Business Technology

Wednesday 21 August 2019

O'Connor raising up to €10m for offshore power

Entrepreneur's supernode designs aim to maximise the potential of wind power

Wind energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor is seeking investment for new supernode technology
Wind energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor is seeking investment for new supernode technology

John Reynolds

Wind energy entrepreneur Eddie O'Connor plans to raise up to €10m in an initial funding round for his new venture, Supernode.

The firm, which is chaired by former journalist and MEP Pat Cox, aims to develop huge links known as supernodes on offshore platforms, designed to increase the use of offshore wind power.

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"We have a team of 10 together now, and we're talking to prospective investors about funding. We're looking at raising up to €10m initially. We could do a lot with that to start us off," O'Connor said.

The firm will use patentable, cutting-edge technology involving extremely thin, superconductive metals that have to be cooled with liquid nitrogen, as opposed to power cables made out of thick, heavy and reinforced copper wire, he added.

The platforms would essentially collect energy from offshore and other renewable sources, transform the voltage to higher levels to reduce losses, convert it to direct current in order to extend the distance across which it can be transmitted, and then route it to where the demand is highest.

The chief executive of Supernode is John Fitzgerald, a former ESB International executive who has also worked for Irish power grid operator EirGrid as its director of grid development and interconnection.

O'Connor - who was previously CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power until 2017, when he became executive chairman - said that supernodes are a disruptive technology, and that he was partly inspired to establish the new venture after observing the success of technology giant Amazon.

Supernode is likely to be highly capital- intensive, requiring tens of billions, with a lengthy design and prototyping phase of perhaps six years, he explained.

Currently, in the North Sea, a voltage source converted platform has a one-gigawatt capacity, and would have cost up to €800m to build.

A number of connected supernodes would have a significantly higher capacity, with a substantially lower project cost. Reducing the cost of this key infrastructure would help to reduce the price of offshore wind power.

Wind turbine innovation is also reducing the cost of such power, O'Connor said. "GE will in time have a 17-megawatt (MW) turbine with a blade that is 240 metres long. Its largest one at the moment is 12MW and 220 metres. These will be on floating platforms by 2035. For comparison, the length of the pitch in Croke Park is 145 metres. The wingspan of an Airbus A380 plane is 80 metres," he added.

The Supernode team envisages a number of its node platforms being built initially in the North Sea, between Scotland's east coast and England's Norfolk coast.

UCD engineering graduate O'Connor, who has long been an advocate for building a European energy supergrid, said it is needed urgently, along with supernodes, in order to make electricity completely sustainable.

"This could transform how we produce electricity. We cannot deliver on the Paris Climate Change Agreement without this infrastructure," he said.

The entrepreneur has been in the energy business since graduating from his alma mater. He held several managerial positions at the ESB, before becoming CEO of Bord na Móna in 1987.

He founded wind energy firm Airtricity in 1997, banking an estimated €50m when he sold the firm for €2bn to Eon and SSE a decade later.

The estimated €1.8bn of cash the sale returned to investors created the greatest number of millionaires in Irish corporate history, it is believed.

Last year, Mainstream Renewable Power sold a Scottish wind farm big enough to power Edinburgh to French utility firm EDF for €600m. Industry observers previously said Mainstream might seek a stock market listing next year.

Sunday Indo Business

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