Janice Findlay, innovation programme manager for the Co-Innovate programme, finds out what consultancy firm, Energy Mutual, is up to.

As the race to net zero continues, energy consumers will increasingly become energy producers.

Organisations like councils, academic campuses, private estates and even individuals will no longer only consume energy but will be responsible for managing and maintaining different energy systems.

This is why management consultancy, Energy Mutual, has been developing a system to monitor the performance of small-scale renewable energy systems such as solar, wind and heat pumps.

The company secured a grant from the Co-Innovate Programme to employ a project manager to take the project forward.

Sam Gray joined the business in July 2021, bringing extensive experience gained while completing his master’s in applied computing at the University of Dundee before going to onto work for one of the world’s biggest software consultancies.

When Dr Kyle Smith, founder of Energy Mutual asked Sam to join him and develop the new platform, he jumped at the chance.

“This was an opportunity to make use of the skills and experience I had obtained through my charity work and wider career as a software engineer,” he explains. “It also meant I could help make a difference in the transition to net-zero and working in a field I’ve always found fascinating. What could be more exciting than that!?”

 While utility-scale wind farms or hydro power stations will have a wealth of data and insight into their machines, the same cannot be said for the farmer with a single turbine in his field or the homeowner with solar panels on her roof.

“Even if the data exists,” says Sam, “it requires deep industry know-how to make sense of it and determine whether you’re getting as much ‘bang-for-your-buck’ as you should be.”

Kyle Smith, told me more about how the project came about.

“Having worked with small scale energy producers as a consultant I saw first-hand the issues they were facing. 

“Large-scale utility providers use technology to monitor their assets, so I set about developing a system to help the small-scale provider to identify problems with their energy source; compare the performance over different time periods as well as track the maintenance history.”

“To grow my platform idea I needed someone with the technological knowhow as well as access to metrics for different energy sources to measure performance.

“The package of support I received from Co-Innovate meant I could employ a project manager with excellent technological skills as well as receive support from an academic partner who would contribute to the metrics side of the project.”

The academic partner is Dr Nick Timmons, of Atlantic Technological University, Co. Donegal, formerly the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.

Nick brings a wealth of experience from industry, academia, research and consultancy.  Alongside being a lecturer in communications, wireless, and networking on the BEng (hons) in Electronics and Embedded Systems, he is also academic director of the Wireless Sensor and Applied Research Lab (WiSAR Lab), which he founded in 2008. 

The WiSAR lab develops products and industry solutions using expertise in wireless, embedded systems and related software.

Nick also brought experience from leading a smart renewable energy project called SMARTrenew.

Working with seven international partners, the project focussed on delivering evidence of the benefits of smarter renewable systems and storage to stakeholders in northern, colder, rural and sparsely populated regions of Europe who are still over-reliant on expensive fossil fuels.

Kyle continues:

“Having Nick and his team on-board was essential to form the basis of the ‘asset library’ for the platform. 

“Each energy source has its own set of metrics, which are then used to measure the productivity of renewable energies such as solar PV, or wind turbines.

“Put in simple terms without the metrics we wouldn’t be able to interpret the data and identify problems.” 

With the 12-month project now complete, what’s next?

The platform and business have grown significantly over the course of the Co-Innovate project with the launch of a commercially ready software platform that is already generating sales for the company.

Next steps will be to work with a collection of strategic partners who can bring renewable energy projects to the platform and support the product development.

Kyle adds: “We have been accepted onto Edinburgh University's investor readiness programme -Engage Invest Exploit - and we’re currently reviewing our need for investment to scale the software offering at a national level.”

Sam will be retained as chief technology officer and will continue to drive the development of the platform to meet current and future client needs.

“Energy Mutual, and this project specifically, represents a step-change in how we interact with small-scale producers and puts the knowledge and experience of an energy manager in their pocket. This helps these generators produce more energy for longer and, ultimately, helps the planet.”

Sam Gray and Kyle Smith of Energy Mutual

Kyle Smith and Sam Gray of Energy Mutual

Join me next time where I catch up with a business who is taking the circular economy on the road.   

Co-Innovate supports small or medium sized businesses based in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and Lochalsh, Lochaber and Argyll and the Islands. While applications for the business and academia projects are now closed, business advisers can still provide advice, signpost to relevant support and help connect to networks to those looking to develop a new product, service or process.

Co-Innovate is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It is delivered in the Highlands and Islands by HIE.


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