Overwhelmingly, the most important trend is the accelerating rate of change in certain sectors. Climate and environmental changes are now significant over the range of a decade or less. Renewable energy will have gone from being twice as expensive as fossil futures (2015) to being half the price within ten years (2025).

Companies will need to change quickly to survive.  We foresee a focus on agility, modular solutions and increased product configurability. Change represents a commercial opportunity – new technologies mean new unpopulated markets. But only the first companies in a market can be sure of a significant market presence.
 

Sustainability

A few years ago, sustainable use of energy, water and materials was not a mainstream priority. Now these issues are becoming increasingly important, presenting key opportunities in our society.

Major topics for our clients include the sustainable use of electricity, either by improving efficiency of equipment and processes (such as motors and pumps) or by the introduction of advanced monitoring equipment to better predict usage and find areas for improvement. This trend will intensify over the next years, driven from both the regulatory side as well as end customer expectation.

An example are Smart Meters, currently being rolled out across Europe. These provide easy-to-access information on electricity consumption, helping both consumer and the utility. At their heart is highly sophisticated measurement technology and electronics, areas where Sentec has deep expertise.

In the water space, sustainability centres on the reduction of consumption and that of waste released to the environment. Sentec is proud to play a role in Xylem’s effort to provide a sustainable water network, with a focus on developing new technologies.  We foresee ongoing change in the water space driven by regulations such as EU directives, but also by increasing awareness among the public and subsequent pressure on water utilities. One way that Sentec supports our water clients’ effort in sustainability is to lower their equipment’s energy consumption, e.g. by helping them to improve their electrical designs or by reducing their energy footprint during manufacture.
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Electrical Network

Sentec has substantial experience in developing equipment for electrical networks. This includes fiscal meters using innovative current sensors, high accuracy DC current monitoring, substation remote monitoring, energy management controllers, circuit breaker design and low energy activation circuit breakers.

Sustainability and regulatory change is a driver for many of our client based projects. Electrical generation and distribution is undergoing its largest change since its beginning in the 1880s. Sentec is at the forefront in helping companies develop new technologies to help manage electrical distribution. An example is through licensing of our patented technology solutions, providing GridKey substation monitoring with our partner Lucy Electric or through dedicated technology innovation and engineering for our clients.

Two particular trends stand out and are poised to impact the electrical network:
Firstly, the rise of Electrical Vehicles (EV) and the increased energy consumption that will follow. This will place significant strain on the electrical grids, perhaps doubling peak power demand. Managing this will require more monitoring and control of various elements in the generation and distribution network. We foresee an increased demand for precise metering and sub-metering, an area that Sentec has pioneered with a number of licensable technologies.

The second trend is the continuing growth of solar and wind energy. These are now generally the cheapest way of manufacturing electricity – driving and accelerating installation of renewable generating capacity. In some countries renewable energy has already overtaken fossil fuel alternatives. The less predictable nature of renewable energy generation will further strain the grids and the demand for storage capacity will continue to increase.
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DC Electricity

The 1880s saw the “battle of the currents”, a struggle between the companies of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the dominance between DC and AC electricity distribution. AC electricity won for practical reasons – particularly it was easier to transform voltages. But recent technology developments are based around devices that are naturally DC, such as white-light LEDs, home energy battery storage, photovoltaic generation (PV) and electric vehicles (EV). This has reopened the question of DC vs AC electricity.

We have seen a growing interest in DC technology and infra-structure. In many cases DC offers a more efficient medium of transmission and use than AC, but the equipment to support DC installations is years behind AC. In the residential electricity space, need for DC technology is predominantly driven by the rise of PV panels, resulting from both a change in public opinion on sustainability as well as government policy on feed in tariffs and small scale energy generation. The industrial space also shows signs of renewed interest in DC technology, predominantly driven by cost savings in energy consumption. Many pieces of factory equipment are internally driven by DC and will provide reactionary energy e.g. when braking a motor. Large scale DC electricity buses and associated components such as DC breakers and current sensors are therefore hot topics.

In practice only parts of the grid will go DC. A growing practical issue will be managing mixed systems with some DC.  The challange will be around development of DC metering and safety equipment and also the regulatory environment to support new classes of DC equipment.
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Power Electronics

Our power electronics group designs best-in-class variable frequency drives for electric motors for pumping applications. New drive technologies allow efficiency improvements that can save several times the cost of the pump in reduced electricity costs.
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Smartification

The falling cost of sensors, computing power and data communications has revolutionised the ability to remotely monitor equipment, systems and products. We call this trend Smartification – the process of connecting dumb products to the internet. Smartification is not new, but the pace is accelerating (IOT) and market requirements are changing. 

A key challenge is that many pieces of equipment are remote, unpowered and communicate wirelessly. Power management, reduced power consumption and extending battery are key needs. In a connected product it is often the data communication that uses the most power. Tackling this means using techniques to reduce amount of data sent back and forth. This trend runs counter to the "dumb client + powerful server model" that is prevalent today in many products. It means an edge computing approach - where some or most of the analysis is carried out on the remote device. We see this becoming increasingly important.
 
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Digital Agriculture

The food chain faces a number of growing challenges: water scarcity, climate change, the need to reduce carbon emissions, the desire to reduce “food miles” and a drive to reduce costs. The use of digital technology in farming is continuing to accelerate.

Key trends are around greater control and measurement of the use of inputs such as water, fertilsers, nutrients and pesticides. This trend is most developed in Vertical Farming, where every input is carefully controlled and measured. The technical challenges are the development of low cost, accurate and robust sensors for measuring inputs. Perhaps the greatest challenges are around development of low cost sensors to measure nutrient dosing.
 
Although Vertical Farming is capturing the headlines, the impact of new digital technologies on traditional agriculture is likely to be much greater.

Sentec is involved in helping companies address these issues, by developing technologies for more efficient use of water in irrigation systems, metering technologies and optimizing use of electricity in water pumping.
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Get In Touch

+44 1223 303800
info@sentec.co.uk
Sentec Ltd, 5 The Westbrook Centre, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 1YG
  • +44 1223 303800
  • info@sentec.co.uk
  • Sentec Ltd, 5 The Westbrook Centre, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 1YG