Written evidence submitted by Sille Space

1               About Sille Space

Sille Space is a technology company that combines InSAR technology, artificial intelligence for pattern recognition, predictive analytics and satellite imagery to provide infrastructure monitoring reports for commercial assets and critical infrastructure that are accessible for stakeholders across different industries. Sille Space is one of the leading insurtech[1] companies in its vertical and was part of Cohort 4 of the Lloyd’s Lab – the insurtech accelerator programme within Lloyd’s of London.


Sille Space is partnered with the European Space Agency (ESA). In addition to projects such as creating the database engine for the Solar Orbiter that was launched by the ESA and NASA, Sille Space works with the ESA on its InSAR satellites and built the software used by the ESA to process InSAR workflows. By using data provided by ESA Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) satellites, Sille Space can detect the deformation of assets with a standard deviation of 2.1mm, meaning it can often identify previously undetected deformations which can help assess the risk of assets for protection measures and for underwriting processes.


Sille Space can monitor a large range of commercial assets, including but not limited to: dams and tailings dams, docks, mines, manufacturing facilities, seawalls, tunnels and airports. It can also identify potential hazards to these assets, as well as the damage done to the infrastructure in the event of a hazard occurring.


Whilst traditional subsidence and deformation monitoring is largely performed manually by engineers, Sille Space conducts assessments 100% remotely to minimise data collection costs, it can measure sites globally and can look back up to 6 years to create a timeline of events.


Sille Space operates in over 50 countries globally and has risk profiled over 1000 assets with a value of $25bn+.

2               Introduction

Technological solutions can play a key role in ongoing efforts to anticipate and manage the implications of climate change for CNI. Given our expertise in satellite analysis, this evidence focuses particularly on the benefits of using that technically, but we believe that there is a broader case to be made to champion the use of innovative solutions to drive down costs, maximise the UK’s ability to scrutinise risks and focus the deployment of engineers on the ground on those areas where they can make the most crucial difference to the management and anticipation of CNI risk.


Using data and insights provided by satellite technology such as InSAR is a faster and more accurate way to monitor large portfolios of CNI in the UK. InSAR data is updated regularly, is more cost effective than manual measurement and it is particularly useful when assessing and monitoring several assets across a large geographic area. The technology could be used to analyse all UK CNI and complement existing work to report on its condition, which would give a fast, cost-effective and accurate overview of the health of UK CNI. Moreover, it could outline the areas of greatest priority and highlight previously undetected risks.

3               Using technology to anticipate and manage the implications of climate change for CNI

In this evidence we focus on dams as a key CNI vulnerability, but the use of InSAR and wider technology can make a significant difference across a wide range of CNI.

3.1         The risk from the UK’s ageing dam infrastructure

According to the UN Institute for Water, Environment and Health, dams reach an ‘alert’ age threshold when they are more than 50 years old.[2] While well-constructed dams can easily reach 100 years, any dam in this age range is naturally more susceptible to failure. The UK’s median age of large dam is 111 years. This is the highest median age globally, with the next closest being Japan with 65. The UK has the second highest average age of large dams of 106 years. This means that well over half of the UK’s large dams have reached an age beyond the upper bound of a dam’s predicted lifespan, highlighting an increased risk profile for this type of infrastructure in the UK.[3]


The risk from the UK’s aging dam infrastructure is further heightened by the emergence of new climate patterns, such as extreme weather events and increased rainfall. The UK’s dams will face additional pressure in the short, medium and long-term as ageing infrastructure is more vulnerable to extreme environmental events and climate change is both increasing the likelihood of these events and accelerating the degradation of existing infrastructure. This is further exacerbated by the intrinsic link between dams and energy/water supplies, meaning dam failure can have a significant knock-on effect with other CNI in the local area. This highlights that this should be a key area of consideration when assessing the UK CNI’s key vulnerabilities.


The increased risks associated with climate change and extreme weather events, combined with the higher likelihood of dam failure amongst ageing dams and the disproportionately high average and median age of UK large dams, means that the UK’s dam infrastructure is a key vulnerability in the short, medium and long term. Annex items 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 provide a snapshot overview of some of the UK’s largest dams and some potential dangers that they face.


3.2         How technology can help to manage that risk

Identifying risks early and taking proactive measures can significantly decrease the risk of degradation of key infrastructure.[4] However, the challenge the UK faces is to effectively assess its CNI portfolio in a persistent, time-effective and cost-effective manner, so to understand the greatest risks and therefore where action can be prioritised. This is how InSAR satellite technology can play a role in supporting UK CNI.


3.2.1       What is InSAR

Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) is a powerful remote sensing method that provides the measurement of mm-scale movements in well reflecting (coherent) surfaces.[5] It makes high-density measurements over large areas by using radar signals from Earth-orbiting satellites to measure changes in land-surface altitude at high degrees of measurement resolution and spatial detail.


Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery is produced by reflecting radar signals off a target area and measuring the two-way travel time back to the satellite. The SAR interferometry technique uses two SAR images of the same area acquired at different times and "interferes" (differences) them, resulting in maps called interferograms that show ground-surface displacement (range change) between the two time periods.


3.2.2       How InSAR works

InSAR satellites can detect the deformation of assets. These surveys can be conducted 100% remotely, assets can be monitored retrospectively – often for years where the data is available - and the analysis can identify previously undetected or hidden deformations of assets.


As the analyses of these assets are done using data and without the need for on-site inspection, this means the process is a lot faster and more cost-effective than previous manual processes of monitoring infrastructure.


InSAR technology can detect a range of deformations of infrastructure, in addition to the causes of infrastructure failure. To use dams as an example, InSAR technology would be able to detect the following failure mechanisms:

       Slope instability

       Earthquakes (affects/impact)

       Foundation failure

       Structural failure

       Seepage and internal erosion


       General subsidence


These failure mechanisms have directly led to 107 dam failures globally between 1917 and 2000, meaning that the early detection of these failures could prevent a future dam failure.


3.2.3       How InSAR is used to provide monitoring of CNI

InSAR technology provides the data and imagery of the CNI, but in order to identify deformations and provide recommendations, this data needs to be analysed and then translated into a report that is accessible to stakeholders. This is where businesses such as Sille Space sit within the value chain. They feed the InSAR data and imagery into their own AI and machine learning platform that is then ‘translated’ and easy to understand across industries. This information is reviewed by their own in-house experts on CNI deformation, and then they produce a comprehensive report for customers about the state of their infrastructure and with suggested next steps.


3.2.4       How InSAR can support UK CNI

InSAR does not completely capture all risk to UK CNI, but it would enable CNI operators to focus the time and effort of their engineers on the critical areas where they can make the most difference. Complementing this, InSAR technology would provide a full-scale assessment of all the UK’s CNI and would provide an accurate and comprehensive overview of the status of this infrastructure. It could do this quickly and cost-effectively. Using InSAR would pinpoint the infrastructure in greatest need of attention, which would allow the relevant authorities to prioritise resource towards this infrastructure. Sections 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 of the Annex outline how using InSAR technology can help identify early warning signs for dam failure and help the UK prioritise resource towards these areas of concern, in a timely and cost-effective manner. Using InSAR technology can identify early warning signs for infrastructure failure, alerting relevant stakeholders ahead of time.[6]

4               Conclusion

The UK faces a huge task in understanding the risk facing CNI and taking action to safeguard this CNI against the effects of climate change. This is all taking place in an environment where CNI operators are facing an increasing risk profile from wider threats (e.g. cyber) and where further cost pressures are coming from the supply chain. In this context, it is key to manage resources effectively, monitor the health of the UK’s CNI infrastructure, understand the areas in greatest need of attention and proactively intervene to prevent infrastructure failure. Technological solutions such as InSAR image analysis can help to create a more efficient and effective process of monitoring CNI.


We would welcome an opportunity to provide the Joint Committee with more detailed insights and analysis on this subject. We would also urge the Committee to explore how the Government and other industry bodies can use available technologies, either on a CNI-provider, sector or even national level, to notify stakeholders when early warning signs for infrastructure failure are detected - similarly to how we use forecasting services to give advanced warning for future severe weather.

5               Annex 1 – Snapshot analysis of current risks to selected UK CNI

5.1         Monitoring of Greenfield Reservoir Dam, Saddleworth, UK

Below is a view of Greenfield Reservoir, which was constructed in 1897, meaning it is at ‘alert age’. It is managed by United Utilities and Oldham Council. This Reservoir provides drinking water and is part of the infrastructure that provides water to 3 million homes and businesses in the Northwest, including Liverpool and Manchester. The monitoring of this reservoir has been conducted by using data from 05/05/2019 to 07/01/2022.



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Using InSAR technology, a previously undetected deformation has been identified, which is an early warning sign for dam failure and an immediate inspection of this site is recommended.


Find 1 (within red circle) has identified a bidirectional deformation cluster on the dam slope. The maximum cumulative deformation is -31mm + 22mm and maximum velocity is -11mm + 8mm / year. This essentially means that there is downwards (red dot) and upwards (blue dot) moving subsidence in a specific area – an early warning sign for potential dam failure. Find 2 (within green circle) highlights how the top of the dam is stable.


5.2         Monitoring of Yeoman Hey Reservoir Dam, Saddleworth, UK

Below is a view of Yeoman Hey Reservoir Dam, which was constructed in 1880, meaning it is at ‘alert age’. The dam is managed by United Utilities and Oldham Council. This Reservoir provides drinking water and is part of the infrastructure that provides water to 3 million homes and businesses in the Northwest, including Liverpool and Manchester. The monitoring of this reservoir has been conducted by using data from 05/05/2019 to 07/01/2022.