Courtesy of ENERGYminute
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The phrase ‘cleantech’ often summons images of wind turbines or that countertop composter you’re thinking of buying. But let’s be honest, you aren’t going to start growing vegetables with homemade fertilizer anytime soon.
However, when you look beyond the flashier cleantech headlines, you’ll find solutions that could make real differences real fast.
What’s happening: Advanced satellite imaging technologies, like Netherlands-based Tropomi, are being used to collect data on large methane leaks—known as fugitive emissions—around the globe. That data is given to companies like GHGStat and Kayrros who use analytics, artificial intelligence, and their own satellite imagery to pinpoint the exact facilities responsible for those emissions.
What they found: Let’s call their initial findings ‘carbon-positive’: bad but actually good. Collectively, they found dozens of notable methane leaks across Europe, Asia, and North America that account for more emissions than have been previously understood or reported.
- Methane—the largest component of natural gas—is approximately 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 20-year period and why fugitive emissions can be so harmful.
Sources of natural and anthropogenic methane
million tonnes of methane
Why it matters: Improving our ability to measure methane emissions is a core tenant of the COP26 Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by over 30 percent by 2030. Improving measurement capabilities is also supported by the US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan and the US-China Joint Declaration.
- To use a widely misattributed quote: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” – not Ghandi.
The good news part of the story
A recent study in California found the majority of fugitive emissions came from a minority of sources. In every sector surveyed, roughly 60 percent of methane leaks came from just 10 percent of ‘super emitters’. That’s a good thing, as these new satellites will be able to quickly identify some of the largest and lowest-hanging fruit to reduce emissions.
Zoom out: Space-based monitoring provides the world with a significant degree of transparency as well as the ability to hold governments and industries accountable (we see you Turkmenistan).
In the case of methane, this becomes particularly important as we replace coal generation with natural-gas generation. Natural gas has a far better carbon profile, but only if the infrastructure doesn’t leak too much. And if it does, now we’ll know about it.
+Additional reading: European Space Agency: Monitoring methane emissions from gas pipelines