Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Uganda Pioneers Lightning-Based Early Warning System

New Automatic Weather Stations Installed on Cell-Phone Towers Improve Storm Forecasts and Protect Lives
By Pascal Onegiu Okello
KAMPALA - Uganda’s weather reporting is destined to become one of the best in the East African region after the installation of a network of five all-in-one Total Solutions Automatic Weather Stations (TSAWS).
The five stations, which include a total lightning detection system, will provide improved weather reports, issue early warnings for fast-acting lightning storms, connect Uganda with regional monitoring systems and improve the country’s overall sustainability of investments in climate information services.
The TSAWSs, which were procured by the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) through the UNDP-supported Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems Project, will work in concert with six already existing lightning sensors from the “Pilot Project on Severe Weather Now-casting Based on Lightning Detection in Lake Victoria Region.” This brings the total number of TSAWS sensors in Uganda to eleven.
The increased number of total lightning detection stations will now provide coverage for the Central, Eastern and Northern region of the country, and hopefully reduce the number of lightning fatalities in the country, which has been noted to have more lightning fatalities per year than anywhere else in the world.
Lightning strikes killed over 205 primary school children between 2012 and 2013. Apart from lightning, fast-acting storms and unpredicted high winds are also a cause of worry as some estimates show that around 5,000 people perish each year on Lake Victoria due to them.
The Total Solutions AWS will also integrate lightning data from neighboring networks in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, making for improved regional cooperation in early warning systems.
All this is part of the Government of Uganda’s efforts towards building early warning systems, with the support of UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA) and funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF)’s Least Developed Countries Fund.
A Focus on Sustainability
In an effort to ensure that the stations are able to work well, UNMA has partnered with local telecommunications companies, which allowed them to install the TSAWSs on their towers in the five districts of Kaliro, Sironko, Napak, Kotido and Agago (Otuke).
This not only reduced installation costs but also ensures that the stations have a continuous supply of power and communication for monitoring them as well as security from vandalism.
In addition, Earth Networks, a private weather services provider that was procured to provide the equipment, also integrated this new-generation of weather-monitoring equipment into UNMA’s existing monitoring system.
They also trained seven UNMA technicians on how to install the stations so that they are not only able carry on this installation process but also monitor it for efficient use.
“During the first installation in Kaliro, as we completed the assembly of the sensor on the ground and prepared for the hoisting, we observed some rain clouds in the distance. Since we heard no thunder, we assumed it to be safe to send the rigger up to begin the installation. However, the Earth Networks project manager logged into the WeatherBug App and saw lightning activity within 3km of the site. He advised that we wait a few minutes before proceeding,” Georgie George, Alternative Technologies Specialist for the CIRDA Programme, said.
He added that using the App enabled them to make an informed decision that kept them safe from the heavy downpour and lightning.
Macintosh HD:Users:greg:Desktop:UNDP:PPP-Publication:Photos:Real-Time Thunderstorm Rainfall Intensity Estimates on Lake Victoria.png
Real-time thunderstorm rainfall intensity estimates as
visualized through the computing infrastructure of the
Pilot Project on Severe Weather Nowcasting Based
on Total Lightning Detection in Lake Victoria Region.
How the System Works
The early warning system installed in Uganda is based on networks of real-time, automatic weather stations installed on existing mobile telecommunication towers and equipped with total lightning sensors. Real-time communications are achieved through a GSM/3G/4G capable modem. This means weather reports will be shared with UNMA every minute, allowing for the creation of early alerts on fast-acting lightning storms.
Macintosh HD:Users:greg:Desktop:UNDP:PPP-Publication:Photos:Dangerous Thunderstorm Alert polygons on Lake Victoria.png
The technology generates polygons where
dangerous thunderstorms are active. These polygons can be used by
NHMS to issue early warnings to fisherman and
lake-side communities likely affected by these storms.
In-situ observation data is integrated into cloud-based data repositories as well as nowcasting and numerical weather prediction systems. This solution provides easy access for National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) such as UNMA to surface observation and forecast data for historical analysis, as well as real-time, current weather conditions and observations.
Displaying data in real time from Uganda’s five new AWS.
The network is already picking up intense
lightning activity in the northwest and
northeast regions of the country. This visualization is available
on the Earth Network tools
such as StreamerRT (PC Based) and the
Mobile application - WeatherBug.
If all the stations are operating with uninterrupted electrical power and internet communications, the pilot network around Lake Victoria provides a cloud-to-ground lightning detection efficiency of over 95 percent for the high resolution area.
It also provides intra-cloud detection efficiency of over 60 to 70 percent in the region, which enables key information on storm development and behavior to be detected in time. When working at maximum capacity, the system provides detailed total lightning data for storm cell identification and tracking in the region and serves as a tool for monitoring of storm intensity, position and movement. Lightning location accuracy is 200-300 meters within the region and less than 400 meters well beyond.
This information is then processed through cloud-computing infrastructure to create an integrated early warning solution. All the data points and layers are visually presented in a specialised display environment, which is utilized by the National Hydro-Meteorological Services (NHMS) to aid in the issuance of early warnings.

Next Steps
The new technology has introduced and aims to sustain total situational awareness across the region with real-time tracking and automated alerts of impending hazards. This means that timely and localized decisions on the issuance of early warnings can be made without having to install expensive, hard-to-maintain weather radar systems across the region.
The need for real-time data products and services requires that UNMA staff be trained to cope with the technological requirements for operation and maintenance, as well as the analysis and interpretation of data.
The new data sets, however, present an opportunity for developing new tailored weather information products for the emerging new markets, which in the long term will help to develop the economic potential and financial sustainability of UNMA.
In the long-term, the public-private partnership with Earth Networks has already delivered $500,000 in co-financing through the donation of assets, hardware and services by the company. When fully implemented this partnership has the potential to deliver an additional $1 million in shared revenue.

Learn More 

With financing from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Country Countries Fund, and supported by UNDP and the Ministry of of Water and Environment, the Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems (SCIEWS) project in Uganda aims to support adaptation planning via an enhanced climate monitoring network and early warning systems. Securing, transferring and installing critical technologies, as well as developing and integrating the necessary systems for climate change-related information in decision-making processes, the project is working to increase the capacity of the national early warning network to forewarn and rapidly respond to extreme climate events. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Let the negotiations begin: How met agencies can share revenues generated by private sector companies

By Anthony Mills
We all know that good data – and an improved understanding of the market – makes for good decisions. In order to understand the nuanced intricacies of the weather services market – and potential revenue streams that could be generated through agreements with private-sector companies – we decided to look at what the data told us. This meant taking on a major cross-continental market study to better understand the market for such services, its pitfalls, potentials, challenges and opportunities.

The need for such market data and information was clear. In an earlier blog post, I wrote that “More information…is needed on how meteorological agencies can commercialize part of their operations and on how met agencies can add value to their existing information so that it can be sold.

“Questions also exist regarding the use of potential income streams and on whether these would be enough to help agencies maintain and expand their operations. Can mechanisms enabling the flow of funds from the aviation sector to met agencies form a useful precedent? Could mobile phone companies perhaps pay met agencies for valuable and highly tailored information that could then be distributed to their users?”

This questions were followed up with a simple conclusion. “[We] need to establish how the new services that [the met agencies] will be providing can generate revenue streams for the long-term maintenance of the new as well as the existing met equipment and technology.” 

More than a year has passed since this text above was written, and the good news is that the information required is now available. This is because CIRDA commissioned a market study on how the met agencies can capitalize on private-sector opportunities and find mechanisms to increase revenue streams. The results of this study are detailed in an the UNDP’s new Climate and Weather Services Market Assessment - Revenue Generating Opportunities Through Tailored Weather Information Products

The extensive report, made possible with financing from the Global Environment Facility's Least Developed Countries Fund, is over 100 pages long. For a snapshot, take a look at the summary. In this blog-post I give you the findings of the study in a nutshell, and in a more informal manner than you will find in the technical report.

A True Market Opportunity
The main finding shining out of the market study was that the met agencies have a remarkable opportunity to be part of a growing, dynamic, large and powerful private-sector market based on tailored weather information products.

In recent decades the availability, diversity, sophistication and use of weather information products generated by private-sector companies has skyrocketed. These companies are increasingly using satellite data to generate their products, but they are always on the look-out to refine their products by using local weather data collected from the ground.

The risk facing the met agencies is that these private companies do not depend on the met agency data for their commercial viability; the data from met agencies is just a “nice thing to have.” Business will go on for these companies, with or without the met agencies. In time, as the private companies get used to running their operations without the met agencies, it is likely to be harder to forge partnerships in the future. Consequently, now is the time for met agencies to seize the opportunity to partner with the private companies.

The weather information market in Africa is still fresh and dynamic. There are gaps to be seized. There are profits to be generated through innovative approaches like the new apps developed at the recent Climate Action Hackathon.

At the moment, accurate, consistent data from on-the-ground met agency weather stations do have value for private weather services companies. Such data can increase the quality of the weather information products, enabling them to charge their customers more.

The private companies will consequently be prepared to share in revenue streams with the met agencies, which in turn increases the long-term financing prospects for the met agencies. Indeed, the global weather information companies aWhere and Speedwell Weather both publically stated their commitments to forging partnerships with African met services at the CIRDA Last Mile Workshop, held March 2016 in Livingstone, Zambia. Both companies agreed that shared revenue streams – as is for example already happening in Brazil – were an option on the table if the data provided by the met agencies was consistent and accurate. It was also noted that the value of the data from the met agencies would be greater if the data from several countries could be pooled together.

Making It Work
Another finding emerging from the study was that generating profits from tailored weather information products is not a straight forward exercise. Like any business, there needs to be a steely focus, a gritty determination, a commitment to extreme quality, laser-like attention to detail, strong skills in technology, marketing and business development, large doses of innovation, a fleet-footed flexibility, and last but not least considerable patience.

It takes many years of time, joules of human energy and millions of dollars to transform the initial idea of the weather information product into a profit-generating revenue stream. In short, this is not for the faint-hearted. Only companies with strong human resources, deep pockets and a lively entrepreneurial mind-set will cut the mustard in this arena.

Take WeatherNews for example: they started out in 1986 in Japan, and today have a staff of over 700 scattered across the world. They specialize in providing tailored weather information to assist businesses in planning their operations. If you are a mining business, or a construction business or a shipping business, for example, you need to know when the storm will hit so that your operations can be adjusted accordingly. It is certainly worth your while paying WeatherNews a lot of money if they provide you with weather information on an hourly basis that you can rely on. Large savings can be made for the customers. WeatherNews of course trades on this. Last year it made US$33 million gross profit.

Companies like WeatherNews are always open to improving their products to increase their profits. This is where met agencies have an “in.” If the met agencies were to provide their data for a relatively low cost (or even for free) to such companies, there are potentially large returns to be gained via revenue-sharing with the companies.

Of course, the met agencies will need to negotiate hard for a fair share of the proceeds, and expert advice will almost certainly be required for such discussions. This is because determining what is “fair” requires a detailed understanding of the weather information market.

If you are wanting to buy a house for example, it is very unlikely that the seller will accept your offer if you come in at 20% of the market value. Met agencies need to do their homework to work out what the market value of their data is on the international market as well as national market, and walk into the negotiations well prepared.

Other steps that the met agencies will potentially need to take prior to stepping into the ring with the private companies include: ensuring that the national legislation allows for revenue-sharing contracts between weather companies and the met agency; expanding their ground observation network to provide sufficient coverage of the country to entice the private companies; and importantly ensuring that they can guarantee consistent and accurate data to the companies.

The met agencies can take heart that they are holding a lot of trump cards when walking into the private company board rooms. They have, for example, archived historical data that is of some value. But the value of historical data is negligible compared with future potential data.

The real trump card the met agencies are holding is that they have a lot of infrastructure on the ground that can generate data that will improve the weather information products in the private sector for many years to come. In this regard: the more data from the ground the better.

One low-hanging fruit for the met agencies is to capitalize on the huge investments that cell phone companies have made into infrastructure across their countries. At each cell phone tower there is electrical power, a strong mobile phone signal for transmitting data, and a sturdy barbed wire fence to protect the equipment. These are the ideal sites for – with relatively little investment – expanding the ground observation network of automatic weather stations and greatly increasing the amount of data to provide to private companies.

The mobile phone towers will affect the data slightly; the tower may for example block the rain from entering a rain gauge for example. But the effects have been shown to be minor and easily corrected. Private companies are certainly going to see tremendous value in such data.

So my parting message to African met agencies is: invest on your mobile phone towers and let the negotiations begin!

Dr. Anthony Mills is the CEO of C4 EcoSolutions – a company of 15 climate change consultants that develop innovative, evidence-based solutions for adapting to climate change. C4 operates in more than forty countries across Asia and Africa. The company’s clients include the International Finance Corporation (IFC), UNEP, IFAD, FAO, CarbonPlus Capital and UNDP.  C4’s work includes designing and implementing adaptation projects and investments in both the public and private sectors. Anthony is also Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Soil Science, University of Stellenbosch.