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Space technology 'could reduce cost of renewable energy'

07 May 2015

Space-based radar technology could be harnessed by the renewable energy sector to drive down costs, according to academics at the University of Strathclyde.

Sentinel-1 (image: ESA/ATG medialab)

The SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) technology is currently used to help protect and manage marine environments, to detect illegal logging in tropical forests, and to aid disaster relief efforts. However, its use in aiding the take-up of renewable energy is now also being explored.

SAR systems, which are carried on spacecraft such as Europe’s Sentinel-1, can detect slight movements of as little as a few millimetres.  This capability could have applications for energy companies, such as structural monitoring of offshore wind turbines, detecting fallen pylons in remote regions, or identifying future sites for turbines. The technology could also enhance the efficiency of network monitoring at a time of growing global demand for energy, and help to reduce energy costs, as well as helping to support the cost of using the technology in future humanitarian programmes.

The potential of SAR, along with other satellite applications for energy industries, was outlined at an event hosted by the Strathclyde-based Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at the University’s Technology and Innovation Centre on Tuesday, 5 May.

“We’re looking to open up conversation with industry about how it could use space technology in a way that may not have been traditionally thought about," says Dr Malcolm Macdonald, Director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications.

“Very small shifts in buildings and landscapes are difficult to detect but SAR can pick up on this and, with the use of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, can show where a movement has occurred, often before a ground-based observer would notice. It can also detect things that may otherwise take time to be discovered because of the remoteness of the location.

“Radar also has the advantage of not depending on the weather and being able to detect features even through cloud or rain.”

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