• EY Australia says Earth observation data should be key to ESG reporting
  • Resources companies could use the tech to monitor vegetation, CO2 and leaks
  • Data sets are readily available already and able to be used right now


Modern Earth observation satellites are smaller and more numerous than ever before and because they are cost effective, the data they gather is much easier to access too.

These satellites carry sensors that can ‘see’ through cloud to mapping topography, measure the Earth’s surface temperature and monitor movement like maritime vessels and road vehicles, as well as changes to buildings and landscapes.

And EY Australia space tech and Oceana assurance innovation leader Anthony Jones says there’s a missed opportunity here for resources companies to use this Earth Observation (EO) data for their ESG reporting.

“Earth Observation (EO) data is already so detailed and improving all the time,” he said.

“I know how powerful EO data is going to be in helping our clients achieve their ESG goals because we’re already using it. 

“We’ve used Earth Observation to help one client discover water leaks without manual inspection, and another to monitor vegetation growth around remote infrastructure which has helped them improve fire management.

“Space tech has made operations for both companies exponentially more efficient and of course improved environmental outcomes.”


Accurate ESG reporting

ESG requirements are broadening and require richer data with greater assurance, that’s where space tech can really help with repeatable, scalable datasets that cover vast distances, Jones says.

“When we look at the broader ESG environment, so environmental, social and governance, there’s lots of application for the use of space technology to improve environmental reporting, monitoring compliance outcomes, to measure and improve safety outcomes to better understand their community impact and impact of businesses on the environment itself,” he said. 

“And then we can also provide information and data that validates certain activities of the company; for example if there’s a net zero plan to get some carbon offsets and plant trees, we’ll get the information from Earth Observation can see whether the tree was planted or not.”

There’s also the added benefit of companies being able to meet ESG legal requirements easily, with EO data able to be intertwined with ESG reporting to ensure audited accuracy is maintained. 


Improving safety outcomes 

By using EO data to assess site maintenance requirements, companies can cut down on those manually intensive tasks, which improves safety outcomes for crews that face harsh and dangerous conditions.

“In the mining sector, where you’re managing assets across vast distances, often in remote locations, or not very friendly environments, companies place a significant emphasis on safety,” Jones said.

“If you’ve got someone driving up and down a pipeline in the middle of Australia, where it’s 50 degrees, that’s a safety risk. 

“You do that activity more efficiently with Earth Observation data and can you train models to actually do the virtual inspections and the visual inspections.

“You might still send people out to do certain things, but it’s more targeted, it’s more specific, and it means better safety outcomes.”


Data sets already available

Jones sees a lot of potential for the data, and Earth Observation datasets that are available from space to play a role in the way companies broadly – not just mining companies – can actually improve their ESG outcomes.

“I believe we’ll all be surprised by how quickly space tech will become central to business operations, beyond the already critical role GPS plays in our financial system,” he said.

“The capability to do it is here, the datasets exist, and the datasets are procurable, from satellite image providers. 

“There are more satellites being launched every day, which is going to provide incremental quality data sets that are going to continue to allow companies to improve their ESG performance.

“And the data is getting more frequent, the frequency of revisit times is better, the resolution quality is better, and it’s getting cheaper.”

The real limiting factor, it turns out, is companies’ awareness of what data sets are available and trust in the new technology.

“The data exists and the technology exists so the industry can avail itself of this technology and the datasets to solve these problems in different ways,” Jones said.

“The space industry is mature enough to play a role in ESG, and the awareness of companies and what role it can play is the limiting factor.”


Who’s in the satellite space?

In the satellite space, there’s only a couple of stocks on the ASX with a slice of the pie, namely Kleos Space (ASX:KSS), which has low-earth orbit (LEO) nano satellites that deliver Radio Frequency (RF) reconnaissance data which can improve both maritime and land-based safety, monitoring strategic areas of interest.

The data is sold on a subscription basis to government and commercial analytics & intelligence entities around the globe and can even be used to tip and cue existing datasets to enhance intelligence capability, even when traditional GEOINT sources are compromised by weather, distance, or sea-state.

In the September quarter, Kleos nabbed a contract with the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). One of the five key US intelligence agencies, the NRO provides satellite, signals and imagery intelligence to organisations such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

“The contract success is indicative of our technological innovation and the value RF geolocation data can provide in improving operational decision making in time-critical, high-risk situations which is driving exceptional demand for our data,” CEO Andy Bowyer said.

There’s also Nexion Group (ASX:NNG), which delivers data across fibre, satellite and wireless networks and in FY22, added LEO satellite capability to its network using the new Starlink system. 

It’s NEXSAT product combines LEO and geostationary (GEO) satellite services with 4G, security and Hybrid Cloud integration to deliver a step-change in price and performance for remote communications. 

In the September quarter Nexion said its satellite divison had experienced significant customer expansion of LEO and GEO satellite services into the Northern Territory, the Murchison, Mt Magnet, and Gascoyne regions in Western Australia. 

Another player is Electro Optic Systems (ASX:EOS) which was investing in launching LEO satellites to gather EO data via their subsidiary SpaceLink.

Key word there is was – because the company recently announced plans to cease investment after being unable to secure an investment partner.

They will now focus on its defence and non-satellite space division.


What about data analysis?

On the data side, there’s Pointerra (ASX:3DP) who use AI to convert massive 3D datasets – like Earth Observation data – into analytics and insights  – which can be used to manage ESG reporting.

In the September quarter the company said expansion across the US energy utility sector and transport and mining sectors drove a US$1.9 million uplift in Annual Contract Revenue (ACV).