In Scotland, a smart grid start-up incubated by Strathclyde University is in talks with two major UK utilities interested in developing its technology to cut the cost of grid automation and 'self-healing'.
Synaptec, which was set up in 2014 by three academics from the Scottish university, has developed a sensor that uses existing fibre optic cables to measure voltage, current, temperature, pressure and vibration on a single system, reports The Scotsman newspaper.
The system has the potential to reduce grid maintenance costs as the sensors do not rely on digital communication, allowing them to identify instantly the location and types of faults anywhere in an electrical distribution network.
Commercializing smart grid technology
Originally designed for the oil and gas sector, Synaptec’s sensors recently received GBP300,000 from Innovate UK for adaptation to meet industry standards for power systems, reports The Scotsman.
Managing director Philip Orr, a former researcher at Strathclyde’s Institute for Energy & Environment, said Synaptec wants to commercialize 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.
Mr Orr said: “[The utilities] are certainly very interested in the technology, and they are keen to try it.
“We are in the final stages of securing money to trial it under a scheme run by Ofgem.”
International smart grid customers
Following field demonstrations, Synaptec aims to forge international partnerships.
Orr said: “We want to go global as quickly as possible. 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.”
Synaptec, which is looking to recruit its first full-time employee, is finalising a licensing deal with the university, which in turn will get a 20% stake in the business.
The remainder of the company is owned by Orr and his co-founders, lecturer Pawel Niewczas and Campbell Booth, reader in power system protection at Strathclyde.
Smart grid in Scotland
Scotland is emerging as a smart grid technology player with Strathclyde University at the forefront of research through the Power Networks Demonstration Center, opened in May 2013 as a joint collaboration with Scottish energy companies and development agencies.
Scottish Enterprise, which has a remit to build the country’s globally competitive sectors, said late last year that Scotland sees itself as an “exemplar of smart grid adoption and a leading international provider of smart grid technologies”.
Read more: Top 40 Most Influential People in European Smart Grid: Stephen McArthur, professor at the University of Strathclyde, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering