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Companies have begun to improve the range & accuracy of weather forecasting

Roughly 60% of the operating expenses of a ship are in fuel costs, with a large ship burning 50 tonnes of oil per day.

, ET Bureau|
May 18, 2019, 10.06 AM IST
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Being a tropical country, predicting weather in India is a harder task than for those in temperate climates.
The weather is no longer something only the English are obsessed about. As weather forecasts get more and more accurate, enabled by better technology and tools, industries are tapping into the predictions to optimise productivity and cut risks.

Roughly 60% of the operating expenses of a ship are in fuel costs, with a large ship burning 50 tonnes of oil per day. So, when Kochi-based XShip announced it could reduce fuel costs for ships, many shipping companies around the world sat up and took notice.

XShip was set up six years ago to provide online monitoring tools for the shipping industry and its main product was software that analysed the performance of a ship after a journey. This product won XShip some of the largest shipping companies in the world as clients including the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

However, in the past six months, XShip has been developing software to predict the best possible route for a ship, again with the aim of reducing fuel costs. To optimise the route, ships needed accurate weather forecasts. XShip signed up for weather forecasts from the Weather Company and says it can predict the best route for a ship with 95% accuracy.

XShip is yet to launch this product, which may not have been possible to develop a few years ago with such accuracy. “Accurate weather forecast is the main input for the product,” said Syam Krishnan, head of vessel performance research at XShip. It’s increasingly becoming an important input for many industries around the world.

As the accuracy and range of weather forecasting improves, companies have begun to use it in new ways, expanding the market for weather forecasting around the world. According to Allied Market Research the weather forecasting and services market will grow from $1.2 billion in 2016 to $2.7 billion in 2023, which is a combined growth rate of 13.1 % a year. The biggest driver for this growth would be short range forecasting.

The Indian market is also showing signs of this growth, although data are not available specifically for the Indian market.

The Weather Company has been signing up new customers in a variety of industries in the country., India’s homegrown weather forecaster Skymet has also been diversifying business over the last 18 months, adding over 50 customers in different industries.

There are several reasons for the growth of the weather forecasting market including improving technology and increased volatility of the weather. Weather becomes uncertain in the long term as climate change accelerates, increasing business risk for private industry. On the other hand, it is becoming possible to predict weather more and more accurately in the short term, providing companies with data that can be used to take business decisions.

XShip is one recent example of a new breed of customers, but new users of weather data are springing up in unexpected places. One of Skymet’s recent customers is Amazon, which uses weather data to manage supply chain and delivery schedules. In general, logistics and e-commerce companies are beginning to use weather forecasts for transport and supply chain management.

Automobile companies are interested in weather forecasting for predicting the performance of batteries. Mobile tower operators are looking to use forecasts to predict and optimise air-conditioning, while telecom operators are set to bundle weather data for rural customers as a value-added service.

Added to all these are the traditional users of weather data and forecasting like agriculture, insurance, aviation, and energy companies. Even among the traditional users, improved technology is enabling new services. In recent times, pollution data is becoming part of weather forecasting services. Pharma companies are looking to predict demands for vaccines depending on weather forecasts. “Last winter was very cold,” says Himanshu Goyal, business leader of The Weather Company. “Such trends do not come out of historical data.”

The Weather Company and Skymet have slightly different business models. The Weather Company is focused on forecasting, while Skymet focuses more on providing real time weather data. In the last few years, Skymet has spent about Rs 70 crore, a significant portion of the three rounds of money it raised, on setting up sensor networks for pollution monitoring and lightning detection. It has 500 sensors in north India for air quality monitoring. It is setting up 23 lightning sensors – one sensor covers 300 square kilometers – in the country. “Lightning is India’s biggest natural killer,” says Skymet founder Jatin Singh. Roughly 2000 people die every year in India due to lightning strikes, compared to less than 40 in the US.

Lightning forecasts are becoming increasingly important for airlines, which are among the oldest users of weather forecasts. Airlines use weather data to make flight plans, which mostly do not change once made. With longer flights and changing weather patterns, airlines are looking for periodic updates. “What we might require are automated updates on a regular basis,” says Indigo Chief Information Officer Saurav Singh.

Wind energy companies are also among the new users of weather data in India, for predicting the energy output of a wind farm. Wind energy companies do not use weather data directly, but use the services of companies that specialize in such prediction. Two of these companies, Climate-Connect and Statkraft, have set up base in India recently. “It is a new trend for India,” says Anil Gagwani, head of asset management at ReNew Power, a renewable energy company. “We have been using European and American models.”

Being a tropical country, predicting weather in India is a harder task than for those in temperate climates. But it is vital for many companies, and so weather prediction is set to expand rapidly in India.
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