Google Street View Cars Are Mapping Methane Leaks and Other Air Pollutants

Screenshot 2017-09-27 19.53.26

Sustainability Problem: Greenhouse Gas, Air Pollution 

In the vast web of natural gas pipes beneath our cities’ streets, leaks are a persistent challenge. It can be time-consuming to identify and measure using existing technologies, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas with significant implications for our climate.

Sustainable Technology: Google Street View Cars Equipped with Air Sample Collector

In partnership with Google, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has used Street View cars to measure methane levels by equipping cars with an intake tube and methane analyzer. It has built methane maps for 11 cities and found more than 5,500 leaks.

  • Street View cars make at least 2 trips around a given area to capture good air quality data. An intake tube on the front bumper collects air samples, which are then processed by a methane analyzer in the trunk. Finally, the data is sent to the Google Cloud for analysis and integration into a map showing the size and location of methane leaks.
  • EDF and Google have helped PSE&G, one of the largest utilities in New Jersey to replace up to 510 miles of aging pipes in a cost effective manner.
  • Equipped with high-precision GPS, Google Street View cars are already driving around pretty much everywhere, capturing 360-degree photos for Google Maps. It can also create a street-level air quality map of the city by adding sensors that can measure particulate matter.
  • From the success of methane mapping, Google equipped more Street View cars with its ‘Environmental Intelligence’ mobile platform to measure other pollutants, including particulate matter, NO2, CO2 black carbon, and more.

Organizational Stakeholders that Will Use the Technology

  • Gas utility companies: utilities are required by law to quickly fix any leaks that are deemed a safety threat
  • City planners and policymakers in city governments
  • Federal governments and regulators (e.g. EDF and EPA)

First 3 Steps in Deploying the Technology

  1. Leveraging on the success story of PSE&G, market the technology to gas utilities in cities with extensive and aging pipelines.
  2. Replicate and scale up in other cities to help local officials and residents pinpoint their air pollution problems.
  3. In addition to city governments, explore potential users/buyers of the air pollution map, such as real estate companies and restaurant chains.

Sources:

Google Street View Cars Are Mapping Methane Leaks in US Cities

Mapping the invisible: Street View cars add air pollution sensors

How Cities Are Using the Internet of Things to Map Air Quality

Comments:

Crowdfunding local government – “Very interesting and great idea! In addition to helping cash-strapped government offices make up for budget shortfalls, crowdfunding sites can democratize public engagement. Sometimes the publicity and awareness are just as important as the money.”

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