Alexander Hill, business development manager at Critical Software is responsible for interests and activities within the energy sector at Critical Software.

Facts about Critical Software
The first company in the Critical Group, Critical Software SA, was established in 1998.  The group specialises in design and development services relating to complex, software intensive, safety-critical systems. The UK subsidiary, Critical Software Technologies Ltd, is based in Southampton and focuses on safety, business and mission-critical systems in the avionics, space, energy and defence industries.

1-    You recently announced a new partnership with Engenie Limited to help establish one of the first national electric car charging networks in the UK – can you tell us more about this?
Engenie is building a national infrastructure of electric vehicle charging stations, to bring the UK one step closer to a universally accessible charging grid for electric vehicles.  Initially, the network will involve the installation of rapid DC charging systems at Roadchefs throughout the country, and the first one opened at Roadchef Clacket Lane on 23 May.

2-    So what does the Critical Software team contribute to this partnership?
We have developed a proven network management system, csNMS, that helps charging suppliers to optimise their charging infrastructure; with real-time usage and performance monitoring, centralised management and control and seamless communication with other business functions such as billing.  Critical’s csNMS product is comprised of a set of software tools that optimise EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) network management for companies in the electric mobility industry.  It will be used as Engenie’s back-end network management system.

The best charging network in the world will not achieve its full potential if it is not operating efficiently at all times and is not dependable.  If a critical component fails, the system fails.  Our job is to help make this system the best it can be, minimising risk while optimising performance for their business.

3-    I understand your involvement with electric charging stations started with your international colleagues?
Yes, Critical Software has already successfully deployed csNMS in a nationwide charging network in Portugal that is arguably the largest in the world.  The software provides the back-end management system for over 1,300 charging points, helping electric vehicle owners seamlessly journey from one side of the country to the other.

4-    The environmental benefit of using electric vehicles is obvious, but how will your collaboration with Engenie help consumers financially? Is it really cheaper for us to use electric cars?
Well, currently the adoption of electric vehicles in the UK is disappointingly low, but we should remember that the development and roll-out of electric vehicles across the UK is still in its infancy.  This is partly due to the 100 mile journey limit in terms of battery capacity and a lack of suitable, accessible and reliable charge points.  Accessibility needs to improve and projects like ours will help to overcome these challenges. 

Even though purchasing an electric car is more expensive than buying a conventionally-fuelled car, the marginal cost of running an electric car at the moment can be as low as two pence per mile.  It’s not quite a Catch-22 because it’s surmountable: as more charging stations are developed across the UK, electric vehicle sales and thus demand will grow and the cost benefits will improve in a self-reinforcing cycle.   

5-    You mention that csNMS will help optimise the charging infrastructure: how will this prove beneficial for Engenie’s business in the long-term as this project is extended across the UK?
We have invested a significant amount of time into ensuring Engenie’s charging infrastructure works so that more charging stations can readily be added as the network extends.  Our work has allowed Engenie to focus on using just one management system which in turn reduces their overheads and optimises their business to ensure its success. 

Once a charging station is connected to the infrastructure, the team at Engenie don’t need to invest time into physically checking a site as our software will automatically alert them to any maintenance problems, such as a faulty station, from which they wouldn’t be making any money, and fix them accordingly.  This allows them to concentrate on running the business and adding more charging stations.  Our software gives Engenie near real-time transaction details, so they can continuously monitor the financial performance of the business. 

6-    Tell us more about any other alternative energy projects you’re involved in – is this market, which depends on the safety and reliability of critical systems, proving to be lucrative for Critical Software?
The alternative energy market certainly has the potential to be lucrative for businesses like ours who can enter early with new technologies and set the standards for others to follow.  Another alternative energy project we’re excited to be part of is our work on the Poseidon off-shore floating power plant that transforms  both wave AND wind energy into electricity in-situ.  The monitoring and command & control solutions we provide alert the Poseidon team to any potential problems on the plant so they can be resolved before they cause any severe disruption or damage, and keep the electricity flowing. 

So many renewable energy companies are wasting time and money by relying on primitive technology to monitor the health of critical equipment and software and these systems tend to be reactive, alerting a team too late when millions of pounds-worth of damage has already been caused and systems have failed. If more renewable energy companies are as proactive in monitoring their systems as Poseidon then green energy will be cheaper to produce and companies will start to realise its business potential.

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