familiar with carbon emissions and climate change knows that methane is a potent greenhouse gas and most emissions originate from cities. Nevertheless, I’ll bet most people would be shocked by the sheer number of natural gas leaks that exist – and go undetected, and Davos’ measured carbon emissions during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. Let me explain.

The world has an abundance of natural gas (which consists primarily of methane) and natural gas can address many energy and environmental challenges because it’s cheap and burns cleanly. However, the problem with natural gas is that the industry’s aging global infrastructure is literally full of holes. According to the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there are over 120,000 known leaks in the U.S. More worrisome is that some experts I’ve spoken with say that a good rule of thumb is that for every known leak, there are two more unknown leaks.

Natural gas pouring into the atmosphere is terrible for our climate, dangerous for our communities, and a wasted resource, so we figured it was a good idea to develop a cavity ring-down solution that helps energy utilities find and characterize (and hopefully repair) leaks faster than ever before; hence we launched Picarro SurveyorTM for natural gas leaks. The solution fits in the trunk of any car and finds and records even tiny natural gas leaks at normal traffic speeds. In fact, Nick Stavropoulos, Pacific Gas and Electric’s executive vice president of gas operations, has called Picarro Surveyor “revolutionary” because it beats incumbent methods in survey speed, sensitivity and simplicity. Nick is transforming how PG&E conducts leak surveys, but more impressively, his leadership will have a major benefit on the global problem of natural gas leaking into the atmosphere.

As you may recall, Picarro was selected as a Technology Pioneer in 2012 by the World Economic Forum. I figured their annual conference in Davos would be a marvelous opportunity to showcase how technology can measure a city’s emissions during a unique event. With the help of Ken Davis’ Penn State team, Climmod, SLF, and Sigma Space, we created the City Carbon project to measure the CO2 emissions prior, during, and after the event. The results completely shocked the team because, instead of skyrocketing, the emissions seem to have crashed! The results have generated considerable discussion in the media, because (just my opinion here) the data don’t support preconceptions that city emissions must go up during the event. Imagine the graph upside-down for a moment. Had that occurred, little discussion would have ensued.

While not a perfect test, this simple fact remains: 70% of carbon emissions come from cities, 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and 2% of the global landmass has been consumed by cities. Yet sadly, only Davos has actually had its carbon emissions measured. Doesn’t every city with a green leadership agenda want to know their measured emissions? We believe they should, and it’s our goal to help them do it!