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 in the U.S. has grown significantly, increasing by 77% over the past three decades.

Just ten or fifteen years ago, gas shut-off procedures required a scheduled technician to come on site and manually shut off the gas to the building or structure. This process was time-consuming, costly, and sometimes extremely unsafe. However, technological advancements have streamlined many processes, introducing new remote capabilities once thought impossible.

The future promises further advancements in remote technology, including gas utility monitoring and shut-off systems. These innovations aim to improve operational efficiency and prioritize safety by leveraging technologies like ground-penetrating radar (GPR). Such advancements in remote utility management could revolutionize gas utility networks.

A worker in a high-visibility vest holding a tablet and working on a computer.
The future promises further advancements in remote technology, including gas utility monitoring and shut-off systems.

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, a utility infrastructure company, has collaborated with gas industry engineers to develop the first stand-alone Remote Gas Shutoff (RGS) device. This programmable device allows operations personnel to efficiently and remotely perform tasks ranging from gas meter shut-off to safety monitoring.

Previously, technicians needed to visit sites for these tasks. Now, using the Sensus RSG or similar devices, they can monitor and shut off utilities remotely. Companies and professionals can safely discontinue service on the first call using a handheld or vehicle-based transceiver for the RSG. Alternatively, with the Sensus FlexNet™ fixed-base communications system, service can be remotely shut off from the call center.

The Sensus RGS unit streamlines gas utilities, enhancing shut-off and safety monitoring processes. It offers remote pressure monitoring capabilities, enabling viewing of service line pressure at individual residences without requiring a technician to set a gauge. For added safety, users can program high or low pressure limits that automatically shut off service if these limits are exceeded. Additionally, the unit can automatically shut off service in response to vibration detection, such as seismic activity.

The RGS-10 features time-stamped tilt and tamper detection alarms, alerting utility managers to potential gas theft. With no exposed electronics, the product meets strict utility safety requirements and guidelines. Its design is resilient to dirt buildup, self-exercising to clear debris when necessary. The device includes numerous other features and possibilities.

Manufactured from cast iron in either angle or straight-body configurations, the device also has a UV-stabilized polycarbonate cover. It can be added to any type of residential meter set. When combined with accurate utility mapping, such as that provided by SiteMap® (patent pending) powered by GPRS, the possibilities are endless. Accurate utility mapping ensures proper installation and maintenance in various scenarios, extending beyond residential utilities.

Benefits of Remote Monitoring and Shut-Off Systems

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

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 safe
  • 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.

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 scanning (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

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 can optimize operations, reduce costs, reduce risks, and even maintain infrastructure integrity and longevity.

GPRS’ SiteMap® team members are currently scheduling live, personal demonstrations. Click below to schedule your free demo today!