Interview: Anna Dawson of Edinburgh-based earth observation and remote sensing data analytics company Terrabotics
Anna Dawson is in charge of energy product strategy at Terrabotics, an earth observation and remote sensing data analytics company aiming to “shine a new light” on the production and supply of key natural resources with independent measurement data from satellite, aerial, and ground sensors.
And she got a deeper understanding of its potential impact when speaking at a conference by Building Bridges – a UN initiative looking to advance sustainable finance – but worried that few attendees would show.
Not only was she allocated a lunchtime slot for her presentation, she wondered why the delegates of bankers would want to attend a session on satellite data when others were giving talks on deforestation through to compliance for investment in development countries and how to reach net zero emissions. But her fears proved baseless. “The room was packed, there were grown men in their 50s in three-piece suits sitting on the floor, and I thought, ‘oh, wow, this is huge actually’.”
The firm, which was founded in 2014, has a base in Edinburgh, and is focused on energy and mining assets, having built up a high-profile client base including Shell, BP, De Beers Group and Glencore as well as the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, while its partners and supporters include the UK's national innovation agency Innovate UK.
Terrabotics has also been working closely with Scottish Enterprise, for example received funding through its Applying Space Data to the Net Zero Economy challenge in 2022, to advance a project using satellite sensors to measure flaring and venting – the disposal of natural gas via combustion or direct release into the atmosphere – in the North Sea. (It has been calculated that flaring is responsible for a fifth of UK offshore oil and gas production-related carbon dioxide emissions and 1 per cent of total UK annual emissions of the gas.)
A Terrabotics spokesperson said at the time: “Timely and objective data is crucial in the shift towards sustainable energy production and the transition to net zero. Flaring and venting contribute to climate change and emit black carbon and other pollutants. These processes are also a waste of a valuable resource. This support from Scottish Enterprise means that we can focus dedicated time to testing the feasibility of monitoring flaring and venting in the North Sea from space, as well as speaking with operators and other stakeholders to better understand their needs.”
The project – known as Energy Scout – subsequently received backing including funding support from the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency to enable further development of Terrabotics’ EmissionsAnalyst tool. The latter was launched in December, with Terrabotics saying it would “revolutionise” methane emissions mapping, monitoring, measurement, and analysis, by bringing together all satellite, aerial, and even ground sensing data sources – from the likes of NASA and Copernicus satellite data – in one place. It is now being used to assess the emissions and environmental impact of sites including the Darvaza Crater, often referred to as the "Door to Hell," located in Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert.
Terrabotics also attended Offshore Europe in Aberdeen as part of a Scottish Enterprise delegation in September 2023, with Dawson one of the speakers at the session titled How Does Space Support the Energy Transition? And she welcomes the support provided by Scottish Enterprise (which recently set out three ways it hopes to add new jobs and investment), also including offering the tech firm the chance to speak at international events. Additionally, she gave a presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.
Her path to her current role dates back to when she studied geology and geophysics at the University of Edinburgh, on graduating moving to Singapore, and working as an oil and gas analyst at Deloitte. She then came back to London to do her Masters in Petroleum Geophysics and then ended up working in the oil industry in Norway for Statoil, which is now known as Equinor, firstly serving as exploration geophysicist and subsequently moving into strategy and business development.
Then, keen to use her academic background and work for a start-up, she had a “serendipitous” introduction to Terrabotics founder and chief executive Dr Gareth Morgan – and joined the firm in 2018, holding the title of chief of staff and head of customer success. It is now a team of ten, and while it is headquartered in London, has a strong weighting towards Scotland, says Dawson, who is from Dumfries and Galloway. Furthermore, it is operating alongside Edinburgh-based peers Ecometrica, which uses satellite data enabling businesses and governments to calculate their climate impact, and was last year acquired by EcoOnline.
Terrabotics, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence, stresses that it helps customers monitor and improve their environmental and regulatory performances, and is seeing a major step up in demand as sustainability moves higher up the agenda of regulators as well as companies’ own strategies. For example, Cop28 that took place at the end of last year saw the launch of the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, with about 50 signatory companies committing to ending routine flaring by 2030 and independent verification of greenhouse gas emissions.
Dawson welcomes the sea change she is now seeing across various sectors, including mining and investment, towards greater importance on eco-friendly credentials. (The Scottish National Investment Bank, for example, says it invests in rebalancing the economy towards leadership in sustainable technology, services and industry, amid Scotland's bid to reach net zero by 2045.)
“People realise that they can't just greenwash, and do a whole bunch of box-ticking activities, and say that they're sustainable,” says Dawson, who adds that Terrabotics is now focused on scaling EmissionsAnalyst including likely further investment in the platform, as the firm seeks to increasingly provide an “entire holistic offering”, combining ground and space data with, say, drones and aircraft information. “It’s pretty exciting,” she says.
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