As new legislation, environment-friendly attitudes and financial constraints prompt businesses and public sector bodies to scrutinise their carbon footprints, a company that has developed a key tool to aid this process has interesting footprints of its own.
Greenspace Live, a young high-tech business in the Outer Hebrides, has developed a smart tool for major property owners to analyse and curb their carbon emissions, and is now looking to step up sales growth and new product developments.
Founded in 2008, it is a spinout from Greenspace Research, an arm of Stornoway’s Lews Castle College, which is a partner in the UHI Millennium Institute.
But the company’s basic ‘family tree’ masks the wider range of issues and interests that underpinned its development and are helping to drive the new momentum in energy research and product development in the Highlands and Islands.
For the decision to produce and market a smart software tool to manage property carbon footprints stems from an earlier confluence of ideas and aspirations from a much wider range of players.
Under carbon reduction commitment regulations launched in April 2010, about 5,000 of the country’s biggest energy-using organisations will have to record CO2 performance and buy emissions ‘allowances’ each year. Thousands more will need to monitor and disclose emissions data for public ‘league tables’.
Greenspace Live’s breakthrough means businesses can manage the overall carbon footprint of one building, or a portfolio of several hundred, through an online portal using 3D modelling, energy performance analysis and certification, ongoing reviews and secure sharing of the information.
Being web portal-based, it is designed to supersede existing desktop-based systems by allowing easy teamwork use, nationally or globally, by property management businesses, professional energy assessors and consultants, and large owner-occupiers.
This market-led product development came about through the inputs and foresight of not only the college and its research and commercial arms but also a variety of key players including the local authority, the economic development agency and some highly motivated individuals.
Lews Castle College, historically a further education teaching centre, is an academic partner in the UHI Millennium Institute, the emergent University of the Highlands and Islands. Development of the college’s higher education and research capability – in energy and other areas – has been seen as vital for two key reasons: to begin to exploit and add value to the Outer Hebrides’ superb natural and cultural resources, and to help speed the wider move to full university status.
A few years ago, the islands’ local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, had decided to develop the entire Outer Hebrides as an Energy Innovation Zone, with particular incentives for research and development of renewables technologies, and saw the need and opportunity for an energy research centre, hosted and run by the college.
Economic development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with its strong priority focus on energy sector advancement, also took an immediate interest and an initial £1million of foundation investment was put together, from the council, HIE and European funds.
Greenspace Research, set up in 2005, proved a magnet for some key local individuals with backgrounds and beliefs ideally suited to its aspirations.
Its senior researcher Neil Finlayson, a native Hebridean with a first class honours degree in electronics and electrical engineering and a doctorate in integrated optics, had returned to Lewis after international experience in optical sciences and internet service development. Having then been technical director in a successful internet service provider business, and a board member of HIE, he saw the Greenspace project as an attractive new challenge.
Experienced building services consultant Donald Macritchie was also on the island, heading up the council’s Energy and Building Services Team, when Greenspace came into being. “I had always felt the need for a set of buildings management tools that was more intelligent and flexible, so I came in as senior energy engineer and it has been really exciting to research and develop our first product as a server-based solution,” said Donald.
Greenspace has made a significant contribution to a shared aim of UHI, HIE and the council by attracting a range of well qualified young people back to the Outer Hebrides.
Its research centre complement has grown to 20-plus people, several of whom have returned from studies and work elsewhere to undertake research roles at undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels and to pursue newly available careers in technology and business development
After Greenspace Live was created to form the research hub’s commercial arm, Donald became its Managing Director and his team are now looking to bring other spinout products to the market.
The underlying range of technologies being explored, for teaching, research and development purposes, by Greenspace Research provides a broad range of opportunities. These include work in aspects of energy including buildings technologies, power infrastructure, dynamics, economics and in hydrogen as a renewable fuel for remoter island areas.
Other valuable academic links have been developed, including working relationships with Strathclyde University’s Institute of Energy and the Environment, here in Scotland, and with the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in the USA.
As well as developing its external outreach, Greenspace intends to ensure its product development and commercialisation work links technical know-how to real world market needs.
For instance, the modelling element of its new energy analysis and management tool, gModeller, has been developed to integrate directly with Google SketchUp, the globally popular professional 3D modelling and design tool, to further ensure ease of use.
MD Donald Macritchie said:” It fits our philosophy to develop simple, effective and market-driven solutions. As a result, we are seeing encouraging industry take-up and strong interest from venture capital investors in helping to grow the service and our business faster.