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Consumers Energy Debuts New High-Tech Vehicles to Locate Natural Gas Leaks, Lower Emissions

JACKSON, Mich., Nov. 18, 2021 – Two new vehicles are helping Consumers Energy track down methane leaks to protect the planet and keep customers and communities safe. 

This month, the company is debuting two Ford Edge SUVs equipped with sensitive state-of-the-art mobile natural gas leak detection systems from Silicon Valley-based Picarro Inc. The rolling labs can gather and instantly analyze methane, wind, atmospheric and GPS data to find natural gas leaks and calculate their risks. 

The new vehicles will help the energy provider prioritize leaks in natural gas pipes faster and more accurately and improve response to storms and natural disasters. The $4 million, five-year investment is part of a plan to achieve net zero methane emissions by 2030. 

“This pilot project is another way we’re innovating to protect the planet and lead Michigan’s clean energy transformation,” said Greg Salisbury, vice president of gas engineering and supply. “We’re investing to make infrastructure and processes safer while reducing our environmental footprint.” 

The rolling labs are outfitted with Picarro technology, a combination of hardware, software and data analytics that’s one thousand times more sensitive than the process currently used to survey Consumers Energy’s nearly 28,000-mile distribution network.  

The vehicles will collect and analyze methane data as they roll down the road. They can patrol geographic areas quickly, scanning for potential trouble spots and providing real-time information to identify leaks and target areas for further investigation. 

“Picarro-equipped vehicles have collected and analyzed billions of methane data points, across millions of miles, for utilities worldwide,” said Vince Gaeto, vice president, sales and marketing, energy at Picarro. “We’re pleased Consumers Energy has selected this proven technology to help achieve their ambitious methane emissions reduction goals.” 

The system on each vehicle includes: 

  • A parts-per-billion sensitivity gas analyzer measuring atmospheric gas composition and other tracers such as ethane.  
  • An anemometer mounted on a mast for detecting wind speed, direction and wind variability. 
  • Two antennas on the vehicle roof, one for the 4G wireless connectivity and one for sub-meter GPS vehicle positioning.  
  •  A 4G wireless router enabling the internet connection and data transmission to and from the Picarro Cloud and Wi-Fi connection to the in-vehicle tablet.  

Consumers Energy is creating a cleaner natural gas future for Michigan by reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Already, we’ve cut methane emissions by 15 percent, primarily by replacing aging pipeline and outdated infrastructure.

By reaching our net zero goal, we’ll reduce our methane emissions by more than 10,000 metric tons — that’s the equivalent of removing about 55,000 vehicles from the road for a year or preserving more than 300,000 acres of forest.  

Consumers Energy is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.8 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.