Every company and organization has a never ending task – to reduce costs, to concur price volatility for the commodities and inputs. What do we do when presented with the free commodity? Are we ready to maximize the potential of the 21st Century commodity – data? Picking Alpha has started a search for answers from the European Commission, who generated the idea of free data to be available for the whole world, through it’s massive Space program – Copernicus.
We have talked about these and other questions with Mr. Philippe Brunet, Director for Space Policy, Copernicus and Defence at the European Commission, European Commission DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Directorate I – Space Policy, Copernicus and Defence.
Europe is offering a modern age commodity free – Satellite produced Big Data free of charge to the whole world, why?
Let me first underline that one of the main benefits of Copernicus, the EU’s Earth Observation programme is the Geo-information that is provided by the Copernicus services, such as air quality monitoring. So when we speak about data, we really mean data and Geo-information. Secondly, Big Data is not only lots of data. The term really implies the combination of various data sources to generate information products. Copernicus already uses such approaches in the domain of the Copernicus services, mainly. Let us agree on these conventions for this interview.
A return on investment can either be achieved through the sale of data or through the indirect economic and societal impact the data generates if made available free of charge. This has to do with the uptake of the data within value-adding activities that is facilitated through the no-charge policy making this particularly interesting for institutional investors such as the European Commission.
Moreover, it has been shown through studies we conducted and also through experience at international level that for a large part of space-based data the free and open data approach is much more suitable to maximise the return on investment. Europe gets much more benefit from economic activities enabled by the free data, than it would get by selling the data itself.
To maximise this return, one of our primary objectives next to the operational delivery of Copernicus must therefore be the stimulation of user uptake.
We do this in Europe to materialise the benefits at home first. Then we also do this globally as export opportunities for our industry are at stake and as the ability for Copernicus users to monitor and better manage their environment will bring benefits to Europe and its citizens in the medium term. An example could be the mitigation of migratory pressures driven by quality of life in Africa through better management of land and water resources there.
We also want Europe to become the world leader in the fight against climate change. In that goal, we want Copernicus to become the global standards in Earth observation.
What industries / sectors are the first priorities for the Commission for the extensive satellite Big Data adoption and implementation?
Our focus lies firstly on what I call the “native” Copernicus application areas related to environmental monitoring, for example: monitoring of temperature, melting of icebergs, air quality, sea levels) and security. We are running a wide range of awareness-raising and user uptake initiatives.
Secondly, we promote the use of Copernicus data in IT and Big Data applications which are new players in our domain. As for the previous case we do this through cooperation with other Directorate Generals at the level of the European Commission, with our Member States and through initiatives such as App Camps or the Copernicus Masters Competition. This is a very exciting domain as the wealth of new ideas and initiatives is very encouraging and provides the potential breeding ground for many new businesses to emerge in Europe. To facilitate the transition from idea to business we have put in place support programmes such as the Copernicus Accelerator and Business Incubation programmes. We coach and train companies, so they can have commercial income from the space data.
How Copernicus with its data can contribute into low carbon economy development now and in the near future?
Nowadays, Copernicus is capable of measuring emissions of several air pollutants, ozone and particulate matter such as dust, smoke, and pollen. Very recently we also started investigating the possibility to extend the scope of Copernicus to the monitoring of CO2 emissions.
Copernicus also contributes to monitor air quality. For example, thanks to its continuous provision of data and information on atmospheric composition, it helps public authorities to develop better policies by comparing the air quality between different countries, set limit values and check whether they are met or not. Other aspects are directly linked to the health of the population especially when Copernicus is used to monitor the pollution peaks or to support data analyses to examine the relations between pollution and life expectancy in a specific area.
Other sectors where Copernicus data is crucial to develop a low carbon economy are agriculture thanks to smart farming, renewable energies, land use, but also the marine environment where, thanks to the monitoring of oceanic currents, Copernicus enables vessels to save fuel and to have a smaller impact on the environment.
Do you foresee creation of new economic sectors and job growth with Copernicus Big Data availability?
As said before we are already running many initiatives and using all instruments at our disposal to broaden the impact Copernicus has on different sectors of the economy. For the moment the main users of the data are companies from the space sector. What we try to achieve is to have players from the other areas, for example the high-tech, to join.
This will be supported by one of our pivotal initiatives, the Copernicus Data and Information Access Services (DIAS), which is cloud based.. These services will largely be based on commercial initiatives that receive support by the European Commission and will –once operational in early 2018 – provide access to all Copernicus data and offer complementary services under commercial conditions.
Several DIAS will be put in place to ensure competition between DIAS providers and thus stimulate innovation. Their services will be open to all and allow public and private actors to co-operate and integrate into an eco-system of developers which can bring the benefit of Copernicus to new areas.
To complement this, our efforts will also include the use of innovative financial instruments and novel cooperation approaches that should provide us with the flexibility to respond to the needs of business and public partners alike.
To be continued in Part 2…