Peter Drucker, the “father” of modern management theory, famously said that what gets measured, gets managed.

And he was right.

As Accenture’s latest research shows, mapping and measuring the business impact of sustainability is essential.

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The challenge for utilities is to decide what they should be measuring. Today’s technology empowers them to assess everything from the performance of an individual asset to system inertia (almost) instantly – so where do they start?

Rather than proactively investing in measurement solutions, most utilities choose to follow regulatory guidelines and meet minimum requirements. Methane emissions are a prime example: manually walking the pipeline and checking for leaks every 3 to 5 years is enough to stay compliant.

But that’s a long time for leaks to go undetected and unresolved. Even a small leak caused by a loose bolt – which could be a quick fix – that goes overlooked can send a significant flow of the colorless, odorless gas into the environment. And every “small” leak is making an avoidable contribution to the rise in greenhouse gases1 seen over the last few years.

Apart from the safety risk these leaks pose – not to mention the loss of gas for utilities and their customers – undetected leaks contribute to climate change. Methane is the second most potent greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

However, it does not stay in the atmosphere for as long. Research shows that taking action to reduce leaks now is a high-impact way to make a big difference on the road to net zero, and for decades to come2.

So, how can today’s technology help utilities to detect and resolve methane leaks more effectively?

Methane detection technologies


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The amount of CH4 emissions we can avoid right now with currently available technolgies3

Recent advances in optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras, continuous monitoring, sensors, LiDAR, aircraft, and satellites provide numerous options to monitor and measure methane. There are two that are providing increasing value for oil and gas companies.

The first is imaging technology that can help to find potential leaks across different asset classes. Given the scale of natural gas methane pipelines, combining satellite and aircraft images with data from ground-level sensors is essential to find leaks. This is where satellites come into their own, as they can find small and large leaks. However, their path needs to be planned in advance, and weather conditions can affect their output, so it’s best to bolster their capabilities with imagery from aircraft and on-the-ground sensors.

The second type of technology is data processing. Our intelligent data-processing Azure cloud platform was created to automatically process large volumes of satellite, sensor, Advanced Methane Leak Detection data, and utility-specific asset, leak, and operational data.

That data is then fed into algorithms that prioritize plumes to be investigated and deploy the right field technicians to the precise location of the leak in near real time, so leaks can be found and fixed, fast.

But this isn’t just about making repairs and maintenance more efficient. The intelligent system becomes increasingly efficient and accurate, meaning that it enables better business and operational practices.

That means leaks can be found and fixed, fast, but also that the system will become more efficient. This is not just about reactive repairs: it’s about enabling better business and operational practices.

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Powerful impact

Methane measurement can play a role in reducing repair costs, but the impact of this platform goes beyond operational efficiency: it’s a key step toward the digitization of the gas system, without which there is no energy transition.

The digitization of the gas system will unlock efficiency, prepare for the energy transition - it’s a technical precondition for the reception and distribution of renewable gases other than methane, such as green hydrogen, biomethane and synthetic methane - and address sustainability issues.

Reducing emissions is a top priority for utilities, largely because it helps attract investors who are interested in utilities’ ESG credentials.

The methane measurement platform improves the speed and accuracy of reporting, making it possible to aggregate and share emissions data quickly – so it’s easier to report accurately and stay within regulatory limits. This is important for today’s regulatory requirements, but also the ones that are evolving as the world starts to focus more on climate change and sustainability.

Clear data also empowers utilities to be transparent with customers, who enjoy improved service based on improved understanding of their gas use; for example, by helping them to understand what emissions they are responsible for.

This transparency also makes organizations more attractive to prospective talent that values openness and the chance to complete purposeful, innovative work for companies championing the climate change cause.

As investor, employee, government, and customer scrutiny on utilities’ sustainability plans increase, bringing together key technology and data and building integrated, intelligent platforms is a powerful way to prove the potential and possibilities of measurement.

Contact me to discuss how to implement sustainability and measurement into your business.

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Elizabeth Moreno

Principal Director – Accenture Utilities

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