The EIC’s Innovator Impact Panel a steering group of 20 SMEs and innovators from the EIC’s Innovation Community. The Panel was created to ensure the views of the many diverse companies in our community were represented and is made up of innovators from across the UK, representing businesses of differing sizes and with a range of capabilities. The Panel has already had a huge influence on the approach to RIIO-2 and has worked with the EIC and Ofgem in helping to inform the approach to innovation in RIIO-2.
We spoke to Akshat Kulkarni, CEO and co-founder of OrxaGrid, about his involvement with the Impact Panel, the benefits it can have on collaboration and his future plans for the energy sector.
Tell me about OrxaGrid?
OrxaGrid was founded in 2017 by my cofounder, Yash and I. Our focus is to provide distribution network operators with data-led analytics and enable them to provide more affordable, sustainable, and reliable electricity. The distribution network is becoming more important in the electricity value chain, in both developed and developing countries where there is a larger demand for low carbon technologies. However, in order to use these sources of power, it’s key to have an intelligent distribution grid.
How did you get involved in the utilities sector?
My brother, Yash and I were raised in India and our parents owned an electricity business, so we were exposed to the industry from a very early age and both went on to have careers in the energy sector.
Through these experiences, we identified that there were significant technological developments in Machine Learning and AI, which produced more accurate analytics and were more cost effective than ever before for the distribution networks. From there we set up OrxaGrid. I manage our main office which is based in London, and my brother manages the office in India. By occupying both spaces we can work on solutions for the EU market and emerging markets, respectively.
What’s your role on the impact panel and why did you get involved?
The panel is already quite diverse, involving some newly established SMEs to some which would be considered scale-ups. We are a start-up working heavily on international innovation challenges and projects, so felt our experience would be quite valuable. We can share our insight of the climate in the emerging markets and can suggest ways to apply these learnings to the EU market and vice versa.
The panel also gives us the chance to hear about the long-term and short-term goals for innovation and the direction that the energy sector is moving in. One of the key learnings is that the team really cares and wants to continue to improve innovation and how we work successfully towards these long-term goals.
How do you find working with the EIC and our partners?
The EIC’s role is really important to us, particularly when we’ve conducted innovation projects with utilities abroad, as they act as a mediator which can help support communication and collaboration.
As SMEs, it is difficult to develop and deploy innovative solutions with network operators as the network infrastructure is rigid and concrete with strict regulations set out by regulators such as Ofgem. However, third party bodies, like the EIC, can assist by creating and developing specific innovation opportunities. This communication helps two dramatically different organisations to work together effectively. We currently have several proposals pending with the EIC, and they are really helpful in giving us feedback and following that discussion through with the networks.
The partners also give honest and useful feedback on applications and this transparency helps us to have open conversations about where innovations and projects can be improved, and where they are already doing well. We are all working towards the same goal and this communication helps us to learn from each other.
What would your advice be for upcoming SMEs innovators looking to work in the sector?
SMEs should open up a discussion with the EIC and innovation managers of the distribution network operators at the idea stage itself to fully understand what the industry needs are, before developing a solution.
By having conversations with innovation managers and third parties like the EIC, who understand the needs of the industry, SMEs will gain better understanding as to where they can insert themselves in the industry in order to add value very quickly.
What’s in the future for OrxaGrid?
We are currently part of Microsoft’s AI for Good programme for start-ups who are developing a solution that focuses on AI for earth, accessibility, humanitarian action or cultural heritage. It’s a really exciting programme where we will be given access to Microsoft’s technologies to scale our product and have the opportunity to work alongside other interesting start-ups to share knowledge.
We are also participating in the Energy Systems Catapult’s Innovator Support Platform for developing and tailoring our solutions for the UK energy market.
We will continue to take our work to international utilities to help them provide consistent and clean electricity for all consumers. There’s an increasing demand for customers in Europe who want sustainable sources of electricity, and as a company we want to help utilities offer the solutions that customers require.
It’s important to us to continue to work collaboratively with bodies like the EIC to import and export knowledge – this ensuring we can help contribute to the wider industry goals.
To find out more about OrxaGrid, click here.
To find out more about EIC’s Innovator Impact Panel, click here.
Or to explore ways that you could get involved with the EIC, and access our opportunities, support and resources, visit our Innovator Support Page.