Solo run for Cork energy firm

Killian O’Connor and Mark Hamilton.

Cork startup Solo Energy is set to provide a “virtual power plant” as a key technology solution for an ambitious £28.5m (€32.4m) project designed to make the Orkney Islands carbon free.

Company co-founder Killian O’Connor said this is groundbreaking technology which can be used to solve the problem of intermittency in renewable energy, allowing power generated at times of low demand to be stored and to be released to the grid at times of peak demand.

“Our virtual power plant is not a large industrial plant in a single location but a connected system of distributed batteries and electric vehicles which is controlled and aggregated by our software platform, FlexiGrid,” according to Mr O’Connor.

For Solo Energy, the Orkney Islands project — which will involve the roll out of 1,000 batteries and 600 electric vehicles — is a chance to demonstrate what its technology can do.

The project, which is now at the planning stages and set to start in the autumn, follows the installation of Solo Energy’s technology in a 20-house test site at Ballyferriter earlier this year, which Mr O’Connor said is the first domestic virtual power plant in Ireland.

The company was set up in mid 2015 by Mr O’Connor and Mark Hamilton, engineers with extensive experience in the renewable sector.

“We recognised a clear gap in the market to distribute energy storage solutions,” Mr O’Connor said. 

In particular, they identified a gap for a company which could provide this type of solution for use in residential properties.

Setting up the company in Ballintemple in Cork, the founders set about developing the technology and hired electrical engineers and software developers to create the platform. 

By 2018, Solo Energy had raised €1m in funding, which came from Cork renewable energy company DP Energy, a Dublin-based venture capital company, as well as from private investors.

The company has a staff of eight, half of which are involved in technology development in Cork, with the others working in the field in Scotland.

The Orkneys, according to Mr O’Connor, is a prime candidate for this type of system because it generates high volumes of wind energy which goes to waste without storage. 

“Without storage, the only option has been to turn off the turbines,” he said.

“We have a number of test sites including one at the fire station in Ballyvolane in Cork where we installed a battery to store solar energy,” said Mr O’Connor, adding that the company also has sites at the Beaufort centre in Killarney, a few in Tipperary and some in England and Scotland.

The major focus for 2019 is on the Orkney project, but this summer the company is also set to install 750 batteries in Scotland, primarily for local housing associations. 

Generating its first revenues, the company will provide “energy storage as a service”.

“We will install and operate systems on behalf of local councils and electricity suppliers and, in return, receive a share of revenue,” said Mr O’Connor.

Most of the company’s activities are now in Scotland, but the company has plans to grow the business in Ireland when smart meters, necessary for its system to operate, are installed.

Solo Energy is now planning to embark on a significant funding round, as part of its wider expansion strategy. 

This money will be used to grow its staff to 11 people by the end of the year and to continue to develop its technology.

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