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Client: Altec Solar
Knowledge Provider: Ulster University
Sector: Advanced Engineering

Altec Solar

Altec Solar Solutions was established in 2011 as a direct result of the diversification out of a local building company MAM Developments into the energy sector.

Altec solar Altec solar The company offers a full service approach to the design, supply and installation of Solar PV panels. However the company also brings the additionality of designing the Solar Systems and including products that will enable the company to remotely monitor the system's performance down to the level of each solar panel.

Altec Solar has as its aim to be an innovative, leading supplier and installer of Photovoltaic Panels within Ireland. It has a product rated within the top 10 solar PV panels in world, and this along with a novel “cost of entry” financing option, current government incentives, and ever increasing utility costs should assist with product deployment.

About the Case

Altec Solar are developing a unique mechanism which will control electricity generation from domestic PV panels to the best economic advantage of the owner. Their product will divert excess energy above the base load to an immersion heater that will thus store the energy thermally in the hot water tank. The control system will decide if there is enough hot water and then export the power as normal to the grid.

The main purpose of the innovation voucher project was to develop a prototype control solution to monitor the power usage in a domestic home, from both the utility supply and an alternative source such as the Photo-voltaic solar panel. If surplus power is generated through the alternative source, this surplus could be used to heat a hot water storage tank rather than feed back into the grid. This would reduce the cost of hot water heating for the user by utilizing the PV generated electricity as opposed to the mains utility electricity supply.

About the Knowledge Provider

The Invest NI Innovation was redeemed through the EpiCentre project, within the Intelligent Systems Research Centre, School of Computing and Engineering at the University of Ulster at Magee. The EpiCentre is a technology and innovation centre for the North West cross border region where practical industrial problems can be solved in partnership between local companies and the three further/higher education institutions in the region. The EpiCentre creates a managed workspace, providing local industry with access to specialised equipment, facilities and expertise with the aim of promoting growth and development in the region. In turn this creates an environment to help stimulate creativity and development of new ideas.

The Results

The purpose of this project was to develop a prototype control solution to monitor the power usage in a domestic home, from both the utility supply and an alternative source such as the Photo-voltaic solar panel.

A prototype PCB was manufactured, assembled and tested as part of the Invest NI Innovation Voucher project. This enabled the client to test the functionality of the system in a domestic environment. Gerber file creation and a complete bill of materials have also been compiled to enable the client to prepare for future manufacture of the prototype system with help from recommended PCB manufacturing and assembly facilities.

The PV control board is a microcontroller based design, using the ATMEGA328P microprocessor from Atmel. Software targeted at the microcontroller was developed in the C programming language.

As a result of this project, the client has a working prototype solution along with associated design and software files to assist with production or aid further development. Throughout the process additional functionality and future work have been identified and proposed to uniquely identify and potentially enhance the product.

Altec Solar continue to develop this product for mass production. Cost to manufacture is continually assessed and the company is targeting an attractive market entry selling price. With an initial capital expenditure around £15,000 the company is targeting an increase in revenue of £500,000 by year 5 of the project.

The company continues to work closely with the University of Ulster and Invest NI and is currently completing a second Innovation Voucher with further academics in another technology sector.

Contact Details of Knowledge Provider:
EpiCentre, Intelligent Systems Research Centre, Magee Campus, University of Ulster.
Fergus Begley, EpiCentre Engineering Manager
Telephone number: 028 71675636

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