The Data Layer Part 1: Data Collection

Introducing Part 1 of our deep dive, Data Collection technologies enabling the sustainability transition

Mark Tomasovic
February 2, 2024

The Data Layer: The Role of Digital Infrastructure in Climate

Part 1: Data Collection

The distributed nature of new climate assets requires new, scalable forms of data collection. From planning and construction, to operations, maintenance, and security, data collection is the foundation upon which sustainability’s digital infrastructure will be built.

For example, utility-scale solar companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year inspecting solar panels for damage. Manually inspecting a 100MW solar farm costs over $70,000 and requires 2,500 hours of labor.  However, drones can automate the capture and the analysis of imagery across hundreds of acres to efficiently survey these sites. Using drones and drone software, companies can reduce solar farm inspection time down to just 20 hours.

In this series, we demonstrate how technologies like drones, robotics, LIDAR, IoT, AR/VR, and satellites enable the collection of data at scale, expediting construction and automating inspections of today’s new climate assets. Welcome to Part 1 of our digital infrastructure series: Data Collection.

Defining Data Collection Platforms

Data collection platforms are digital tools that improve planning, construction, operations or security of distributed energy, mobility or carbon-project assets. Across these technologies, Energize has identified four key themes driving the proliferation of data collection software applications in climate sectors:

- Newfound granularity at scale: Building, operating and maintaining distributed assets requires granular insights across a broad geographic region. Fortunately, advances in technology have enabled granular data collection at scale. Low-cost, high-quality data collection can serve as a moat against traditional, manual data collection methods such as field surveys with handheld cameras.

- Improvements in data collection technologies have led to new forms of data (acoustic, visual, chemical, etc.) that can provide new insights on asset construction and performance. Proprietary data collection methods beget proprietary data insights.

- Commoditization of hardware such as microphones and microprocessors has enabled the proliferation of sensors, thereby increasing the volume of data accessible today. Software can play a key role in aggregating and visualizing the increased volume of data.

- Opportunities for layered products: Collecting proprietary data insights can lead to natural product expansion and expansion of wallet share. The best vertical SaaS companies start with a wedge to collect proprietary data insights and then use those insights to become a “one stop shop” with layered products for the vertical.

Next, we’ll explore how these technologies can be used to collect sustainability data at scale, advancing the development of low-carbon infrastructure. We start with drones and robotics and then, in the attached report, we summarize our insights across other data collection technologies such as LIDAR, satellites, sensors, wearables, and AR/VR.

Drones and Robotics

Drones are remote-controlled, pilot-less aircraft that are often affixed with a camera, LIDAR system, or other data collection device for capturing data across a wide geographic area.

Because climate solutions are distributed, manual collection of data across thousands of assets can be costly, risky and time-consuming. Drones enable a low-touch, automated way of collecting data across multiple assets at scale. And commoditization of drone hardware has created the opportunity for software products that utilize drone data for asset planning and inspection.

Furthermore, the total number of industrial robots has surged globally to over 2.3 million in 2019 and is expected to grow to 20 million by 2030 as hard costs for robotics continue to decline. Platforms that simplify the process of engaging and integrating robotics into industrial workflows can enable companies to unlock the value of robots faster and at lower cost.

Drones and robotics are horizontal technologies that can be adapted for various climate use cases. From infrastructure monitoring to the measurement of nature-based solutions, Energize has identified the following use cases for drones and robotics in climate industries:

Over the last 10 years, decreases in drone hardware costs have resulted in the proliferation of use cases in climate-specific verticals. For example, in construction, drones can survey the site and automate construction progress reporting for the owner of the project. In energy, drones can assess equipment health and inspect for emissions. In the utility solar industry, drones can now collect data 70% faster than manual inspection at 99% accuracy across assets.

Studying the market size across just a small sample of these industries, Energize estimates that the aggregated budget for drone and robotics software across the top five industrial corporate buyers exceeds $42 million. For instance, 50% of electric utilities spend more than $50,000 per year on their drone program, and 25% of utilities spend more than $500,000 per year.

To respond to these trends, startups are now building climate software products to orchestrate complex data collection at scale. The convergence of low hardware costs and the need to inspect millions of more distributed climate assets has created a tailwind of opportunity for entrepreneurs building sustainability’s software stack.

We’ve covered drones and robotics in this post – but in the attached report, we dive deeper into other categories of data collection technologies, such as LIDAR, satellites, sensors, wearables, and AR/VR. Think there is an area we missed or a technology you’d like to explore deeper? Reach out!

Up next: Part 2: Data Management