DesignPro Case Study

Going with the slow flow

Roisin McCormack of DesignPro explains how their unique, bluff-body hydro-kinetic turbine can provide reliable, renewable energy – even in the most out-of-the-way places

How are you using the SME Instrument funding?

Our first phase involved validating our business plan. We spent €50,000 on market research to be sure there was an opportunity for us.

Overall, this is a 27-month project that will allow us to further test and develop our technology, creating a 60kw turbine, which we hope to have ready by the end of the year and deployed in March 2019.

The SME Instrument funding helped pay for the deployment on the Garonne in Bordeaux, and the new 60kw deployment. This will help us refine the engineering, but also helps us thoroughly investigate the commercial impact of our technology, which is essential before we can move on to a 100kw turbine, which is our ambition.

We also had the technology validated by the internationally renowned Bureau Veritas, which is very important for client confidence.

What makes your turbine innovative?

Most hydro-kinetic turbines require fast water flows to function, that’s why so many need to be deployed at sea. Our key innovation is that our turbines work at locations with slow water flow, so can be deployed in rivers and estuaries, producing energy where other technologies cannot.

We achieve this through our unique bluff-body, vertical-axis turbine. The floating bluff increases the flow speed to blades either side of it, producing energy up to eight times more efficiently. This design has other advantages too. For instance, it is quick and relatively easy to deploy; and because it’s a floating vessel, it can be unmoored and moved to another location with very little difficulty. The turbine blades can also be raised and lowered making access for maintenance straight- forward. This also means that blades can be repositioned right down to riverbed level to avail of optimum flow speeds. The pitch of the blades also means that fish and debris can be diverted

What is your target market?

Apart from the ease of deployment and maintenance, one of the major advantages of our technology is that it can be deployed in remote locations including islands, providing a reliable energy source for off-grid places. So we see those areas as a prime market for us.

What are the next steps?

The core technology was developed by a company near us in Limerick, GKinetic. They had developed a small-scale version and came to us for design and engineering solutions to scale up and optimise a prototype. We have a licence agreement giving us the rights to distribute turbines of up to 100 KW. GKinetic retain the rights for larger applications, and based on our development and testing, hope to reach 250KW machines for tidal and sea deployment.

In the shorter term, the next big step for us is the deployment of a 60-kw unit. But already we are working on opportunities in Canada and Indonesia as well. Once we get orders, then we have the space here in Rathkeale to scale up our manufacturing capability and employ more people in that area as well as design and engineering. By 2024 we plan to grow the team to 100 people. De-risking is also a very important objective for us, so we are also actively seeking partners, preferably in the energy industry with experience of grid connection. We’ve seen a lot of examples of companies similar to ourselves grow too big too fast. There is a risk, for instance with R&D, that when you take on more capital, if you fail, you fail a lot harder. There is a good reason for the (European) Commission’s TRL system because it makes you prove the concept at a small management scale

What is the size of the potential market?

For hydro-kinetic devices like ours, only 5 percent of the market has been tapped and experts agree the actual size is likely to be much larger. This remaining 95 percent of untapped potential represents 7.6 million of our 25Kw machines which represents a market value of €63bn. We believe it’s feasible for us to have 5 percent of the market by 2024, achieving €76m revenue in our 5th year of trading.