Virtual power plant lights up the future

Dr Paddy Finn: Key selling point is the technology

Employing a high tech approach, Electricity Exchange is one of the first companies in Ireland to develop a virtual power plant to offer reserve power to the national grid, writes Trish Dromey.

NEW to the electricity generation market in Ireland with the launch of a virtual power plant, Dr Paddy Finn has been named as Limerick’s Best Young Entrepreneur by the Local Enterprise Office in Limerick.

His company Electricity Exchange is one of the first in Ireland to develop a virtual power plant — a new concept in electricity generation — which uses a cluster of back up generators to offer reserve power to the national grid.

Launched in September, the company has secured the use of five back up generators and can now offer to provide for a short-term period the capacity to supply up to 5,500 houses in the event of a sudden dip in supply that cannot be met by regular power stations. “We now have eight more clients ready to add to our portfolio immediately and are aiming to have the capacity to supply 100,000 houses by the end of 2015,’’ says Dr Finn CEO and co-founder of Electricity Exchange.

The need for a guaranteed supply of reserve power for the grid has increased in recent years due to the use of fluctuating power sources such as wind. Electricity Exchange has taken a high tech approach to harnessing the capacity of unused emergency generators found in hospitals and factories around the country.

“We are the technology drivers in this space. We have developed an advanced metering and control system which allows us to turn on generators remotely and to respond quickly when EirGrid needs us to provide power to the grid,’’ says Dr Finn.

The key selling point is the technology, which the company plans to sell internationally later.

“We have developed an advanced system which allows clients (the companies whose generators are used) to view energy consumption data in real time and diagnose electrical fault on their sites” says company commercial director and co-founder Duncan O’Toole. While there are now several companies operating in this space, he believes that Electric Exchange’s technology, gives it a competitive edge.

The company was incorporated in April 2013. Dr Finn had completed a PhD on demand response, a concept which involves offering incentives to consumers to consume less at peak hours and he had been involved in the start up of an electricity supply company, Crystal Energy. Mr O’Toole is also in the international renewable energy trading business with his company Captured Carbon.

They recruited two part-time employees and approached the Local Enterprise Office in Limerick, which provided capital and employment grant aid.

Based at the Castletroy Commercial Campus, the company worked on developing the software and adapting hardware for use in a new system.

The company’s selling point was its technology and that it was offering to secure payment for the companies for the use of their generators during a few brief periods.

“Our client company’s generators might only be asked to run for a few hours a year, but they get paid stand by payment every month for making them available. A client with back up generators such as a large hospital can earn in the region of €130,000 a year.’’

To build up its generation capacity, Electricity Exchange is now in discussions with several household names, including pharmaceutical companies, food and beverage manufactures, hospitals and universities.

Once it had developed the system and signed up its first client companies it applied for a licence to supply the network. In September, Electricity Exchange increased its staff to eight at the start of the year.

Winning the Local Enterprise Office award this month has been a significant boost. Dr Finn says he hopes it will help the company expand its client base and also find a strategic investor who will provide funding and help grow the business.

“We are building on our technology and are now leading a project with Intel to develop an even more advanced monitoring and control technology. This will be so fast that our sites will respond to a drop in supply before EirGrid has realised that a problem has occurred.’’

Dr Finn plans to build up the business in Ireland with a view to increasing client companies supplying the grid to 80 by the end of next year.

* Company: Electricity Exchange

* Location: Castletroy, Limerick

* CEO: Dr Paddy Finn

* Staff: 8

* Business: electricity supply company

* Website: electricityexchange.ie


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