3 reasons why air pollution should be a top priority for businesses

Leaders from pretty much every country in the world representing current and future customers attended the World Health Organization’s (WHO) inaugural Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva last week, along with academics and nongovernmental organizations, but there were no corporate leaders in attendance.

The absence of companies suggests that air pollution isn’t front and center on business leaders’ radars. Here are three reasons why it should be.

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Future fleets: how clean air innovations are driving smarter, healthier cities


When you picture a city bus, an animal control van or a waste management truck, you’re probably not thinking about a high-tech, mobile urban sensing platform, about saving millions of lives, or about the smart city of the future. At least not yet. But a new initiative in Houston is turning public fleets into the rolling eyes and ears of the city, and enabling these vehicles to revolutionize the way air pollution is monitored, measured – and ultimately addressed across the United States.

The information generated by these IoT-enabled “future fleets” is also a key tool in the transformation to fully connected, smarter cities, where hyperlocal data makes streets safer and less congested and where market forces reward urban efficiency, decarbonized electricity, and clean transportation. Picture using connected, clean fleets to improve delivery times, bring residents to work, school and doctor’s appointments, and even pinpoint the location of toxic air pollution threats – all at the same time.

These vehicles are enabling a future where air pollution forecasts eliminate hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, tens of thousands of hospital and ER visits, and an even larger number of missed school and workdays that are caused annually by air pollution. Air pollution also costs the global economy $225 billion dollars every year in lost labor income, but recent studies show that improving air quality – both indoors and outside – could improve worker productivity. Read more

Future ready regulations will catalyze innovation for the oil and gas industry

The oil and gas industry is at an inflection point: according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the role that natural gas can play in the future of global energy is inextricably linked to its ability to help address environmental problems.

One of these problems is methane emissions–a key focus of the World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. this week–which represent a reputational risk to the oil and gas industry, a waste of saleable resources, and a contributor to both poor local air quality and climate change.

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How hyperlocal air pollution monitoring will create smarter, healthier cities

Right outside my window in Washington, DC, there is a hill where trucks accelerate towards the north, and buses idle to pick up tour groups. Even when the air looks clear, it may be hiding an invisible danger. Air pollution kills 4.5 million people a year and costs the world $225 billion a year in economic damages. These global figures mask what can be a highly local, personal risk. Recent studies show that air pollution varies as much as eight times within one city block. We also now know that living by streets with the most elevated pollution can raise the risk of heart attack or death among the elderly by more than 40% – suggesting air pollution is far more dangerous than previously understood.

The good news is we are on the cusp of generating widespread hyperlocal insights into air pollution. Understanding for the first time at a local, personal level where pollution is, where it comes from, and its impacts could shine a spotlight on the problem and increase the urgency and motivation for action. Because the best actions will protect health and mitigate the risk of climate change, local insights can provide the springboard for local, regional, national and even global impact.  Read more

Smoke alarms for methane benefit public health, the environment and business

The oil and gas industry has planted its sights on playing a competitive role in the energy mix of the future. However, oil and gas extraction, transport and use create serious environmental and safety risks when leaked, releasing 8-10 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year in the US alone.

Fortunately, addressing this problem also offers a tremendous opportunity: a 45% reduction by 2025 would have the same benefit as shutting down one-third of world’s coal fired power plants. That’s why EDF set out on a groundbreaking global technology challenge to incentivize new solutions to fix this problem.

The super emitter problem

Methane is invisible and odorless, making leaks hard to detect. EDF-led studies have shown that methane pollution is widespread, pouring out from “super emitters” – the large, enigmatic sources responsible for a big portion of industry’s methane pollution. These super-emitting sources are nearly impossible to predict and can happen anywhere, anytime as a result of malfunctioning equipment that goes unattended or mistakes in the field.

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How to make Thomas Friedman’s climate optimism a reality

Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.

Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.

The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.

Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.

Here’s how to address both challenges.

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What the sensor technology revolution means for businesses, the planet, and your lungs

A recent study from UPS and GreenBiz revealed that 95 percent of surveyed companies recognize the effect that urbanization – particularly air quality and traffic congestion – will have on business growth and sustainability.

Why? Because poor air quality costs the global economy $225 billion every year in lost labor income, according to the World Bank. Air quality also worsens with congestion, which will likely increase as 2.5 billion more people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050.

It’s no surprise then that less than half of the UPS/GreenBiz study participants feel prepared to address these challenges.

The good news is that cities and businesses can turn their anxiety into action by embracing and utilizing disruptive mobile sensor technologies that collect air quality data.

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Shell becomes latest oil and gas company to test smart methane sensors

This week, the oil and gas giant Shell took a positive step toward addressing methane emissions. The company announced a new technology trial at a wellsite in Alberta, Canada, where it is piloting a specially designed laser to continuously monitor emissions of methane, a powerful pollutant known to leak from oil and gas equipment.

The move by Shell is a glimpse into the future and demonstrates growing market interest in smart, sensor-based methane detection technology. Shell’s project joins a similar field test already underway in Texas, operated by the Norwegian producer Statoil, and a California utility pilot run by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Each of these deployments is promising, but the ultimate test will be broad-scale adoption of innovations that generate actual methane reductions.

For industry, there is an incentive to move ahead. An estimated $30 billion of natural gas (which is largely methane) is wasted every year due to leaks and flaring from oil and gas operations worldwide. In addition, roughly 25 percent of global warming is driven by methane. Oil and gas methane emissions also contain chemicals that adversely affect public health.

For these reasons, methane is a problem that has caught the attention of regulators, investors and consumers alike. Advancing new technologies to enable the oil and gas industry to tackle this challenge more efficiently is key, even as companies use established tools to manage emissions now.

Collaborations Spark Methane Innovation

When you bring the right people to the table, innovative solutions will follow. Behind the Shell, Statoil and PG&E demonstration projects is a collaborative initiative, the Methane Detectors Challenge, begun by the Environmental Defense Fund four years ago. The project united eight oil and gas companies, R&D experts and technology innovators in an effort to accelerate the development of next-generation methane detectors.

The formation of this project was motivated by a key insight: new technology to manage emissions needs to be created and deployed faster than ever. The Methane Detectors Challenge offers a unique resource to innovators – access to real facilities and collaboration with potential customers – which is essential to help entrepreneurs understand the market, demonstrate demand, and ultimately achieve economies of scale.

Both the Statoil and Shell pilots are using a solar-powered laser, created by Colorado-based Quanta3. The technology uses the Internet to provide real-time data analytics to wellsite managers via mobile devices or web portals.

Continuous Visibility, Faster Response

The oil and gas industry has a lot to gain from smart methane sensors that can prevent the loss of valuable product and reduce pollution.

Imagine a future where continuous leak detection systems allow operators to digitally monitor methane emissions occurring across thousands of sites. It’s a game-changer on the horizon. The burgeoning field of continuous methane monitoring offers a range of possibilities – including technologies capable of identifying emission spikes in real-time, allowing operators to cut mitigation time from months to days. Over time, smart sensors on wells may even help predict and prevent leaks and malfunctions before they occur.

Smart Methane Sensors Triggering New Market

The methane-sensing laser deployed by Shell and Statoil is one of many technologies in the emerging methane mitigation industry. In North America alone, more than 130 companies provide low-cost methane management technologies and services to oil and gas customers – a number likely to expand as innovators innovate, pollution requirements tighten, and producers increasingly appreciate the urgency of dealing with methane to maintain their social license to operate.

Smart automation technologies are already being used across the oil and gas industry to improve operating and field efficiencies. Continuous methane detection technology is the next logical step, which has the potential to provide significant economic, environmental and societal benefits.

The Shell pilot is a milestone to celebrate and we recognize the company for its early leadership. Now, we need governments and industry to show the determination needed to meet the methane challenge head-on. Sustained leadership is a prerequisite. But the keys to solving this problem are smart policies that incentivize ongoing innovation, and clear methane reduction goals—supported by technologies like continuous monitoring.

This post was also published on EDF's Energy Exchange blog. Image source: Shell/Ian Jackson


Aileen Nowlan is a Manager at EDF + Business. Follow her on Twitter for more news on EDF's work on innovation and energy.

Technology Breakthroughs: Creating Fertile Ground for Innovation in the Oil and Gas Sector

aileen_nowlan_31394David Hone, Chief Climate Change Advisor at Shell, recently stated that it takes 25 years for a new technology to reach one percent of the energy system. At the multinational companies I have worked with as clients and partners, I have seen how much time it can take to launch a new idea or product.  But, I believe we can and must accelerate the pace of technology development and adoption. This is especially crucial in the area of methane detection. Methane is the main component of natural gas and methane emissions are the cause of 25% of today’s global warming.

For the past three years, the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a groundbreaking partnership between Environmental Defense Fund, oil and gas companies, technology developers, and other experts, has focused on designing and testing promising methane detection technologies. Two of the most promising technologies, both of which provide low-cost continuous methane emissions monitoring, will soon be pilot-tested by major oil and gas companies. Moving from concept to pilots in just a few years teaches us that it is possible to accelerate the adoption of new technology in the oil and gas sector.

Lesson One: Bring all stakeholders to the table around a realistic shared goal

During tMDC_teamhe initial phase of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we facilitated a series of meetings between environmentalists, scientists and oil and gas companies, including Shell, Noble Energy and Southwestern Energy.  This collaborative approach set MDC up for success.  We gained insights on how methane detectors would need to work in the field—simple, self-powered, able to send automated alarms—and this helped the technology entrepreneurs target key functionality.

Our environmental goal for MDC struck a balance of ambitious and pragmatic; detecting big emissions that account for the vast majority of total methane emissions.  By understanding which features would deliver the most impact, we focused on key—but not all—technology gaps.  This dramatically sped up the development and testing time.

Lesson Two: Cast the net widely

At the start of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we cast the net widely for initial applications. If existing providers aren’t already solving the problem, there is no reason to stick with the familiar.  MDC invited applications from all over the world and from different industries.  The result was technologies adapted from outer space, coal mine safety, and personal breathalyzers, to name a few: fresh ideas and new approaches brought together by entrepreneurs who are committed to slowing the tide of climate change.

Lesson Three: Small, flexible investments can pay off

Small investments in emerging technologies can yield great results, and while not all will pay off, those with promise will improve rapidly. This is a portfolio approach to innovation—much like successful Silicon Valley enterprises. This requires leadership commitment and clear communication of project goals to all stakeholders, then being flexible and creative.

Taking some early-stage risk is necessary to create opportunity for big payoffs. Oil and gas companies are familiar with this at the exploration stage; the same is true for technology innovation.  MDC focused on new hardware solutions. Many entrepreneurs (as with entrepreneurs in other sectors) were often advancing personal funds to contract manufacturers or suppliers. This is a dangerous stage that many startups do not survive.

Oil and gas companies should consider offering working capital, rapid payment terms, and in-kind support for early-stage ventures.  The payoff could be significant—a more efficient, more effective strategy that works with a company’s exact specifications. With the right assistance, hardware startups are still not going to turn a profit on the first units, but they might make it through their first year.

MDC headerCatalyzing innovation requires flexibility and compromise on all sides.  Just as entrepreneurs aim to learn about the culture, quality and safety standards and business priorities of oil and gas customers, oil and gas companies will learn and improve faster if they ask themselves what they do and do not need from an early-stage entrepreneur as compared to their expectations of an established provider.  Their requirements for fast iteration of a developing technology may be different from adoption of a tested and proven technology. A lower risk, rapid improvement orientation can be reflected in product or service agreements, warranties, and the feedback offered to innovators.  Similarly, for oil and gas companies, the business case for adopting a new technology may not initially outweigh their current approach.  But with a portfolio of small bets, and the patience to help new ideas progress down the cost curve, these companies increase the odds that a new technology dramatically improves on the status quo.

During the Methane Developers Challenge, I have witnessed first-hand how environmentalists and oil and gas companies can learn from the portfolio approach and rapid iteration lessons of Silicon Valley innovation. In the next few months, MDC entrepreneurs will learn from deploying their technologies at major oil and gas companies. This is a powerful example of ambitious and pragmatic collaboration. This corporate leadership, with oil and gas companies taking a risk and putting their unique resources and insights to work catalyzing innovation, will enable business and the planet to thrive.


Follow Aileen Nowlan on Twitter, @aileennow


Additional information on EDF Methane Detectors Challenge

 

Time to Tell the EPA What Works in Methane Mitigation

aileen_nowlan_31394The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to regulate existing sources of methane from the oil and gas industry, and it is asking for information from the methane mitigation industry to make sure the rule’s approach and requirements account for recent innovation. The EPA’s announcement comprises the U.S. portion of the North American commitment to cut methane by up to 45% from the continent’s oil and gas industry by 2025. Existing sources in the oil and gas industry make up over 90% of the sector’s emissions, which contribute over 9 million tons of methane pollution annually.

The opportunity is open now to tell the EPA what works in methane mitigation.

methane_technician

Emission standards for existing sources of methane will not only reduce greenhouse gases but could also create new markets and customers for the growing mitigation industry. The regulation will likely start with one or more approved work practices to find and fix methane leaks, describing a technology or group of technologies that must be used in a certain manner. For example, EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for new and modified sources of methane required the use of optical gas imaging cameras or “Method 21” instruments. With far more existing sources of methane than new or modified sources, being part of an approved work practice for existing sources would open up a significant market opportunity.

In one of the first steps toward developing the existing source rule, the EPA has set up a voluntary Request for Information, asking anyone with “information about monitoring, detection of fugitive emissions, and alternative mitigation approaches” to submit details by commenting on the Request for Information docket online. The EPA states it is particularly interested in “advanced monitoring technologies” that could be “broadly applicable to existing sources.” The EPA cites as an example “monitoring systems that provide coverage across emission points or equipment in a way that was not previously possible, thus enabling a different approach to setting standards.” A good submission may include “published or unpublished papers, technical information, data, or any other information” that might be relevant.

The deadline to submit information via comment to the agency is November 15, 2016. But there is no need to wait–those who submit earlier will be part of the conversation sooner. And a number of important topics need to be discussed to shape the existing source regulation. The federal New Source Performance Standards and Colorado’s methane regulation contain a pathway for innovative technologies—a mechanism, supported by industry and  environmentalists alike, for the EPA to evaluate and approve better methane reduction approaches. A similar approach could help incentivize advanced technology deployment for existing sources.  This request for information is the first invitation of many to highlight innovation in the methane mitigation industry.


Follow Aileen Nowlan on Twitter, @Aileennow


Read more about the emerging Methane Mitigation industry

Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk