Riding the Clean Energy Wave

SoCalGas invests in new technologies for a net zero future

Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the US, delivering increasingly clean, safe and reliable energy to more than 500 cities and 21.8 million consumers through 5.9 million meters. It has recently declared its intention to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and energy delivery by 2045. In do­ing so, SoCalGas incorporated Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions in its target, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement’s guidelines to limit global warming to 1.5 °C by achieving net zero by 2045 and replacing 20 per cent of its traditional natural gas supply to core customers with renewable natural gas (RNG) by 2030.

Net zero initiatives 

SoCalGas has embarked on a journey of ASPIRE 2045, which is a sustainability plan with a bold ambition to achieve net zero greenhouse gas em­i­ssions in operations and delivery by 2045. Its essential efforts in achieving the ASPIRE 2045 sustainability objectives include replacing 50 per cent of its over-the-road fleet with clean fuel vehicles by 2025 and operating a zero emi­ssion fleet by 2035. Currently, one-third of the SoCalGas fleet uses clean fuels.

In September 2021, SoCalGas and Hyzon Mo­tors partnered for the development of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric utility truck. With the acquisition of these vehicles, nearly 40 per cent of SoCalGas’s fleet will operate on clean fuels. SoCalGas will get a Class 3 commercial service body utility vehicle from Hyzon by the end of 2022 as part of the agreement. The truck is anticipated to have a maximum output of 200 kW and a range of 300 miles. It will be built on the existing chassis original equipment manufacturer used by SoCalGas, eliminating the re­quirement for operational, maintenance and trai­n­ing updates. SoCalGas also plans to convert 200 Ford F-250 service pick-up trucks to run on RNG, which will allow the company to begin reducing its carbon footprint. Both these agreements support SoCalGas’s NetZero 2045 climate promise, which involves replacing its over-the-road fleet by 2035.

SoCalGas announced a partnership with H2U Technologies to conduct demonstration testing of a new, less expensive type of polymer electro­ly­te membrane electrolyser, a device that generates green hydrogen from water and renewable electricity. Electrolysers use electricity to separate water into its oxygen and hydrogen components. When renewable electricity is used in this process, there are no carbon dioxide emissions. This hydrogen can subsequently be used for cle­an transportation or industrial purposes.

Clean energy tech

SoCalGas invests continuously in developing new technologies for a future of clean energy that will enable customers to use energy more ef­fi­ciently and effectively. It has invested in a handful of residential, sustainable transportation and renewable energy projects.

Residential applications – The demand for a natural gas heat-pump water heater is driven by efficiency and emission regulations. Potential development might reduce the cost of ownership for all natural gas choices and be retrofitted with the most prevalent natural gas storage water heating systems.

Industrial applications – SoCalGas is financing the development of a new concept for a sophisticated low-nitrogen oxide (NOx) ribbon burner that can bring economical and environmen­tal benefits in a wide variety of agricultural and industrial applications. This innovative low-NOx and fuel efficient technology will replace current ribbon burner combustion systems to reduce natural gas use and pollution emissions in California’s industrial, agricultural and water sectors.

In conjunction with the Gas Technology Institute, SoCalGas will test a new, ultra-low-NOx burner technology, termed Dynamic Staged Entrain­ed burner (DSE). The DSE burner provides a cost-competitive alternative to existing equipment for the commercial hot water/steam generation ind­us­try in California, with an easy-to-opera­te de­sign. Its burner meets sub-9 ppm NOx limits with low surplus air and great efficiency.

Clean transportation applications – SoCalGas has collaborated with manufacturers of heavy duty truck engines to satisfy near-zero emission standards, particularly for transit, waste and dra­yage applications. This operation will support the Clean Air Action Plan of the Ports of Los An­geles and Long Beach. It is also sponsoring the development of many compressed natural gas hybrid he­a­vy duty drayage trucks. These projects attempt to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and enhance air quality in the South Coast Air Basin. The so­p­hi­sticated technology includes battery-electric drive systems and natural gas engine range extenders to enhance its operators’ performance and operational range.

In addition, the gas firm is passionately supporting the development of innovative storage tank technologies for incre­ased capacity and reduced ecolo­gical impact. This will allow natural gas ve­hi­cles with sophisticated storage tanks to have the same cargo capacity as their gasoline counterparts, with the added benefits of using a less ex­pe­nsive and cleaner alternative fuel than gasoline.

Renewables – SoCalGas is sponsoring research to assess biogas conditioning and upgrading te­ch­nology that would permit the injection of biogas that has been improved into existing natural gas pipelines. SoCalGas is also financing a de­monstration of an emission control technology using biogas from a wastewater treatment facility in collaboration with the Eastern Munici­pal Water District.

Technology roadmap

Automated building diagnostics and control systems, a key upcoming technology, has the capability of identifying energy system operational irregularities and then recommending fixes us­ing engineering logic. Such systems have the po­tential to make “continuous recommissioning” of buildings cost effective.

Intelligent utility distribution networks (IUDN) for the last mile offer another fascinating new field for Sempra’s R&D initiatives. IUDNs are self-healing networks of information that connect cli­ent appliances, utility meters, transformers, sub­stations and utility distribution operations. Au­to­matic meter reading, time-of-use pricing, load-shifting algorithms, automatic outage de­tection, fire and safety alarms and broadband connections are some of the features.

Another branch of technology, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have a variety of applications in utility operations, including the management of meter inventories and the tracking of hazardous waste containers. RFID technology may, for instance, allow tracking of the location and disposition of hazardous waste containers from the moment they are filled until they reach their final destination at a facility for hazardous waste management.

SoCalGas has also been exploring oxy-fuel combustion and carbon dioxide sequestration, which has the potential to generate electricity from natural gas, biogas and other fuels with zero or near-zero NOx, sulphur oxides, toxins, or greenhouse gas emissions. As of January 2022, Doosan Mo­bility Innovation and SoCalGas have collaborated to test hydrogen-powered drone technology for the inspection of natural gas pipelines. SoCalGas plans to conduct inspections of natural gas pipeline as­sets using the DS30 drone. The use of the dro­ne will improve pipeline system maintenance. The DS30 will take close-up digital photographs of difficult to access spots. This facilitates the collection of more data to expeditiously resolve possible pipeline integrity issues. In addition, it will deliver imagery for aerial mapping and three-dimensional topographic models to provide a deeper understanding of the terrains surrounding the asset.