Stephane Germain and GHGSat's Methane Sniffing Satellites

Climate Solutions with Gaby and Shaila

Apr 24 2022 • 22 mins

As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed. Whether or not Peter Drucker actually uttered these famous words, nowhere do they ring truer than in the realm of greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to curb their production have regularly been hampered by a failure of measurement, particularly through initiatives in the financial sector. Indeed, our guest Stephane Germain notes that emissions are currently measured by teams of consultants travelling from site to site with expensive cameras, costing incumbents an obstructive amount. “We are bringing a unique set of data to the world at a time when they really need it.”

Happily, Germain has a solution. Climate change is riddled with moon-shot ideas, but this is one of the few that has real backing and real, expansive, potential. His idea, which combined a fascination with space and a love for the physical environment was catalysed by rapid progress in the miniaturisation of technology in the early 2000s. It turns out to be remarkably simple, to fit a small satellite with a gas spectrometer. This spectrometer detects light absorbed by greenhouse gases, thus verifying their presence. In 2011, Germaine founded GHGSat Inc on this idea, and his satellites now orbit the planet 15 times a day, funded by clients such as Shell, Chevron and Total. “The world needs to know how much methane is emitted, and needs to act on it now”

Germain’s idea has come at the perfect time. COP26 saw significant action on methane emissions and disclosure, with the UK and US two of the major countries working to implement mandatory climate related disclosure. He speaks candidly on the potential of his product, seeing potential clients from government, through industry, agriculture and power generation, to the financial services sector. Indeed he can already count many in these sectors as clients. In terms of climate change, Germain believes that methane is a low hanging fruit. Contrary to popular discourse, he argues, a large proportion of methane emissions occur in scenarios where there are well known, and often affordable, or even profitable, mitigation options. Could all this signal a step change in climate change mitigation? We see no reason why not.