Pictured: Niall Grant a Software Developer in the area of Renewable Energy Research
How long you’re working in TSSG?
I’ve been working for TSSG since January 2018, I originally started as an intern before becoming full-time.
What previous experience do you have and what made you get in to Software Development?
I previously studied Architecture where I worked in various firms during and after college. Each work placement was memorable, but it wasn’t rewarding enough. I always had an interest in technology and programming so when I heard about WIT’s ICT Springboard course I jumped at the opportunity. The course had an internship programme which is how I started working at TSSG.
What is your day to day like?
My usual day can change every few months. Early last year (2019) I was in the RE-SERVE project, mainly working with ESB, to develop software to help maintain grid stability by remotely communicating with renewable energy sources. Later that year I was building a regression model to predict temperature changes in a cold storage facility for the piSCES project and by the end of the year I was researching the mechanics of single-phase and three-phase electrical power systems and finding an affordable way to monitor them as a part of the RegEnergy project. Currently my day to day consists of developing software that will enable communication between energy monitoring devices and a software platform we’ve built.
How did you get into Energy research?
There was work placement involved in the ICT Springboard course and employers came in to give an overview of the work they’re involved in. All of the potential placements were great, but TSSG was the only one offering a position to work with renewables and directly address the climate change issue. I grew up with climate change constantly in the news, since primary school it was taught to be something we should all be mindful of and renewable technology is very interesting to me, so it definitely grabbed my attention the most.
What research projects are you currently working on?
I’m mainly working on the RegEnergy project which is about managing a cluster of buildings and enabling a way to predict their energy consumption for the day, optimise that process in order to save money on their electricity bill. The optimisation method can vary, it could be simply predicting their expected usage for the day, we’re also looking at using renewable devices to avoid energy consumption from the power grid during peak times, as well as developing a way for the neighbouring buildings to trade energy with each other from those same renewables.
What areas do you see yourself working on in the future?
TSSG is developing work in many interesting areas, I’d certainly enjoy working in any of them. There are plenty of interesting challenges in the Energy field for both the consumer and supplier, challenges that could be resolved by implementing AI/ML techniques. There are many interesting ways that AI/ML can be implemented, so I am looking forward to doing more of that in the near future. Other technological areas that interest me and that I hope to contribute to sometime in the near/far future, to list a few, blockchain technologies, quantum computing and AR/VR.
What big and little wins have you had in this role? Is there anything you have learned or discovered during particular projects?
When I started here as an intern my first assignment was to translate a mathematical algorithm into python and enable communication between that algorithm and a renewable energy source. The algorithm would tell the renewable device if it needed to increase/decrease the power it’s spilling onto the grid. This was the first time my code went into production and was used in a real-life scenario which was a major achievement for me.
When I moved to the piSCES project I was doing a Data Science module in WIT at the time, this allowed me to develop a regression model for the project. It was an interesting journey and when it finally went live, I was pleased to see the predicted temperatures were close to the actual temperature.
In RegEnergy we’ll be making many more predictions, this time on a person’s energy usage and to do so we need data. There were plenty of tools to monitor a single-phase electrical power system, but very few options for a three-phase system and we had to find the most cost effective solution. This required me to dive into the electrical world, research three-phase systems, the equipment involved, smart monitoring solutions and ways we can send that data from a remote trial site to the software platform we’ve running on local servers. We’ve recently got the smart meters installed which was a major accomplishment after months of research and work, I’m looking forward to using that data to build prediction models.
I, of course, didn’t do all of this alone and I wouldn’t have achieved so much without the help of my colleagues, so a big thank you to those who took the time out to help and lend me their expertise, it is greatly appreciated.
What are the challenging and enjoyable aspects of being a researcher in your field?
In order to develop software for managing energy usage/production it does require a solid understanding of electrical power systems. Not having an electrical background, it was a challenge to learn how they work and the various ways power can be fed through a building, but I found it to be interesting so it was rather enjoyable to learn about it too. I also get to work with Raspberry Pi’s and other IoT devices which is also fun.
Why is your research necessary for the end user? What benefits does it have and how will it improve what is currently in existence?
There are a number of benefits for both the end user and their energy supplier by optimising an end-user’s power consumption and the use of their renewable energy devices. Reducing the end-user’s energy consumption from the main grid means that they can save money on their electricity bill. There would be less stress on an energy provider’s power grid during peak times, reducing wear-and-tear on their system. The work will help reduce the need for fossil fuels and make renewables more economically viable, not just ecological.