By Andrew Schmertz
“We’re replacing aging infrastructure. We’re installing a new plastic gas main and then replacing each service to the buildings in this area. So when we leave this site, all of the infrastructure will be newly replaced with plastic mains,” said construction manager Samuel Campanella.
The pipes are being replaced because they leak methane — a gas you can’t see or smell, but can detect with sensors.
And that’s where Google comes in. Using the same cars that take pictures for Google Maps, Google is able to measure how much methane may be leaking.
It’s a project spearheaded by the Environmental Defense Fund which says methane is a greenhouse gas that poses a serious risk to the climate. The technology was developed by the University of Colorado.
“Google was really a platform for us to help develop this technology, and what its done is really a proof of concept. In New Jersey this is the first state where we’ve actually then used the data from this project to help drive and focus a major investment, $905 million, in system upgrades here,” said John Coifman from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Over the next two years, PSE&G hopes to replace 510 miles of pipe — some of which is 80 years old.
The utility says the key breakthrough of the technology is that it allows engineers to see how much methane is leaking so it can replace damaged pipes faster.
“The big thing with this project was that it enabled us to quantify the actual methane emissions. PSE&G is unique in that we are a very old utility. We are a conglomerate of many gas companies over the years that have been pulled together. And really the build out of the industry was focused on cast iron being used as the material of choice, which we know is a brittle material that also has concerns with its joints and leakage rates associated with those,” said PSE&G Director of Gas Transmission and Engineering Wade Miller.
This map shows where the leaks are. PSE&G says it’s important to note that these leaks are not considered dangerous. The state has approved the utility spending $905 million, but PSE&G says more work is needed. There’s thousands of miles of cast iron pipes in the system, and so the internet pipeline is helping replace the real pipes beneath the streets.