Picture by Michael Cooper
Kathy McVeigh (left), Managing Director of CoolSky, Newtownards, pictured with Olive Hill, Invest NI's Director of Technology and Process Development, at the launch of the new solar heating controller.
CoolSky in Newtownards has been assisted by Invest Northern Ireland to develop an innovative control system for solar thermal heating which it is now marketing abroad for both commercial and residential users.
The company used an Invest NI Innovation Voucher to develop and test a new controller that is technically advanced but much easier to use than existing devices currently on the market for solar water heating systems.
CoolSky was formed in 2009 by a group of technicians, led by Kathy McVeigh, with vast experience in renewable energy, particularly solar thermal systems for heating hot water. They had identified a market opportunity for a device that would be easier to fit and use by installers, maintenance staff and owners.
The voucher success, announced by Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Technology and Process Development, enabled CoolSky to access the expertise and facilities at the University of Ulster’s School of the Built Environment in testing and further development work on the new controller.
Mrs Hill said: “This a timely innovation in an industry which has been developing steadily and is poised for growth in line with the increasing focus in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world on renewable technologies.
“The team behind the product range has a background in the renewable energy market and expertise in design, product development, hardware and software engineering, together with international sales and marketing. The company has used the Innovation Voucher scheme to ensure the new device meets the exacting performance targets they have set before its market launch.
“Innovation Vouchers were introduced to encourage smaller companies in particular to embed innovation in their operations by promoting relationships with expert staff in third level institutions such as universities and Further Education colleges. CoolSky now has a working relationship with the University of Ulster’s School of the Built Environment.”
Mrs McVeigh said: “Our controller has been designed to make installing, maintaining and operating solar heating systems easier than ever before and thereby to encourage more people to opt for this form of renewable energy. Our knowledge of the industry enabled us to identify a significant market opportunity for a ‘plug and play’ controller that was reliable and easy to operate. All solar controllers presently available are technically complex and aimed at the sophisticated German market.
“What we have achieved, assisted by the School of the Built Environment through the Innovation Voucher is the development of a solar controller that requires no monitoring and no complicated set-up. Its unique feature is the user interface, which clearly helps both installer and user to understand the function and status of their solar hot water systems. This is achieved through visual imaging, a design feature which makes the understanding of the controller intuitive.
“This unit will also take advantage of technology to enable the 'personalisation' of the product range, thereby providing a controller that requires little or no on-site set-up or programming by the installation engineer. It also is designed to incorporate sophisticated wireless technology to help monitor and control the system function.
“Our strategy is to extend and develop the range of products to include other renewable energy sectors and applications.
“The Innovation Voucher was immensely beneficial in that it enabled us to access the University of Ulster‘s specialist indoor and outdoor solar testing facilities. We used these to test the controller under real conditions, similar to a domestic or commercial solar thermal installation. The tests validated the product concept and this has enabled us to move forward on market entry,” added Mrs McVeigh.