A UNIVERSITY spin-out is in talks with two major utility companies to back field demonstrations of new technology that could cut the cost of deploying the electrical “smart grid”.
Set up last year by three academics from Strathclyde University, Synaptec has developed a sensor that uses existing fibre optic cables to measure voltage, current, temperature, pressure and vibration on a single system. Such measurements can be used to make automated decisions that maximise the performance of the distribution grid.
Originally designed for the oil and gas sector, Synaptec’s sensors recently received £260,000 from Innovate UK for adaptation to meet industry standards for power systems. Managing director Philip Orr, a former researcher in Strathclyde’s Institute for Energy & Environment, secured that money on the back of an enterprise fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Synaptec is finalising a licensing deal with the university, which in turn will get a 20 per cent stake in the business.
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Orr said Synaptec wants to commercialise the technology as quickly as possible, though it will likely require a further five years of research and testing. The company is in talks with ScottishPower and SSE on the possibility of launching field demonstrations.
“They are certainly very interested in the technology, and they are keen to try it,” Orr said. “We are in the final stages of securing money to trial it under a scheme run by Ofgem.”
That scheme, the Network Innovation Allowance, provides funding for smaller projects with the potential to deliver benefits to electricity customers.
Monitoring transmission performance in a remote location currently requires the construction of an outbuilding to house various telecoms equipment. Synaptec’s sensors do not need digital communications, allowing them to identify instantly the location and types of faults anywhere in an electrical distribution network.
The technology has the potential to cut the cost of operating an increasingly complex and vulnerable electrical grid. Utilities will be able to react to faults immediately, cutting down on the number of outages across the country and reducing the number of financial penalties levied by regulators as a result.
Following field demonstrations, Synaptec aims to forge international partnerships.
“We want to go global as quickly as possible,” Orr said. “It is a difficult market to get into, but it is a very uniform industry, so once one utility has adopted something, they all want to be a part of it.”
Its founders set up Synaptec in March last year after receiving an enterprise fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering. The academy has provided ongoing support through its Enterprise Hub, which includes mentoring from technology entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Synaptec, which is now looking to recruit its first full-time employee, was awarded Best University Technology at the 2014 UK Energy Innovation Awards in November.