The EIC’s celebration of the best innovation in the utilities sector, The UK Energy Innovation Awards, returns in 2019. Awards are open for entries now.
Synaptec won the EIC award for Best Offshore Renewables Innovation in 2017. As a very young company operating in a fairly conservative market, its team felt that entering the awards would be an important step forward in garnering credibility in its innovative technology.
The 2017 Best Offshore Renewables Innovation win wasn’t Synaptec’s first success at the UK Energy Innovation Awards. In 2014, it picked up the Best University Technology award for a solution that was still very much in its infancy.
“That award identifies the up-and-coming tech with commercial potential from the academic world,” explains Philip Orr, “and it was great to get our concept vetted by the panel to demonstrate its potential to operators. Winning gives new products credibility.”
As a result, when Synaptec decided to launch a solution for the offshore renewables sector, entering it into UK Energy Innovation Awards seemed like an obvious choice to give the solution added credibility.
An Innovative Solution
Synaptec provides instrumentation, based on its patented technologies, that utilises existing optical fibres installed within power systems to enhance network visibility and fault response. Its winning solution in 2017 turned the traditional commercial calculations about the automated monitoring of offshore cabling on its head.
Although offshore turbines have integrated protection systems for automatic isolation and shutdown, the cabling between a string of assets typically does not. If there is a problem, the whole string of turbines will be shut down – with lost revenue implications of up to £80k per day.
Laborious manual fault finding would need to be undertaken by an engineer in situ – costly, time-consuming, and with potential consequences for the health of the network.
With Synaptec’s unique approach to tackling the problems via existing fibre-optics within standard static and dynamic offshore cables, operators are able to quickly see problems, identify the faulted section, and automate the response.
“Operators used to choose to put up with the lost revenue of an outage because, over its lifetime, installing conventional instrumentation would be much more expensive. Our passive instrumentation technology eliminates a whole load of cost so that the business case stacks up in the other direction making it cost-effective to avoid outages.”
Entering the Award
Synaptec’s award-winning entry focused on the business case for the use of its technology in the offshore renewables field.
“At the time, we had proven the concept in the transmission market with two of the national transmission system operators where, if there is a fault, operators need to be able to respond in the best way possible,” explains Philip.
“The panel agreed that there was huge potential for the application in the offshore renewables sector. This gave us a lot of confidence in transposing the solution into the renewables area and promoting it.”
The judges were particularly impressed by the solution’s application in physically and geographically difficult locations, praising its success as a “safe and cost-effective method of immediately identifying a faulted intra-array cable.”
Since winning the award, Philip and his team have been pleased with the additional credibility and publicity the award win has delivered for Synaptec.
“Winning the award has helped a lot,” says Philip. “It’s a really useful validation. I always reference our UK Energy Innovation Award win every time we pitch to end users because it brings credibility. And this year we will be implementing the solution in two new strings of offshore arrays in the North Sea.”
Philip’s tips for would-be innovators
Spend as much time as possible with your end users until you really understand what is driving them. And make sure you give what they want to them, rather than what you think is cool about the technology. It has to be driven by what the end user needs – otherwise they won’t be willing to change.
Philip’s tips for would-be award entrants
Entering the awards is a really good way to build credibility. Winning has been an important validation for us. It is a good thing to do, especially if you are just getting started in that industry sector. Make your case as clearly and simply and concisely as possible. Don’t get bogged down in the technical detail – keep it high level.