Power giants interested in Strathclyde spin-out company’s sensor

(7)Power giants interested in Strathclyde spinout company's sensor- Philip Orr

By Émer O’Toole, News Editor


A Strathclyde spin-out has created a new sensor system which could allow energy and telecoms companies to quickly isolate network faults, reducing the length of service and decreasing fines by regulators.

Synaptec which was set up in March last year by three academics from the University, is in talks with two important utility companies to back field demonstrations of new technology that could lower the cost of setting up an electrical “smart grid.”

Synaptec has created a sensor that uses existing fibre optic cables to measure current, voltage, temperature, pressure and vibration on a single system.

These measurements can be used to make automated decisions that maximise the performance of the distribution grid.

Initially made for the oil and gas sector, Synaptec’s sensors were recently given £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 the money following an enterprise fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Synaptec is holding a licensing deal with Strathclyde and, as a result, the university will get a 20 per cent stake in the business.

Orr spoke of how Synaptec wants to commercialise the technology as quick as possible but it will probably need another five years of research and testing.

The company is in discussions with Scottish Power and SSE about launching field demonstrations.

Orr said: “They 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.”

The scheme, the Network Innovation Allowance, gives funding to smaller projects with the potential to deliver benefits to electricity customers.

Overseeing transmission performance in a remote location currently requires the manufacture of an outbuilding to have various telecoms equipment.

Synaptec’s sensors do not need digital communications, meaning they can immediately identify the location and types of faults anywhere in an electrical distribution network.

It is believed that the technology could potentially lower the cost of operating an increasingly complicated and vulnerable electric grid.

Utilities were able to react to faults immediately, cutting down on the number outages across the country and decreasing the number of financial penalties raised by regulators as a result.

Synaptec wishes to create international partnerships after field demonstrations.

Orr added: “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 now looking to recruit its first full-time employee, was awarded Best University Technology at the 2014 UK Energy Innovation Awards in November.