Energy Resource Management


Energy underpins all aspects of the economic and social development policy in all countries. It is an input universally required by every segment of economy and society, and equally needed in both developed and developing countries.

The energy sector covers a wide range of activities such as oil and gas exploration, extraction and production, transportation, and electricity generation, transport and distribution. The optimal management of this diverse, global, trillion-dollar industry - which includes the non-renewable resources of oil and gas as well as renewable resources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower generation is a critical concern to all nations.

Energy resource management decisions are the basis for economic growth, ecologically responsible use of resources, and human health and security. According to the International Energy Agency, worldwide energy demand over the next thirty years is expected to double, with the bulk of this increase occurring in large, rapidly developing countries – such as India and China. By 2030, global energy demand is expected to exceed supply by 20%. At the same time, existing reserves of traditional fuels from fossil sources may diminish and new reserves will be more difficult to find and exploit commercially. Environmental awareness of the global warming effects of use of fossil fuels may lead to greater reliance on renewable energy sources – which are themselves sensitive to weather and climate phenomena.

Major issues for the energy industry include fuel supply, type, and sustainability, as well as power efficiency, reliability, security, safety and cost effectiveness. Nations need reliable and timely information in order to manage the risks associated with uncertainty in supply, demand, and market dynamics. This requires sound management practices and strategies, by both industry and government.

The role of Earth observation satellites

The energy industry is already an important user of information from Earth observation satellites:

  • weather data is vital in estimations of both the supply and demand for electricity;
  • satellites play an important role in support of exploration, extraction, and safe transportation of the world’s oil and gas reserves
  • which are being sought in increasingly remote and hostile areas of the planet;
  • satellite observations have a central role in the detection and observation of climatic trends due to changing atmospheric composition.

Some examples of the roles for satellite Earth observations in the global energy sector are outlined below.

Forecasting the demand for electricity

The electrical grid ‘blackouts’ in northern USA and Canada in August 2003 were an extreme example of the effects of miscalculating the demand for electricity. The outage affected some 50 million people and losses were estimated at between $5.8bn and $11.8bn. It occurred during summer peak seasonal energy use periods when air conditioning demand was in full force – and demonstrates the important influence of environmental conditions on society’s daily demand for electricity.

The electric power industry relies heavily on projected demand requirements for the buying, selling and trading of electric power. Weather information is a necessary component of the industry’s supply forecasting process. Companies make or purchase forecasts of electricity demand ranging from a few hours ahead to many days ahead. The electric power industry values these demand forecasts and the models that produce them. Energy managers base critical operational decisions upon them.

Weather forecasts are vital for electricity demand forecasting. Meteorologists noted a record-breaking hot summer in Japan in 2004 – with 68 days reaching more than 30°C. Urban heat island conditions are increasing demand for air conditioning and placing stress on electrical supply systems.

Operational meteorological satellites play an important role in the generation of the short term and seasonal weather forecast products that are employed in the power industry. Everyday forecasts of temperature, humidity, precipitation and wind speed, and warnings of severe weather events such as hurricanes, droughts and heat waves, all have value in the prediction of how many electrical appliances each of us will use in the course of our typical day. Getting the forecast wrong means generating either too much or too little energy, and profits are lost in either case. Energy sector meteorologists have suggested that, in the USA, imperfect forecasts can have an impact on the electricity generation industry by as much as US$1Mn per degree (fahrenheit) per day.

Weather forecasting improvements from the introduction of new and advanced satellites are therefore of significant value to that industry. It has been estimated that the economic benefit to the US supply industry resulting from improvements included in the GOES-R mission alone would amount to US$451Mn in 2015. This benefit would be realised in the form of savings primarily from improved load forecasts, and better real time weather information.

Direct observation of environmental conditions can also play an important role in ensuring electricity supply. Utilities and energy trading companies often use satellite imagery data on snow accumulation to predict snowmelt and therefore the energy potential of hydroelectric dams. Longer term supply and infrastructure planning also depends on predictions of urban growth. Wide field-of-view sensors such as those on Landsat and SPOT have been used specifically for this purpose.

Oil and gas

Earth observation imagery is used extensively by exploration companies in support of their search for new oil and gas reserves – both on land and at sea. Instruments such as ASTER on NASA’s Terra satellite are specifically designed to support geologists gathering information on remote and poorly mapped regions of the world and to supply information on the geological and tectonic features – which the trained interpreter can exploit, in association with seismic data, to optimize exploration efforts.

Satellite observations of weather formations, sea surface winds, and wave heights are essential for safe offshore operations

Satellite imagery is routinely used in exploration of offshore oil basins – including through oil ‘seep’ detection

Satellite data is used for prospecting for undersea hydrocarbon deposits. Research by oil companies in the 1990s demonstrated that over 75% of the world’s oil-bearing basins contain surface seeps – which form a thin slick on the sea surface above, visibly changing the water’s reflective qualities. Searches for these naturally occurring oil slicks can be undertaken using boats and aircraft – but these are time-consuming and costly and may require access rights, and alert competitors to potential resources.

Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites offer the oil industry an effective, low-cost technique for reducing source risk in high-cost exploration environments such as the new deep frontier basins This is due to their ability to image surface oil seeps remotely with wide swath coverage (typically 100-200km wide scenes) and at low cost.

Moreover, satellite data does not compromise national sovereignty and can provide multi-temporal coverage data over any area of the globe. Time-series data can provide the location for follow-up surface sampling from which key geochemical information on the reservoired oil can be obtained ahead of drilling.

Oil and gas drilling increasingly takes place on the open seas – operations which are particularly vulnerable to severe storms. This vulnerability was apparent in the 2004 hurricane season when oil output from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest domestic source of oil for the USA, was reduced by about 25-30% of its usual daily rate. Oil prices increased sharply as a result – on fears of supply security. Marine forecasts are essential in the offshore drilling business and for oil pipeline management, providing information on sea-state conditions, wind, wave, surface temperature, and extreme events such as severe storms and hurricanes. Satellite observations are often the only source of such information out at sea and are invaluable in managing offshore operations – and therefore in ensuring security of oil supply.

The same benefits are enjoyed by ocean-going supertankers that transport much of the world’s oil and gas supplies. Active microwave sensors on satellites such as ERS, ENVISAT, and QUICKSCAT provide homogeneous, global measurements of sea surface winds and wave height which are used by meteorologists in their marine forecast models. These models are used in support of offshore operations and for ship route optimisation. The same instruments have helped improve forecasting of the landfall – where and when – of impending hurricanes. This can now typically be predicted to within 400km, up to 2-3 days in advance. The goals of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise call for improving this capability to within 100km by 2010.

Environmental and climate impacts of global fossil fuel use can be expected to come under increasing scrutiny in the 21st century, as nations explore more sustainable energy policies and try to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The role of Earth observation satellites in this domain is the subject of the following case study on Climate.

Coastal wind mapping using radar satellites

Solar irradiance map

Alternative energy sources

Real opportunity exists for information from Earth observations to contribute to the optimisation of renewable energy systems for power production, and to contribute to the provision of information for optimal integration of traditional and renewable energy supply systems into electric power grids.

Energy sources such as solar, wind, and wave power, offer environmentally-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels but are particularly sensitive to environmental conditions. These energy sources are intermittent, and their availability depends largely on local climate and weather.

Local climate data on cloud cover, solar irradiance, and on wind/wave speed and direction – combined with other environmental parameters such as land elevation and land cover models – are vital elements in developing a strategy for the location and operation of solar, wind, and wave power facilities.

Geostationary satellites have been used experimentally as a tool in resource assessment for solar energy for a number of years. The HELIOSAT-3 project, financed by the European Commission, aims to exploit Meteosat data to support the solar energy community in its efforts to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar energy systems and thereby improve the viability of solar energy. The project aims to provide high spatial and temporal solar irradiance data as well as information on the distributions of sunlight by angle of incidence and spectral band.

SAR, scatterometer, and altimeter data from satellites are also used to support the mapping of wind energy in offshore and near-coastal regions to identify potential wind turbine sites.

Future advances

Increasing fuel prices and sensitivity to national fossil fuel emissions will ensure ever-increasing importance of the efficiency of our power generation industries. In the medium term, progress and improvement of energy resources management activities using satellite Earth observations will be largely related to the improvement of short-term to medium-term (up to 8-10 days) weather predictions as well as progress in seasonal to inter-annual climate forecasts.

The new generation of operational meteorology satellites will enable the range of deterministic forecasts to be extended to 15 days. Predictions of high-impact weather will also see improvement – up to 5 days ahead for flash floods, storms and blizzards, 10 days for plain floods, and 15 days or beyond for droughts, heat waves and severe cold spells.

Operational weather systems will be extended to provide daily global analyses of greenhouse gases, and monthly estimates of the sources and sinks of CO2.


International Energy Agency:

The Kyoto Protocol:

European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts:


Wind and wave forecasts for offshore operations and ship routing:

Satellites for oil and mineral exploration:

Heliosat-3 project: