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Earth Observation for the Green Energy Transition

DEM of mine and tailings dam

We inhabit a world of accelerating change. As our economies undergo the biggest energy transition in a generation, our living and built environment is also changing rapidly around us. New challenges are on the horizon: ageing infrastructure will need to be replaced and entirely new supply chains built for a new world economy founded on greener technology. These changes will affect almost every facet of life, from agriculture, mining, energy, engineering, transport, all the way to the cost of living.

Led by the United States, countries across the world are increasingly adopting “Green New Deal”-like policies to build the foundations of new, low carbon economies. These policies, and the major investments they herald, mark the biggest construction of new infrastructure and changes to industrial supply chains for nearly a century.

As the industrial world pivots, how can satellite data and Earth observation (EO) technology help us improve and adjust our view of the Earth to meet these new challenges? At Terrabotics, we predict that Earth observation for the green energy transition will be needed for multiple use cases as we continue to transition away from fossil fuels, for example:

  1. Improved terrain, environmental and permit mapping for the new mining projects needed to obtain critical minerals, battery metals and lithium resources. Without these, we will struggle to meet the demand of a green energy network and to safeguard the existing high-tech economy.

  2. A smart management strategy to monitor the complete lifecycle of assets, including ongoing decommissioning efforts. Infrastructure and assets will also need to be hardened as part of a resilience strategy to climate change and the projected increase in severity of damaging flood, wind and fire events.

  3. Active monitoring of fugitive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as we wind down expansive legacy fossil fuel infrastructure, such as capped wells, storage tanks, refineries, pipelines and more.

  4. A better environmental management and monitoring strategy to ensure we are protecting the biosphere and the sustainability of agriculture and water resources as crop yields become less reliable as the climate warms.

  5. The mapping and monitoring of the vast array of interconnected existing and yet-to-be-built infrastructure projects, including strategic roads, railway lines, pipelines, reservoirs, harbours, canals and more.

  6. A smarter approach to underwriting assets for the risk mitigation and insurance industry, where active data and historical trends derived from EO can be essential in quantifying the impacts and frequency of major events that result in insurance claims.

Earth observation for the green energy transition will be an essential intelligence tool for every one of these endeavours, providing a cost-effective and transparent means to observe the Earth at spatial scales far beyond what could be achieved by ground or drone surveys, and at more regular time intervals. Whether it’s the planning stage, active operations or the decommissioning phase of a project, an eye in the sky can offer a complete, objective, and reliable source of critical geospatial information.

Terrabotics is a satellite data analytics company with over 14 years' worth of experience delivering relevant expert analytics and cutting-edge satellite-derived datasets. These data have proven immensely value to the mining, oil and gas, governmental, alternative energy, research, finance, engineering and many other sectors. This accrued expertise has allowed us to hone our skills and develop bespoke data services that have served each of our customer’s individual sector-specific needs, some of which we will explore below!

1. Monitoring Shale Assets and Emissions in the Permian Basin, USA

The most active oil and gas basin on Earth, the Permian Basin is the epicenter of the United States' shale gas boom, restoring energy independence to the world’s largest economy. The scale of activity in this region is difficult to fathom unless it is viewed through the perspective of satellite Earth observation, with thousands of wellpads, pipelines, service infrastructure and compressor stations being constructed in a matter of only a few years over an area the size of Romania.

Change is so rapid in this region that weekly satellite data feeds are often the first source of information on new construction of well pads, a leading indicator of natural resource extraction. Satellite data analytics on construction activity often precedes the publication of regulator data by weeks, if not months, providing immediate value to traders, operators, asset managers and more.

Oil and Gas well pads from fracking detected from satellite imagery
Above: The detection of new wellpad and roads (purple) via TBX ShaleAnalyst within the Permian Basin, USA using repeat capture of satellite imagery.

Methane plumes mapped from satellite data
Above: Methane plumes mapped within TBX EmissionsAnalyst detecting possible unlit flares or leaking gas pipeline infrastructure in the Permian Basin, USA (Data: GHGSat)

New wellpad construction marks yet more new storage and delivery infrastructure to the gas network, each representing a potential point of failure where natural gas, containing methane (a potent greenhouse gas) could potentially escape.

During the operational phase of a wellpad’s lifecycle, routine flaring of gas is common, the extent of which is clear from shortwave infrared satellite data which can accurately map the position of flares (TBX FlareAnalyst). However, some flare sites may, in fact, be unlit and are instead venting methane directly into the atmosphere.

As a wellpad reaches the end of its profitable life, the wells are capped off and maintenance responsibilities often shift to different operators. The seal on these caps may degrade over time, resulting in another source of fugitive greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Using newly developed techniques and dedicated methane-detecting satellite constellations, invisible methane gas plumes are now detectable at scale across the entire Permian Basin, and via targeting tasking at specific locations at higher resolutions. For the first time, point sources of methane leaks are now detectable from space, offering an essential tool to prevent the release of potent GHGs from ageing fossil fuel infrastructure into the atmosphere.

2. Bespoke, Precision 3D Terrain Mapping for Global Mining & Industrial Operations

Using Terrabotics’ propriety stereo algorithm, high resolution optical data from satellites can routinely produce 1-meter precision 3D models of the Earth’s surface. These models are invaluable for customers in the mining, industrial or engineering sectors for an extensive range of applications, such as flood modelling, bare-Earth terrain models, geohazard risk assessment, tailings dam and mine wall stability checks, measuring fault slip and deformation, new road or pipeline construction, general infrastructure planning, mineral prospecting… and many more!

Digital Elevation Model of Mine
Above: High resolution 3D digital elevation model (DEM) of a diamond mine pit, tailings heaps and dams.

Terrabotics builds upon its 3D technology to visualize and analyze these 3D datasets to produce actionable intelligence for risk management, ESG and volumetric estimations. To fully grasp the environmental impacts of existing and new natural resource supply chains, 3D models over the Earth’s surface will be another essential tool in the arsenal of EO data.

DEM of oil and gas infrastructure
Above: High resolution 3D digital elevation model (DEM) of terrain, coastline and adjacent oil & gas infrastructure

3. Mapping the Earth’s Surface: Geological, Structural and Hydrological Tools for Global Supply Chains

Optical and False Colour Composite Satellite Imagery
Above Left: NASA/USGS Landsat RGB imagery over the Andes. Above Right: NASA/USGS Landsat False colour “Geology” composite highlighting contrasts in surface composition, linked to subsurface lithology.

The construction of green energy infrastructure will require more battery metals and battery-grade lithium than can currently be supplied by today’s natural resource supply chains. The search for new deposits of these critical minerals and metals is underway, requiring mapping capabilities that can offer insights on where a new economically viable mine may be located. These projects will be essential to not only the growth of green industry, but to meet the emissions targets set in the Paris Agreement.

Terrabotics’ deep expertise in geology, Earth science and mining, infused with satellite data analytics can provide unparalleled contextual analysis for the exploratory phase of mining for minerals or metal ores.

Vegetation and 3D-model-derived water course network identified from very high-resolution optical satellite data
Above Top: Vegetation and 3D-model-derived water course network identified from very high-resolution optical satellite data around asset. Above Bottom: Hillshade-rendered 3D digital surface model produced from satellite imagery over same area.

Equipped with optical, infrared and 3D data, active asset monitoring, accelerated by AI object detection, can provide a critical overview of operations on the ground.

Whether it’s terrain mapping, land cover classification, object detection, hydrological modelling, emissions, and flare monitoring, Terrabotics gathers information from a comprehensive range of Earth Observation satellites to produce unmatched actionable intelligence from multiple perspectives. Terrabotics has the knowledge and breadth of experience to deliver the data needed to develop and maintain a new energy and resource infrastructure in a socially responsible way.

4. Earth Observation for Vegetation Change Detection and Biomass Mapping

Satellite Earth observation is ideally suited to the task of monitoring the spatial coverage and carbon density of vegetation across the Earth’s surface. To quantify and verify the distribution of vegetation biomass, essential for carbon markets to operate, these data must be available to analysts and observers to determine whether declarations and disclosures are correct.

Through use of AI tools, high resolution satellite data and ground truthing, we will better measure and map the seasonal, human-caused or climate change-induced changes in vegetation cover. Terrabotics’ vegetation cover and change detection algorithms can deliver critical geospatial insights into the vitality and long-term management of these key carbon stores.

AI-derived land cover classification
Above: AI-derived land cover classification over the U.K. identifying areas of vegetation change.


Each of these case studies outlines exemplary use cases provided by the range of Terrabotics products and subscription services. Book a demo here.

Data analytics and expertise built upon EO technologies will be the essential tool to ensure that the current energy transition does not repeat the mistakes of the past. Without an active monitoring approach to natural resource supply chains, across the entire lifecycle of exploration, operation and decommissioning, environmental risks will go unchecked and unmitigated.

Terrabotics is ready to deploy its breadth of relevant knowledge and data services to meet the challenges of the energy transition, decommissioning of ageing infrastructure and environmental stewardship of the biosphere.

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