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USA: PG&E, Picarro Hit the Road With Gas-Sniffing Chevy Volts

Out of all the critical infrastructure that utilities protect, none of it is more critical than natural gas pipelines that can explode and kill people. Pacific Gas & Electric is still reeling from the 2010 pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, Calif., one that has led to a massive investigation by state officials and a promise from PG&E to invest billions of dollars in pipeline safety.

Now PG&E is taking the effort on the road with the help of Picarro. On Monday, the startup demonstrated two Chevy Volts carrying its Wavelength-Scanned Cavity Ring Down Spectroscopy instruments. The sensors use lasers and mirrors to detect miniscule amounts of specific gases in the atmosphere, at sensitivities about 1,000 times greater than traditional instruments, Picarro says.

PG&E demonstrated two sensor-mounted Volt hybrids at Picarro’s Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters on Monday, and said it was planning to put more on the road if it can prove the technology works. Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E’s pipeline safety czar, told reporters Monday that the utility would like to see them checking 50,000 miles of the company’s sprawling gas pipeline network.


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