Claire McGinn meets Tim Kock from Jungle AI, one of the successful start-ups at last year’s Free Electrons bootcamp event. He explains how his advanced machine learning company has accelerated with the world’s top utilities at his back.
A fleet of energy start-ups is in Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre – promoting their innovations to a group of global utility giants that has come to meet them under the Free Electrons Accelerator Programme. The utilities, including ESB, are searching for viable next-generation solutions to challenges arising in a rapidly changing energy market. The start-ups are seeking a place at the table.
The theatre is busy as the gathering of 30 Free Electron hopefuls, which will be whittled down to 15, put their best foot forward.
Jungle paints scene
It’s day two of the ESB-hosted three-day bootcamp and Tim Kock is preparing his lines. His company – Jungle AI – was one of last year’s chosen ones and he has been invited to come back to talk about his company’s experiences of the programme.
The company, based in Lisbon, Portugal, specialises in advanced machine learning and is at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI).
Explaining the fine print, Tim says: “Electrical assets produce oodles of data. Jungle helps owners to get more out of their assets by examining asset performance.
“We take all of the information that comes out of groups of complex assets (such as a wind turbine or a wind farm, or grid infrastructure such as power transformers or circuit breakers, or sometimes entire factories) and we build a digital model of what it does in reality. Given that model, we can predict what will happen to the system as it goes along.
“We put that next to the actual data that is coming out of the system itself – the turbine or the factory – and when we see small deviations or a build-up of deviations, we know that something will go wrong.
He gives an example: “Let’s say you have an offshore wind farm and you have a wind turbine that is burning down in a storm. There are waves that are six metres high and you cannot reach it with a boat. Two weeks earlier you had been out with a boat servicing another turbine nearby.
“The turbine is burning down – creating a lot of collateral damage to the structure itself and it is not operating, so there is no power generation from it. This will drive prices up and profitability for the utilities down.”
Failure and fixing
“A component failure like that can cost maybe €0.4m-€0.5m. Having a boat out there costs €150,000 a day – never mind the crew.
“Two weeks earlier, when the sun was shining, you had space on the boat. If you just had brought that component to be replaced earlier, you could have saved a sizeable amount of money.”
If Jungle was on the job, the defect would have been detected, the turbine repaired and the machine returned to efficient operations.
“We have the potential to make operating costs 20 per cent to 30 per cent cheaper,” Tim says. “If that is done, it will accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, which means a more carbon-controlled world, which means lower energy costs – which brings benefits all the way down to the customer.”
Jungle is working on a wind turbine portfolio with ESB.
“We are working on three wind farms across Ireland, but it is still early days. The goal is to work with ESB across the whole fleet,” he says.
“We are helping ESB to better understand their assets, which will allow the turbines to operate more efficiently and more continuously throughout the year. This means more power is generated and the price of energy for customers will be reduced.
“If we reduce the cost of operations for turbines, there’s a direct financial benefit, but there is also a reliability benefit for the turbines – which in turn makes them more valuable to ESB.
“The more renewable energy you can deploy with this level of security, the more it will be adopted.”
All the better for a low-carbon future.
Stepping on the accelerator
The Free Electrons programme can have a special turbo-charging impact on start-ups. Access to the utilities helps them fast-track the global adoption of their new-tech solutions. And for the utilities, these innovations can often have a genuine impact on the bottom line while also accelerating the decarbonising of their energy systems.
Tim explains what has changed for his company since being accepted on the accelerator programme.
“I don’t think we would be anywhere as close to where we are right now if we hadn’t been participating in the Free Electrons programme. We have expanded immensely. Without it, we would have made mistakes.
“Before we embarked on the programme, we did not have an idea just how large the organisations we are working with are. We are a small start-up of 20 people, all relatively young and inexperienced. The kind of things we are building have an immense impact and are being used by enormous companies. With Free Electrons, you are coached in how to navigate that world.
“Over the course of the programme, you develop ‘product market fit’ at a pace you would never do outside of the programme. Also, the sheer amount of exposure you have to people who make decisions is far more than you would usually get.”
A place at the table
He pauses in thought. “I think though, that the best thing about Free Electrons is that the utilities and the people representing them are fundamentally engaged in what you are doing and they want you to be successful.
“That might sometimes mean they will tell you that you’re doing a good thing, but that you need to point your ship in a slightly different direction if you want to truly add value to their processes.
“And they give you great feedback because, ultimately, our interests are aligned at the same side of the table.
As the drumroll sounds and Tim gathers himself to go on stage, he quickly adds: “If both parties are sitting at the same side of the table, that’s a pretty big guarantee of success.”
At a Glance
Name: Jungle AI
Headquarters: Lisbon, Portugal
Specialty: Advanced machine learning
Number of investors: 3
Latest deal amount: €0.5m
Learn more about Free Electrons programme participant here.