Satellite applications in offshore renewable energy

Published 8 June 2015

When the first satellite was launched in 1957, few would have believed just what an important role satellites would come to play in our lives. With approximately 1,000 satellites in operation and a further 3,400 in orbit today, satellites impact almost everything we do in the 21st Century such as driving, talking on the phone and watching television. 

Given the huge range of potential uses of satellites, the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) and Satellite Applications (SatApps) Catapults have joined forces to explore ways in which they can be used to drive forward the development of the UK’s offshore renewable energy industry, with satellites presenting possible solutions to some of the sector’s key technology challenges.

Remote sensing

Remote sensing is one area that has a direct application in offshore renewable energy. Remote sensing utilises electromagnetic radiation (EMR) which is either reflected or back-scattered from an object or geographic area on the planet. Passive and active remote sensing technologies include visible imaging, radar, and lidar measurements. Sonar is another example of a remote sensing technology. These technologies can be used to determine a physical property of an object or area (e.g. colour, temperature etc.); or the size, shape or height of an object or area.

In offshore renewable energy, remote sensing could be used, for example, in environmental monitoring, to understand and track the movement of marine life at potential sites for offshore wind farms (mammals, birdlife etc) or to improve localised weather monitoring and forecasting. Both of these have been highlighted as innovation challenges by ORE Catapult.

Movement and displacement measurements from satellites using radar could be employed to monitor the structural health of offshore wind turbines and other offshore assets.

Other satellite applications, such as navigation and positioning and communications are already used throughout the lifecycle of an offshore windfarm e.g. to track offshore vessels, or providing communications when working offshore (see diagram below).

Some of the use cases outlined above have been discussed conceptually before in the offshore environment, like this report from the Health and Safety Executive from 1995 or this presentation from the International Energy Agency in 2005. However, current trends in satellite applications (improved quality and a significant reduction in the cost of satellite data) mean these applications are becoming a reality for commercial applications.

Cross-industry collaboration  

The UK’s nine Catapult centres are actively looking to create cross-Catapult programmes, based on complementary competencies, which aim to create new opportunities for UK industry, increase the capability of the Catapults and leverage new public and private revenues.

Together, ORE Catapult and SatApps Catapult are involved in a number of collaborative and joint industry projects investigating the use of satellites in offshore renewable energy. Two examples are WindRes (SatApps Catapult and ORE Catapult) and HIGHROC (ORE Catapult).

WindRes, funded by the SatApps Catapult, with input from ORE Catapult, aims to translate research generated by the previous EU FP7 project NORSEWInD into a commercial operational tool for satellite-enabled offshore wind resource optimization. This will be achieved by exploiting freely available satellite data, such as Sentinel-1, to construct a wind atlas for a given location.  ORE Catapult is collecting industry requirements for such a tool, and supporting its development.

The European-funded HIGHROC (HIGH spatial and temporal Resolution Ocean Colour) project will see ORE Catapult install an Aeronet ocean colour monitoring instrument on NOAH, their offshore metocean measurement platform, off the coast of Blyth, which will be used for validation of satellite-based ocean colour algorithms and services. HIGHROC will exploit new satellites such as Sentinel-2 and Landsat-8 to access improved imagery at a spatial resolution of approximately 10-30m and will use data from the geostationary METEOSAT/SEVIRI, which provides images at a temporal resolution of approximately every 15 minutes during daylight.

Driving innovation

Working together, the two Catapults are pooling their knowledge and expertise, each taking the in-depth understanding of their own industries to develop practical applications and solutions. Innovation isn’t about inventing fundamentally new technologies – it’s about finding new ways to exploit newly developed or existing technologies and methodologies. Existing satellites applications can be used to provide solutions to offshore renewable energy industry challenges, and therefore drive down the cost of energy from offshore wind, wave and tide.