Thermal mapping might not sound like something a geomatics professional would do. But mapping is always for a specific purpose. While we typically map elevations and natural and cultural features, very often we also map other types of specific data that is of interest to our clients, such as the water table, rock strata, types of vegetation, slopes and soils. Thermal mapping is more of this—identifying thermal areas of interest and geocoding them.

Last week, the UK-based firm Bluesky announced that it has begun offering aerial thermal mapping on a speculative basis. It has been widely recognized that heat losses from buildings can be measured, evaluated and used to depict the relative thermal efficiency of the building. With energy costs skyrocketing, much can be done as individuals, corporations and governments to prevent unneeded energy and financial losses. In addition, power-generating companies can use this information for better estimating energy consumption and determining ways to encourage waste/loss reduction.

Bluesky, a recognized aerial mapping company, has incorporated thermal sensing technology into its arsenal of sensors. The firm maps leaking energy from buildings shortly after sundown—the optimum time to make these measurements. Then it sells this information to the owners, operators and perhaps regulators of the structures. Since Bluesky is an expert at location, it doesn’t simply advertise it has information covering a particular area. Instead, using the geocodes, the company can directly contact the owners and operators of the facilities to sell the information it has gathered. Bluesky is also able to prepare energy loss estimates for areas of interest to power companies, other utilities, landlords and other potential customers desiring energy waste information that covers areas rather than individual structures.

For the geospatial profession, this is a new business model. Although other companies have been involved in specialized thermal mapping, the work has primarily been specifically contracted to avoid disastrous failures at factories or power plants. More recently, some firms have begun offering thermal mapping from helicopters and planes, but only for areas they've been asked to cover. Bluesky is the first to approach the market on a speculative level. The company is taking a similar approach with solar mapping; the firm announced yesterday that it has assessed the solar power potential of more 500,000 properties in the UK—data the firm believes will be valuable to energy companies, housing associations and local authorities as well as both domestic and commercial property owners and solar panel installation companies.

Clearly, there are a host of applications that consume nontraditional mapping data. By thinking outside the box, market-driven, forward-thinking companies can expand their areas of expertise and potential client base.