GridWatch will power the smart networks of the future

28 May 2018

Image: Urbans/Shutterstock

Our Start-up of the Week is Limerick-based GridWatch, an Irish energy company that specialises in smart energy grid monitoring.

“The GridWatch team has created patented sensors that enable power utilities to better manage their smart grid distribution networks with the mass deployment of grid monitoring technology that supports network management and power network data analytics,” explained Dr John O’Flaherty, CEO and technical director of GridWatch.

GridWatch is an electronics and software company that emerged from MAC, the National Microelectronics Applications Centre in Limerick, and provides smart data monitoring for energy utilities.

‘The ultimate goal is for GridWatch to be the leading global brand in smart grid monitoring technology’

GridWatch was recently selected as one of only 15 international companies to participate in Free Electrons, which describes itself as the world’s first accelerator programme that connects energy start-ups with global utilities.

ESB and its international counterparts will work with GridWatch and the other finalists across modules in Sydney, Silicon Valley and Berlin to develop their products and grow their business for the international markets, in order to accelerate company growth.

The market

“Power distribution networks are continuously being stressed with the increase in renewable energy sources being connected to the grid, such as wind and photovoltaic, and the changing consumer load demands such as electric vehicle charging, smart storage heating and heat pumps,” O’Flaherty explained.

“The GridWatch family of products are deployed on the network and provide real-time information to the grid operator on the state of the grid right to the low-voltage grid edge.”

The founders

GridWatch CEO John O’Flaherty

GridWatch CEO Dr John O’Flaherty. Image: GridWatch

The company was founded by O’Flaherty and CTO Connor O’Reilly.

“The GridWatch team spent many years in MAC, the National Microelectronics Applications Centre, developing products and services for other companies,” O’Flaherty explained.

“So, we undertook a management buyout some years ago to focus on developing our own products for the power industry.

CTO Connor O'Reilly

GridWatch CTO Connor O’Reilly. Image: GridWatch

“We had already developed a number of products for the power industry and we saw the huge need and potential of developing smart grid monitoring solutions for the grid operators who would require massive real-time data for complete grid awareness of their distribution grids. This is the niche that we are addressing.”

The technology

GridWatch device

The patented GridWatch sensor. Image: GridWatch

A key enabler of GridWatch’s technology is a new type of patented current sensor that was specifically developed for monitoring medium and low-voltage power networks.

“The sensor detects problems on the network that can stress the assets of the network, that could ultimately lead to failure and outages.

“It also assists in managing the integration of ever more distributed renewable energy sources on the grid as well as new capacity demands, such as electric vehicle charging.

“The ultimate goal is for GridWatch to be the leading global brand in smart grid monitoring technology.”

O’Flaherty said things are going very well for the company so far.

“We originally worked with ESB Networks to develop our solutions for them, and now we are undertaking pilot trials in Ireland, Italy, Germany and Romania.

“And, with our success in the Free Electrons Bootcamp in Lisbon, we are discussing further pilots to be undertaken globally.

“And yes, we looking to attract investment to fund our growth and scaling up to meet the demand.”

Sparking up

The biggest challenge for the company, O’Flaherty explained, was the technical and commercial necessity to develop and patent a new class of current sensor, and the long lead-in period to market take-up.

“In parallel, we have continued to undertake consultancy and EU projects that have enabled us to finance and develop our intellectual property.”

O’Flaherty believes the Irish start-up scene has the energy to thrive globally.

“It is now really vibrant and exciting in Ireland. Our experience with the other 29 companies at the Free Electrons Bootcamp in Lisbon was invigorating, and being chosen in the last 15 is now an amazing opportunity to accelerate our scale-up now to global markets, working with the best in the industry.”

His advice for fellow founders is the essence of what doing business is all about.

“Know your customers’ priorities, and persist. Also, look at the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

“We have found the SME and Fast Track to Innovation programmes to be particularly excellent and provide very useful funding.”

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years