May 30, 2023 - Science

New partnership will monitor coal power plants from space

Illustration of a satellite floating above a suburb

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Satellite company BlackSky and analytics company SynMax are partnering to monitor the amount of coal stored at more than 100 power plants in the U.S.

Why it matters: If successful, keeping an eye on coal inventory at these plants could provide information to energy stakeholders that will help keep tabs on energy generation as the nation transitions away from coal power.

  • "Reducing coal power generation means reducing the supply chain of coal along with it, which can impact inventories," Eric Anderson, SynMax CTO, tells Axios. "This is a precarious process, which if done wrong could lead to inadequate generation and painful energy prices."
  • The partnership follows a flurry of other environment- and climate-focused initiatives to monitor emissions — like methane emitted from gas facilities — from space.

How it works: BlackSky is able to take five satellite photos over the course of 15 seconds, giving users multiple angles on the same object — in this case, coal piles at power plants.

  • "We're able to monitor thousands of sites and not just every couple days, but whenever anybody wants to throughout the day," Brian O'Toole, BlackSky CEO, tells Axios.

The big picture: These kinds of partnerships have the potential to expand the space industry into new markets, fueling its growth.

  • "There is pent-up demand for this information and these answers," SynMax founder Bill Perkins tells Axios. "People want to know, 'Is that well leaking methane or not?' People want to know, 'Is their ocean polluted?'"
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