Commission official: Water management among Copernicus’ future priorities

Pierre Delsaux: "We need to change the mindset of the space sector, opening it up to new sectors and business models. Synergies are definitely possible and we need to support collaboration to make our investment in space improve the lives of people on the ground." [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report Can space technologies improve drinking water quality?.

The European Commission aims to make Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation programme, a “top tool” in fighting climate change in the future, which will simultaneously be more involved in policies related to water management, a high-ranking EU official said.

“One of the programme’s priorities in the future will be to provide more information to cover policies related to water management,” Pierre Delsaux told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Delsaux is Deputy Director-General at the European Commission’s directorate for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs  (DG GROW) where he is responsible for Space Policy, Copernicus and Defence as well as EU Satellite Navigation Programmes. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

What is the role of Copernicus in the modernisation of the European economy in general? Can you notice increasing interest from different sectors of the EU economy in Copernicus and satellite data in the last years?

Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth observation programme, is the biggest provider of Earth observation data in the world. This data is helping us address diverse challenges, such as natural disasters and climate change, but it also creates endless business opportunities.

Every day, our Copernicus satellites are producing over 16 TB of high-quality full, free and open Earth Observation data, and distributing ten times as much. This data is then transformed by the six Copernicus Services into value-added information and is available to public and private sectors users.

As exciting as satellite data can be, from the point of view of the end users, they are not really useful unless processed and combined with other data sources. This is exactly the reason why the European Commission has taken action to drastically simplify data access to facilitate their use and open new opportunities all across Europe. In 2018, the Commission launched the so-called Copernicus DIAS, the new Data and Information Access Services. These cloud-based data platforms will make it much easier for SMEs and start-ups to exploit Copernicus data and develop innovative applications.

The market uptake of Copernicus has been a great success, beyond any initial expectations. A number of companies and innovative start-ups are using the data to create new applications and services. For example:

  • SpaceLayerTech is a Portuguese SME that uses Copernicus to help governments and citizens avoid environmental health threats in cities, notably air pollution.
  • Based in Italy, ColomboSky provides a novel solution to monitor water quality to aquaculture companies to help them protect their farming sites from harmful water threats.
  • Terranis, a French SME, has developed an app which provides information in the weeks before harvest time so that winemakers can adjust cultivation methods.
  • Deep Blue Globe is a German start-up that uses Copernicus data to optimise the journey of ships saving them time, fuel and money. The solution can be used by all kinds of fleet operators, from cargo to cruise liners and small maritime operators and sailors.

As we keep on developing the Copernicus infrastructure, we are also reaching new users. For example, a growing number of farmers are using Copernicus for smart farming.

At the beginning of December, we have awarded a number of companies for their innovative approaches to using Copernicus data in the Copernicus Masters annual competition.

The number of exciting projects submitted shows that the potential to use Copernicus data is really enormous and its contribution to the EU economy is increasing. During the period 2017 – 2035, Copernicus is expected to generate €67 to €131 billion in benefits to the European society. This is 10 to 20 times the cost of the programme.

How do you imagine Copernicus in 10 years’ time?

Our plan is to support the development of Copernicus and we intend to launch new missions to make Copernicus a top tool in fighting climate change and improving CO2 emissions monitoring.

The data, which Copernicus produces, has the potential to make Europe the new centre of gravity in monitoring and forecasting air quality. We are among the first in the world with a capacity to detect air pollution over large cities from space.

Our objective is to maintain the EU’s autonomous capacity to observe the Earth and to position Copernicus in support of Europe’s security and its leadership in fighting global climate change.

At the same time, we will continue to support entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups to use Copernicus data to create new products and services.

On a regulatory level, what do you think should improve to unlock the potential of satellite data usage in the EU economy?

Even though our space programmes are doing well, we can do more. We need to look ahead to ensure that we stay at the forefront of technological development.

Firstly, we need to ensure continuity in our space programmes. That is why in June we proposed a new EU Space Programme – a €16 billion plan to boost the EU’s space leadership beyond 2020. It will ensure that our space programmes keep on delivering benefits to people on the ground.

We also need to further foster space entrepreneurship and support space start-ups that can create new jobs and boost growth. That is why space activities are now explicitly included in InvestEU, the proposed successor to the current EU investment plan. The Commission has also launched preparatory work on an initiative for a Space equity pilot to address the early stage and growth needs of start-ups.

Last but not least, we need to change the mindset of the space sector, opening it up to new sectors and business models. Synergies are definitely possible and we need to support collaboration to make our investment in space improve the lives of people on the ground.

There are several EU projects, such as the SPACE-O project, which uses among others, satellite data from Copernicus, to improve drinking water quality in water utilities. How could your next missions/services bring even more added value/benefits to the optimisation of water quality? Are you involved in other water-related projects too? 

Copernicus is already involved in water resources management. It helps monitor water quality inland and in coastal areas while enabling water savings through better irrigation management in agriculture.

It is important to note that contributing to water management is a complex issue where information related to both water quantity and water quality are required. The Copernicus programme provides a lot of indirect information on water, that is then exploited by specialists to compute both quantity and quality.

Copernicus is also regularly used to monitor water pollution and oil spills, for instance in the case of the recent boat accident in Corsica. Let me also mention MobyGIS, an Italian start-up that uses Copernicus data to predict water inflow in hydro-power production plants, to improve energy trading.

One of the programme’s priorities in the future will be to provide more information to cover policies related to water management. This will need developing a better description of hydrological and hydrodynamic processes through modelling and by better measuring the evapotranspiration with improved Thermal Infrared Spatial capacities.

EU project optimises drinking water quality using space technologies

The use of space technologies could play a crucial role in optimising potable water processing operations in order to achieve higher quality, according to the results of an EU-funded project.

What is the potential of Copernicus when it comes to EU agriculture and particularly to precision farming and food sustainability?

The Copernicus data, together with signals from our satellite navigation programme Galileo, are used by a growing number of farmers for precise agriculture. They empower farmers, encourages sustainable farming practices and help ensure food security for the future of Europe.

Copernicus data is already used for crop monitoring and yield forecasting. Copernicus is paving the way for the future of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Farming 2.0. Copernicus will also be used to streamline CAP monitoring by reducing the number of required on-the-spot checks.

Copernicus data are also used for smart farming, which relies on timely information to optimise and minimise the use of fertilisers and water.

We have many great examples of companies using Copernicus data in agriculture. One of them is Sinergise – a Slovenian company that has turned the processing of Copernicus data into a business opportunity. Using the Copernicus data, Sinergise helped develop the CLASS crop view – an app for agriculture machinery producer CLASS that helps farmers monitor their crop.

We could also mention many companies from the Copernicus Start-up Programme, such as Vultus (Sweden), GreenSense (Austria) or SPACE-IRR (Italy), which develop applications to help farmers reduce their impact on the environment.

EU mulls incentives for space technologies in farm controls

The European Commission is considering new proposals to encourage the use of technologies to monitor farm parcels receiving subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), an EU official told EURACTIV.com.

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