Posted on February 20, 2013

PG&E Showcases Vehicles Used to Ensure Safe, Reliable Gas Operations

By David Kligman

Kevin Knapp, a PG&E gas-operations executive, spoke about new vehicles that the company has added to help make its system safer. Mike Woelk, the CEO of Picarro, later spoke about his company’s leak-detection technology. (Photos by David Kligman.)

SACRAMENTO — PG&E today (Feb. 20) hosted a Gas Safety Fleet Expo to showcase the utility’s newest vehicles that are helping crews determine where improvements can be made to the gas pipeline system.

The display, the first of several planned this year throughout PG&E’s territory, was held at the utility’s service center in Sacramento.

Kevin Knapp, PG&E’s vice president of gas distribution maintenance and construction, said the new technology and vehicles are ensuring safe and reliable gas operations throughout the utility’s 45,000 miles of distribution pipeline from Eureka to Bakersfield.

“This modern technology is going to put us in a whole new league in terms of our ability to safeguard our system,” Knapp said.

These were the new vehicles on display:

PG&E vehicles mounted with gas leak surveying devices

Picarro surveyor Matt Smith showed off the gas leak technology to employees at the PG&E Customer Service Center in Sacramento.

The Picarro Surveyor analyzer — 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional leak detection equipment — helps PG&E field crews quickly and efficiently identify where potential leaks may exist. The easy-to-use device is equipped on eight PG&E vehicles and signals an alert upon detecting a leak.

PG&E will begin testing the technology in the East San Francisco Bay Area this spring.

“I think PG&E is way ahead of other utilities,” said Mike Woelk, CEO of Picarro, the Silicon Valley company that developed the technology. “PG&E is leading the charge to become truly the safest utility in the nation if not the world, and I’m just really proud to be running a company that can be part of that.”

Employee-designed gas crew trucks

New gas crew trucks are being built following input from hundreds of PG&E employees. The first of the trucks was delivered last October. The redesigned vehicles feature a host of improvements, including a more advanced braking system, a roll-up compartment door for safer access on busy streets, a loading device for heavy equipment and greater fuel economy.

Sacramento gas superintendent Augie Ledesma explained how a generator on a new PG&E gas crew truck is able to power tools necessary to make gas leak repairs.

Tracy-based American Truck & Trailer Body Company, Inc. will supply PG&E with 57 new trucks, with plans to produce an additional 55 to 60 over the next three years.

The new crew trucks aren’t necessarily high tech but are designed with employees in mind. Sacramento gas superintendent Augie Ledesma pointed to the 7-foot-tall cab space, which means employees are less likely to suffer injuries when moving and picking up barricades, signs and heavy plastic pipe.

“It just makes it easier for guys to get in here and get what they need without getting hurt,” said Ledesma.

Mobile command vehicles dispatched during emergencies

Also on display was one of PG&E’s mobile command vehicles, designed to handle large-scale events that require crews to work in teams for extended periods of time. The 38-foot vehicle being displayed can house a dozen people for days or weeks if needed to address any emergency. These units are some of the most technologically advanced vehicles in production and help PG&E gas crews provide the right response capability direct to the scene.

The vehicles have already had an impact. In late January, a large mobile command vehicle was used when a third party digging in Rancho Cordova struck an 8-inch transmission line while excavating to install a water main on a new county road.  Gas distribution supervisor Ty Turner said having the vehicle on site was invaluable during the 24 hours it took the 28-person crew to make the repair.

“We were able to provide instant feedback as the job was progressing,” Turner said. “For me, the biggest thing was being able to write on the walls with a dry erase marker and draw everything that was going on and visually let them see what we were talking about. And it got down to 27 degrees at night, so it provided relief for the guys to come in and grab some coffee.”

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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