The Future of Remote Monitoring and Shut-off Systems for Gas Utilities: Enhancing Safety and Efficiency

The Future of Remote Monitoring and Shut-off Systems for Gas Utilities: Enhancing Safety and Efficiency

According to studies by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas utility use has grown significantly in the U.S., rising by 77% over the last three decades. Just ten or fifteen years ago, gas shut off proceedings required a scheduled technician to come on site and shut off the gas to the building or other structure. This was time consuming, costly, and sometimes extremely unsafe. With the continued advancements of technology, more processes have become streamlined, offering new remote capabilities one never thought possible: First came the remote control, then came the universal remote control, then came remote doorbells, and even remotely controlled smart houses. The future holds promising advancements in remote technology, and that includes gas utility monitoring and shut-off systems. These innovations not only aim to improve operational efficiency but also prioritize safety by leveraging technologies like ground-penetrating radar (GPR). These technologies, and remote utility management could revolutionize gas utility networks.

woman using a tablet for her smart home

The Importance of Remote Monitoring and Shut-off Systems for Gas Utilities

Gas utilities play a crucial role in providing energy to homes, businesses, and many other industries. However, managing gas distribution networks comes with inherent challenges, including safety risks, operational complexities, and the need for rapid response to emergencies such as leaks or ruptures. The Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group released a report that found the United States had almost 2,600 gas pipeline leaks from 2010 through the end of 2021 that were serious enough to report to the federal government. That’s the equivalent of having one gas leak every 40 hours! Remote monitoring and shut-off systems offer proactive solutions to these challenges by providing real-time data insights and enabling remote control capabilities. 

These incidents mentioned in the study above have killed 122 people and injured 603 people. Further, the total costs in property damage, emergency services, and the value of the lost gas totaled nearly $4 billion.  Remote monitoring and shut off systems help prevent tragedies just like these. 

Many companies use a sensaphone system for remote gas monitoring. The sensors monitor wells’ wet levels, temperature, flow, equipment, and power failure. 

Sensaphone Sentinel: A cellular-based monitoring system that accesses real-time data and offers data logging and reporting abilities. The system also monitors up to twelve environmental and equipment conditions, such as oil tank levels, pump status, and security. 

Sensaphone Sentinel PRO: A cloud-based monitoring system that comes with a cellular modem that monitors remote oil locations. This includes the monitoring of input/output points from third-party Modbus sensors, transducers, and PLCs. 

The Use of RGS Devices

Sensus is a utility infrastructure company which has worked closely with gas industry engineers to develop the first stand-alone Remote Gas Shutoff (RGS) device. The result is a programmable device, enabling operations personnel to efficiently and remotely perform duties from gas meter shut off to safety monitoring.

While technicians used to have to come out to the site, if they use the Sensus RSG, or something similar, they can now monitor and shut off utilities remotely. These companies and professionals can now safely discontinue service on the first call by using a handheld or vehicle-based transceiver for the RSG.  Alternatively, if the company has deployed the Sensus FlexNet™ fixed-base communications system, they can remotely shut off service from their call center.

Sensus’ device helps streamline gas utilities, from shut off to safety monitoring, and more. The Sensus RGS unit offers  remote pressure monitoring capabilities. These capabilities can enable the view of a service line pressure at an individual residence without requiring a technician to set a gauge. For added safety, users of this device may also program high or low pressure limits that will automatically shut off service if these predetermined limits are surpassed. In addition, this remarkable unit offers the ability to shut off service automatically in the case of vibration detection, such as with seismic activity.

The RGS-10 also offers time-stamped tilt and tamper detection alarms, these alarms are meant to alert utility managers to potential gas theft. Because there are no exposed electronics, the product is designed to meet strict utility safety requirements and guidelines. In addition, the design of the device is unaffected by dirt buildup, self-exercising to clear debris buildup when needed. There are a multitude of other features and possibilities that accompany the device. 

To ensure longevity, the device is manufactured from cast iron in either angle or straight-body configurations. It also boasts a UV-stabilized polycarbonate cover. To make matters even easier, the device can be added to any type of residential meter set. When this device is combined with the power of accurate utility mapping, such as that provided by SiteMap® (patent pending), powered by GPRS, the possibilities become endless. By utilizing accurate utility mapping, these devices can be properly installed and maintained in a variety of scenarios, even those that extend beyond the realm of residential utilities. 

Benefits of Remote Monitoring and Shut-off Systems

Ball valve with red handle when closed. Shut-off valves for the heating system of the apartment. Turn off the faucet.

1. Enhanced Safety and Risk Mitigation

Remote monitoring systems continuously monitor gas flow, pressure, and integrity across the network. This proactive approach allows for:

Early Leak Detection: Immediate alerts for gas leaks enable swift response actions, reducing the risk of potential hazards to public safety and the environment.

Remote Shut-off: Operators can remotely activate shut-off valves in the event of detected leaks or anomalies, minimizing the impact and preventing further escalation. With proper utility mapping, remote shut off devices can be installed in a variety of locations, even in a larger context.

2. Operational Efficiency and Cost Savings

These systems contribute to operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness by:

Optimized Maintenance: Predictive maintenance based on real-time data helps prioritize and schedule maintenance activities, reducing downtime and extending asset lifespan. This style of maintenance helps reduce costs and keeps the clusters of society along our millions of miles of utility lines safer.

Resource Optimization: Efficient deployment of resources, such as maintenance crews and equipment, improves response times and minimizes operational costs. The sooner an incident is detected, the sooner it may be resolved. 

3. Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

Remote monitoring systems aid utilities in meeting regulatory standards and compliance requirements by:

Data Logging and Reporting: Continuous monitoring and data logging ensure accurate record-keeping. When records are properly kept, compliance audits and regulatory reporting can be maintained and facilitated. 

Proactive Compliance: Early detection of issues helps utilities stay ahead of regulatory changes and requirements.

GPR and Its Role in Gas Utility Monitoring

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a non-destructive geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. In the context of gas utilities. GPRS is a leading provider in utility locating services. GPRS’s field-to-finish process is underpinned by our 99.8% accuracy rate. Our elite team of SIM-certified Project Managers employ various collection devices such as ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction, CCTV crawler cameras, LiDAR (3D laser scanning), and acoustic leak detectors to gather built world data. This data is then compiled into whatever deliverables you require by our in-house Mapping and Modeling Team. These drawings, maps, and models are delivered and stored within the Digital Plan Room of our infrastructure management software application, SiteMap®

GPR offers several advantages:

Utility Line Detection and Mapping

GPR can accurately detect and map underground utility lines, including gas pipelines, without the need for excavation:

Accurate Location Mapping: GPR surveys (among other technology) provide precise location data of buried gas pipelines, enabling utilities to create detailed maps and as-built documentation. GPRS takes precision seriously, boasting and maintaining a 99.8% accuracy level over half a million jobs nationwide. 

Identifying Anomalies: GPR can be used to help detect anomalies such as leaks, voids, or encroachments near pipelines, allowing for timely maintenance and repairs.

Enhanced Safety during Excavation

Prior to excavation or construction activities near gas pipelines, GPR assessments help you to:

Conduct Risk Assessments: Identify potential hazards and utilities that may be impacted by excavation, reducing the risk of accidental damage and associated safety hazards. GPRS recommends annual inspections for your utilities and other facilities to ensure safety and line vitality. 

Compliance with Regulations: Ensure compliance with safety protocols and regulations governing excavation near utility lines.

Integration with Remote Monitoring Systems

Integrating GPR data with remote monitoring systems enhances the overall effectiveness of gas utility management:

Real-time Data Integration: GPR data can be integrated into remote monitoring platforms, providing operators with comprehensive insights into underground conditions and potential risks. When utility lines are accurately mapped, they can also be accurately monitored, including with remote monitoring systems. 

Safety and Maintenance: Early detection of subsurface anomalies through GPR facilitates proactive maintenance planning and reduces the likelihood of costly repairs, or fatal disasters. When gas lines are mapped, proper monitoring systems may be installed. These systems can detect an issue before it becomes a catastrophe. GPRS recommends that all gas lines are detected regularly, especially those in highly urbanized development areas. 

Trends and Innovations in Remote Monitoring and Shut-off Systems

Employees quickly moving to secure valves and shut off systems during a simulated gas leak drill at a refinery.

We have already come quite the way in terms of utility line monitoring and safety. Remote monitoring and shut off devices are becoming more popular, and for good reason. These devices help reduce costs and risks associated with gas utility lines. When combined with technology and services like what GPRS offers, these systems become even more efficient. 

Several trends and innovations are bound to shape the future of remote monitoring and shut-off systems for gas utilities:

Advancements in Sensor Technology

Continued development of sensor technologies will enhance the accuracy and capabilities of remote monitoring systems:

Miniaturization: Smaller, more robust sensors will enable wider deployment across extensive pipeline networks, capturing detailed data on localized conditions. Think about what happened to memory cards, they keep getting smaller, and we keep fitting more data onto them. The same has happened with cameras, and most other modern technologies. It’s easy to say that these remote monitoring systems will also trend in the same direction. 

IoT Integration: Integration with Internet of Things (IoT) devices will enable seamless data transmission and real-time monitoring capabilities. Many systems, such as traffic lights, and other daily-use technologies are already integrating IoT technology. It makes sense that remote monitoring and shut off systems will follow the same path. 

Predictive Maintenance: AI algorithms will likely start to predict equipment failures and performance degradation. This advancement may allow project managers to preemptively address issues and optimize maintenance schedules.

Pattern Recognition: ML algorithms will likely enhance anomaly detection, identifying subtle deviations in data that may indicate potential risks or inefficiencies.

Remote monitoring and shut-off systems are still not as widely used as you might expect, despite their surging popularity. The integration of technologies like GPR can enhance the capabilities of these systems by providing accurate subsurface data, which can then be used in a variety of ways to help support the installation and management of these new devices. 

By embracing these technological advancements gas utility companies and professionals are able to optimize operations, reduce costs, reduce risks, and even maintain infrastructure integrity and longevity. 

Learn more about how GPRS is helping to support unique technologies like remote monitoring systems, contact us today.