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Meet the Innovators: Kostas Karachalios, Perceptual Robotics

Kostas Karachalios, CEO of Perceptual Robotics – a firm which combines artificial intelligence and drone technology to maintain wind turbines – discusses the role of robotics in the proliferation of renewable energy and the importance of data sharing in reaching net zero.

What was your first job in the utilities sector? 

I have been lucky to intern at energy and utility companies ranging from electricity trading to natural gas power plants. I then founded Perceptual Robotics in 2016 as its CEO.

What work experience or qualifications did you have before moving into the industry?

I achieved a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s focused on robotics from the University of Bristol.

During this time, my interest in renewable energy was combined with a fascination with robotics. This led me to explore how robotics can contribute to the renewables industry.

What has been your career highlight thus far?

Witnessing our products and technology developing. To do everything you can to make sure your idea not only has merit but is commercially viable and to see it become a success is phenomenal. Nothing compares.

The idea behind Perceptual Robotics is to combine artificial intelligence with drones to transform how we carry out maintenance inspections in the renewables industry.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your time in utilities?

The industry is constantly evolving. Keeping up-to-date with all of the latest technologies, industry players and being an expert of the new methods and ways of operating is a constant, yet rewarding challenge.

What is your golden rule for overcoming challenges at work generally?

I always focus on deconstructing a bigger challenge into smaller, manageable steps. It’s something that never fails to help come up with a solution, no matter what the challenge is.

Often these things can seem daunting when we see them as a whole, but by breaking them down you can see the path to solving them.

How would you describe your creative process in three words?

Collaborative, data and process-driven.

What do you think is the key to creating the conditions for innovation within the utilities sector? 

Staged adoption. You shouldn’t expect to go from prototype to fleet-wide adoption at a fast pace or without delay.

Which other industry do you feel that utilities can learn most from when creating the conditions for innovation?

There are two which we can’t ignore. Logistics really provides a unique focus on scaling tech, which the industry can learn from.

However, the healthcare industry has a huge number of lessons for utilities when looking at investment in the long term.

Is there a standout innovation or collaboration project that you wish you’d had the chance to work on during your time in the sector – what made it special?

Our initial work with Enel Green Power was fascinating.

We studied the data from multiple turbines and figured out patterns and new ways to improve the operations and maintenance of these assets. We went into the project with no expectations and ended up finding a lot of value for the client and the industry.

What excites you most about the next 10 years in the utilities sector – any trends, tech or specific innovations?

The next ten years are going to be dominated by how we go about making renewables really work for us as a whole. It is only now we are starting to create solutions for how we go about dealing with the whole lifecycle of renewable infrastructure to make the most out of it.

Fully incorporating data driven decision making from inspections and maintenance to procurement across all energy sectors.

What do you think will be the defining factor in the UK hitting its net zero targets?

People are really beginning to understand the climate emergency we have created. That enthusiasm for change is only going to continue to grow as we move forwards.

It is this energy, at a grassroots level, which will really drive forward our solutions to achieve net zero. We have to do it at the end of the day – there is no other choice.

How do you feel utilities companies can collaborate more – or more effectively?

The key to effective collaboration is finding ways in which to share data that maintains confidentiality, while simultaneously unlocking the benefits that bringing different data sources together can generate.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the utilities sector at present?

Public perception is at a low point thanks to rising prices. There isn’t one reason behind this, as we all know, but it is a constant we need to keep in mind when moving forward.

Which issues or opportunities within the industry don’t you feel get enough airtime?

Data sharing and whole life cycle analysis. We know that people harvest small pieces of information, but if we were to share and combine the data, we could all be learning and achieving so much more.

What is the most significant way you think the utilities sector of ten years’ time will differ from the one we see today? 

The industry is going to be even more data driven, more carbon neutral and more decentralised. The market is continuously growing and developing, and that’s an exciting thing to be at the forefront of.

Utility Week Innovate, in collaboration with Utility Week Live aims to discover and promote innovative approaches to tackle front line business challenges through case studies, technical/project studies, networking, and live content. Be recognised as a key solution provider and meet your target audience face-to-face at UWL23. Find out more about exhibiting