The only time most people give electricity a second thought is when we experience what those living Stateside call an “outage”. But whirring away in the background is a huge power grid that makes everything work seamlessly. This, too, we take for granted and few electricity consumers would lose sleep wondering if the grid is operating optimally. However, this is exactly what keeps those behind energy prestart, Electrical Analytics, up at night.
"We have developed a low-cost solution to address a current operational shortcoming within the power industry: the lack of an easy to install and cost-effective way of monitoring transformers on the distribution grid," says company co-founder, Barry Murphy.
“There is currently a lack of data about the distribution network and this means grid operators are flying blind when it comes to the challenges coming down the road. For example, if you want to install solar panels or charge an electric car at your home it can be difficult for grid operators to assess the effects on grid stability, especially locally. This means many utilities either don’t allow people feed power back into the grid or make it prohibitively expensive to discourage it. Our product gives operators the insights they need to make informed decisions and enable a more effective rollout of renewable and low-carbon technologies.”
Electrical Analytics’ solution is quick to install and can be tailored to suit customers’ specific needs. The device, which can be retrofitted, gets attached to the transformer and performs real-time analysis on the health of the transformer and quality of its power. Operators can use the data to prioritise maintenance and upgrades, model their networks better and improve efficiency.
"On average, there is one transformer for every 100 people in the world. In Ireland alone we have about 20,000 ground-mounted transformers. They're the kind of thing you only notice when you're looking for them, but they're everywhere," says Murphy.
“The majority of transformers are over 20 years old, so utilities want to maximise their useful lifetime before they need to be replaced. We came up with our idea after speaking to utilities and seeing a need for a solution that could be easily rolled out. Currently, only the large substations on the grid have any kind of monitoring. However, much of the challenges that lie ahead come from the smaller transformers we are targeting.”
Work on the product began in late 2013 with funding from Enterprise Ireland (EI) under its commercialisation programme. Just recently, Electrical Analytics has benefited from EI's Business Partner programme with the appointment of an experienced commercial director. Investment to date has been in the order of €500,000 and Electrical Analytics will be spun out from Trinity later this year.
There are currently six people on the team from areas such as computer and electrical engineering while the principal investigator is Prof Igor Shvets who has been involved in three previous successful spinouts from Trinity's School of Physics. The project has had a number of units on test with ESB Networks since December 2016 and its primary potential customers are distribution network operators, but any large company with a micro-grid could benefit from the technology. Electrical Analytics will make its money by selling hardware and data and from a recurring service fee.
“We’re not the only company looking at this problem, but our strengths lie in our in-depth knowledge of the physics involved coupled with a multi-disciplinary team with a wide skill base to deliver,” Murphy says. “We are also using the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to analyse the data which identifies useful business metrics that would remain hidden using more traditional analysis.”