Archive for the ‘Renewables’ Category

Why are electric vehicles not selling in Ireland?

Broadcast on Today with Sean O’Rourke, RTE Radio 1, 21-09-2016

tesla-model-s

The Tesla Model S electric cars which are making inroads into the luxury class car market in the USA will be available for sale in Ireland in 2017 [Picture source: http://www.mashable.com]

In 2008, the then Coalition government of FF, PDs and the Green Party, announced a target of having 200,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on Irish roads.

It was an ambitious target, yet eight years later, despite the building of infrastructure to support electric cars, and financial incentives, there are only 2,000 EVs on our roads – that’s a mere one percent of the Government’s original target.

So why is it that sales of electric cars have not taken off in Ireland, compared to some other countries and is this likely to change any time soon?

Infrastructure

The infrastructure supporting electric cars is good, and one of the most advanced in the world, so that’s not an issue.

There  are 1,400 charge points between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. These have been set up by the ESB e cars unit on an all Ireland basis. The idea is that with one electric car access card you can use any of the charger access points throughout the country – north or south.

This is a better system than in the the UK where different councils and different regions would have developed their own infrastructure, and there is no inter operability between them. The charger plugs are the same, but the driver of an electric car in Britain would need five or six different access cards to use the EV charge points around the UK.

Each charge point in Ireland has intelligence built in so that information is sent back to the ESB e car charge point management system. This system monitors the availability of chargers, whether they are currently in use or not.

If there is an issue such as a cable gets blocked the system can unblock the cable. The ESB from the start decided to install a standard electric charge point in  every town with 1,500 people or more.

The ESB have realised since that a lot more people are looking for fast chargers than had been anticipated at the start of the infrastructural roll out. There are 22kw chargers with two points in each one –  and the Renault Zoe can charge in an hour off that. Then there are the 50kw fast chargers that can charge a car up to 80% in 25 minutes. There are about 75 of these, and one every 50 km of motorway on the main roads.

The idea is that if you leave your house in Dublin heading for Galway and you drive with a full tank, you can stop, get a fast charge and keep going. Most of the in car Sat Navs on cars are linked into the latest information on the nationwide network of charge points which is constantly updated by ESB e cars.

The ESB has a 24-hour call centre in Cork, and there are maintenance teams, response units if anyone breaks down. The charge points can all be operated remotely now – one card for all of Ireland – and in the near future the plan is to have an app that lets you know not just where the nearest charge points on, but whether it is currently in use.

Turnoffs

The three main turnoffs people cite when it comes to their reluctance to buy EVs come under three headings: performance, range and cost.

There is an idea out there that EVs are slow and cumbersome, like the old milk floats we saw around Dublin in the 1980s, but, I know, from driving a Nissan Leaf, that this is not the case. The performance of the car is excellent, and there is more than enough zip and acceleration to make electric cars ideal around the city.

You could put somebody into the smallest electric vehicle up beside a Ferrari at a traffic lights and the electric car will get away quicker. The high powered Ferrari will catch him after couple of seconds but there is great zip  in an electric car, and overtaking is no problem.

The  latest Model S Tesla electric cars can go from 0-100 in 2.6 seconds if you put a Tesla car onto its so called ‘ludicrous’ mode; better than the most powerful Ferrari with an IC engine.

People are concerned about range, and, while surveys of electric car users show that range issues are manageable, it is still an issue for potential buyers.

The industry experts believe that maximum range, which is around 150 or 160km for many electric cars needs to reach 300 or 400 km before ‘range anxiety’ is no longer an issue. That could happen as early as 2018, the experts tell me.

The range of the current Nissan Leaf, which I drove myself a few weeks ago, is between 160 and 165 km after a full charge at home. The home charge points, which are installed for free by the ESB currently for anyone purchasing an electric vehicle, are 16amp, single phase chargers.

A full charge is, however, not enough to get the car from Dublin to Galway (208 km) so anyone planning that trip, must plan to stop at a motorway charge point for about 20 minutes to get a ‘top up’ charge.  

For range to improve the existing battery technology must be improved. There has been huge investment in this area, in laboratories around the world, particularly in Japan, Korea and the US, but even a little here in Ireland.

The flamboyant US-based science entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Tesla Motors, a hugely innovative and dynamic electric car company, is building what he calls a battery ‘gigafactory’ in Arizona. This is due to go into full production in 2020 when it will produce enough lithium-ion batteries, like the ones in our smartphones, to power 500,000 new electric cars per year. All the raw materials required will be brought to Arizona, and when this factor opens it will double the world’s output of lithium ion batteries.

This will provide some of the economies of scale that have been lacking in the electric car industry up to now, and it should be a ‘game changer’. The electric car is more expensive to build than a ‘normal’ car, even without the battery taken into account, because of this issue of economies of scale.

The average car has about 2,000 moving parts, while the average electric has something like 200. The electric car should be cheaper to manufacture!

The prediction is that somewhere between 2020 and 2025, after Musk’s gigafactory opens, the costs of batteries will go down, and the economies of scale for electric will improve so that there will be cost parity.

That is, for the first time, an electric car will cost the same as a car based on the internal combustion engine. This will be a historic moment for e cars.

In summary then, performance is not an issue, and anyone that gets into a modern electric car will quickly realise that. Range is still an issue for some people, but from 2018, it is expected that electric cars with a range of 400 km will be here, so that issue will disappear.

Cost will remain an issue, until cost parity is reached somewhere between 2020 and 2025. In terms of running costs, the electric car is already far ahead of cars powered by the internal combustion engine.

Many people charge their electric car overnight and, at nighttime rates, the cost works out to be between 10 and 15% of the cost of petrol.  Even when people charge at the daytime rate for electricity, it works out to be about 25% of the cost of petrol.

It costs less than €5 to run an electric car for 100 miles. The cost to run the car for 17,000 miles per annum (average mileage for residential car use in Ireland) will thus, be less than €850.

Authorities

There have been difficulties with some local authorities in terms of having the road marked as an e car space reserved for electric vehicle charging. At the moment someone could find a petrol car parked at the e charging location and there is little that can be done about it, unless the local authority has agreed to mark the space as a space set out for electric car charging only – making it an offence for any other car to park there. Some local authorities have done this, others haven’t. Dun Laoghaire has gone further and offered electric cars free parking for up to four hours.

The ESB is trying to sort out all the questions around people booking charging spaces in advance. These are free, so, if electric sales pick up they are likely to become very busy. There are outstanding questions such as how long in advance should people be permitted to book a space? What should the ESB charge for a booking? What happens if someone books and doesn’t show up? What if someone hooks their car up to a charge point, and goes off to dinner, only returning several hours later, or the next morning, blocking up the space for others?

Comparisons

London is one of the leading cities in the world, when it comes to supporting electric vehicles, and certainly Dublin and other Irish cities and towns could learn a lot about what is going on there, and the picture is changing fast.

London is looking to introduce an ultra low emission zone in central London from 2020. This will be in addition to the congestion charge. There is a £10 charge to drive into central London as things stand, and if you are driving a pre-2015 diesel or a pre-2006 petrol car there is another £10 added on top of that. This is to try and reduce congestion and to improve air quality, primarily.  

The London taxi company has been bought out by Geely, a Chinese electric vehicle company, who have built a new factory in Coventry. Geely have invested £300 million on that factory, and this will churn out new London taxis, which will all be plug in ‘hybrids’ – or mixtures of conventional internal combustion engine and electric.

In the UK as a whole there are now 70,000 electric vehicles on the road which is far ahead of where we are, at 2,000 in Ireland, even accounting for the population difference.

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is talking about extending the low emission zone beyond central London, while the central government at Westminster has allocated £600 million to incentivise the purchase of EVs, build infrastructure and support pilot projects, such as electric bus schemes. There are grants available for the manufacturers and purchasers of EVs and an Office of Low Emission Vehicles, or OLEV, has been set up under the control of the UK’s Department of Transport.

Meanwhile, in Norway 25% of all new car sales are now electric. The Norwegians are proposing to ban conventional vehicle sales in 2025. The proposal is that from 2025 on, cars powered by an internal combustion engine using petrol or diesel will no longer be permitted to be sold. This is extraordinary for a nation that has built its wealth on oil reserves in the North Sea, and shows that the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered at least here in Europe.

There have been 25,000 electric vehicles sold in Norway so far this year. It is the transport department that has proposed to the Government that the new policy to be announced in the Spring. The report to the Government, which is being discussed in the Norwegian parliament at the moment has recommended that there be a ban on IC vehicle sales from 2025. It hasn’t been decided yet, however.

Supports

There is a grant which takes €5,000 off the initial purchase price of the electric car, and VRT relief up to €5,000. The ESB provides  free home charge point with the purchase of an EV as well, as well as free public charging (public) and a 24 hour backup call centre should problems arise.

But, clearly these measures have not enough to encourage a higher level of electric vehicle purchases in Ireland and more needs to be done if EVs are to move out of the niche market situation here.

The car market has recovered and we are on target for 155,000 cars to be sold this year, which is still down on the 2008 figure of 187,000.

The market, which survived a near death experience, is probably secure enough to look at new technology like electric again, so that’s positive.

A revised target for EVs in Ireland of 50,000 has been mentioned in the National Energy Efficiency programme, but that, experts believe, will not be reached with the current level of incentives for EVs. More is needed.

Ireland could perhaps look at the US where there are 400,000 EVs on the road. The US gives a Federal tax credit of $7,500 per electric car purchased. On top of that certain states add their own incentives. For example, California gives an additional $2,500 grant, while Colorado gives a tax credit of $6,000.

The US moves seem to be working, in some places at least. For example, 6% of new car sales in San Francisco are now EVs.

Some believe that giving executives incentives to buy electric cars here by reducing their Benefit in Kind is something that might kick start things.

Executives in the US are buying the latest Tesla Model S, which is outselling BMW and Mercedes in that luxury class in California.

These executives buy a new car every three years, and are helping to generate a second hand market for electric cars there too.

Future

The Tesla Model S is outselling BMW, and Mercedes in that luxury class in California. This has grabbed the attention of the German car companies. Berlin has been resisting the tightening of regulations in Brussels on the car industry, particularly on non greenhouse gas causing CO2 emissions.

However, they won’t be able to hold the line forever, as more cities and countries move to improve air quality for its urban citizens. The situation where diesel cars are pumping carcinogenic substances into the air, and risking the health of children in particularly, can’t continue. The car companies have woken up to this, and they are all working on hybrids if not full electric vehicles in anticipation of what is to come.

The big picture, however, is even more threatening for the existing car companies, as driverless technology begins to become reality. The Mercedes E class in its latest ads in Ireland talks of a move towards the autonomous, or driverless car

The Tesla Model S already has all the technology it requires to be driverless and in a test on the Stillorgan dual carriageway it changed lanes without a hitch. The vision of the future is that the transport needs of society is built around a fleet of driverless electric cars, which can be called on demand by phone apps.

This will reduce the need for car ownership, and provide disabled, elderly or children with the means to safely call for a car to get from A to B. The huge amount of space in our cities given over to parking can be used for something else, noise will be eliminated, and air quality vastly improved.

Towards the Zero Carbon House

Listen to discussion above with Keelin Shanley broadcast on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1 (19.04.16)

Zero Carbon House

The ‘zero carbon’ house is a realistic aspiration Irish homeowners (Credit: http://www.treehuggers.com)

There are many reasons to make a house more energy efficient; from reducing the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere to reducing energy costs and increasing home comforts.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has a range of grant supports that can improve the insulation, and heating systems in your home.

This is all part of a long-term drive to move towards Zero Carbon Housing, where homes not longer use fossil fuels, such as gas or oil.

Ultimately we are moving in Europe towards the ‘Near Zero Energy Home’ (NZEB) where homes are self-sufficient in energy, and no longer need to be connected to the grid.

What is Ireland’s energy future?

Now, the dust has settled on the Paris climate summit, it’s a good time to assess where Ireland’s – and the world’s – power generation future lies.

Click above to hear discussion on Today with Sean O’Rourke (broadcast 30/12/2015)

Offshore1

Ireland has a huge wind energy resource, offshore and on land. If tapped the country could become a net energy exporter (Credit: Irish Wind Energy Association)

Big picture

Despite the agreements announced in Paris, China is set to continue building a new coal fired power plant every 7 to 10 days, while India and Japan are increasing, not reducing, their reliance on cheap coal.

Meanwhile, oil prices are falling, driven by a global oil glut driven by increased oil supplies. Despite claims that oil supplies are running out, geology suggests the world has substantial untapped oil supplies.

In this context, the big question is how will Ireland, and the world, wean itself off coal and petrol, and how will energy be generated in 2050?

The top five energy consumers in the world today are China, the USA, India, Russia, and Japan. This is significant because none of the big five would be renowned for their record on supporting clean energy options.

China is key to this story, as it has now surpassed the US as the main energy consumer in the world. China is increasing its dependence on coal, and building new coal fired plants at an alarming rate.

Coal is cheap, readily available, and China believes that coal is what will improve living standards to match those of the west. In the same way, that Britain used ‘King Coal’ to become a 19th century superpower.

Meanwhile, India, another Asian giant, is also increasing its reliance on coal, for the same reasons that China is taking this route. Coal is cheap, and provides a shortcut to industrial development and prosperity.

Let’s not forget that developing reliable, economically viable energy alternatives requires high technology, patience and lots of funding.

Keep in mind too that 250 million Indian people live in homes without electricity. That’s more people than the combined populations of Germany, France and the UK, all living without electricity.

Globally, some 1.2 billion people live without electricity. Is that ethical?

Russia as we know is a significant exporter of oil and gas, and much of the gas we use here in Ireland comes from Russia.

Japan is an interesting case, because it is a highly industrialised country, but it lacks a cheap, home based energy source. This is why it went down the nuclear route, but that, as we saw with Fukushima in March 2011, led to disaster. They too are now turning to cheap sources of coal.

The US, meanwhile, is heavily dependent on its home based reserves of natural gas to provide its electricity needs, and Middle Eastern oil to keep its love affair with motor car going.

Clean energy

Approximately 11 per cent of the world’s energy consumption comes from so-called ‘renewable energy’ sources. That’s according to the US Energy Information Administration.

When we say ‘renewable’ we mean energy generated from non-polluting sources, which can be used over and over again without negative effects. The main renewable sources of energy come from biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind.

The same US body, which is a reputable source, predicts that by 2040, 15 per cent of the world’s energy will be from renewables by 2040.

The message then is that our energy needs are overwhelming provided by fossil fuel, greenhouse gas generating sources, and that the changeover to renewables is happening slowly – perhaps too slowly.

coal-burning-factory-in-china

China continues to build a new coal fired power plant, on average – every 7 to 10 days. Like this one in the city of Baotou, in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Photo : REUTERS/David Gray)

Whither Paris?

This is where the Paris agreement comes in, because without a major push, there is no reason why – economically speaking – countries or companies or individuals should shift to using renewable energy.

The main point was that governments agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Above 1.5 Celsius and scientists believe we are into uncharted territory where climate and weather might cross a variety of ‘tipping points’.

Lurking in our future is the ominous, and very real threat of rapid, and severe climate cooling, provoked initially by warming.

Recent data shows that we have already reached 1C above pre-industrial levels and there is no sign of emissions of ‘greenhouse gas’ falling.

The emissions figures are interesting. China is responsible for 28% or more than a quarter of the world’s emissions.

The US is next at 16%, then the EU at 10 per cent. Together, China, the US, India, Russia, Japan and the EU make up 70% of global emissions. The rest, about 150 countries or so, make up just 30% of emissions.

A binding agreement between the US, China, India, Russia, Japan on the EU on emissions would go a long way to addressing this problem.

That won’t be easy as they all have very different energy agendas.

Before Paris, 180 countries submitted pledges to cut or curb emissions, but, when all these plans were put together, experts believe they will, even if they are rigorously implemented, lead to a 2.7C rise – at least!

Also, there is no legal imperative to implement the plans.

Paris set out a long term global goal for zero emissions. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  says that ‘net zero emissions’ must happen by 2070, in order to avoid ‘dangerous warming’.  But, it’s only a goal!

There is also a pledge to ‘take stock’ every 5 years to make sure that the plan to keep to 1.5C is still no track. But, only a pledge to ‘take stock’. The plan also included a clause which say that countries mainly responsible for warming – the US – will not be liable to pay financial claims from countries damaged by extreme weather.

There is a pledge to provide $100 billion a year from 2020 to finance developing countries so that they can adapt to climate change and transition to ‘clean energy’ – but this to is not legally binding.

All in all, Paris looks like a weak agreement, which holds no-one to account, and is largely aspirational in tone.

Fossil future

Coal, gas, petrol and diesel are fossil fuels. They contain high amounts of carbon and were formed from previously living organisms. They are cheap, readily available, and are very efficient at releasing usable energy when burned in combustion engines, or power plants.

Most experts believe that fossil fuels will still dominate, in terms of supplying our global needs by mid century and beyond. The Paris deal was heralded by some as the ‘end of coal’ but this is highly unlikely, and coal will continue to be burned, perhaps more than before.

Yet, if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, or increasing rates – to meet increasing energy demands – we are on a road to nowhere. If fossil fuels are here to stay, how can we reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases which are released when they burn?

Is there a solution?

Well, one thing that can be done is to improve the fuel efficiency of our cars, and power plants which use fossil fuels, and this is happening.

Another more radical solution, but one which is now under serious consideration is referred to as carbon capture and storage  technology.

The idea here is to continue to burn fossil fuels, but that the carbon dioxide from this burning will be buried in a secure place underground. For example, there is talk of using gas fields, which have been exhausted, such as Kinsale, which is nearing its end, to store carbon dioxide gas.

2050?

The demand for electricity is set to soar in coming decades, as more than one billion people look to get plugged in. The energy mix will still be mainly fossil fuel based, so measures to improve energy efficiency will be crucial and technology will be developed to do that – in our homes, offices and in industry.

These energy efficiencies will only happen if governments fund the development of technology in the short term, because it will take time for their to be a pay off in any investment. So, industry won’t do it.

Coal is going to remain very important, as China and India develop.

Nuclear energy is expensive, and it is far more costly to build a nuclear power plant compared to a new coal or gas fired power plant. There are also costs of disposal of waste, and safety concerns, and there can be serious political opposition to new plants too.

Ireland has a real opportunity to develop its wind and wave resources, where we could – with the right investment – be a world leader. But, our grid is outdated, and other countries such as Denmark, have been investing in wind technology for far longer with greater success.

The most promising of the renewable technologies, generally speaking, is Solar and this will take off if supported initially by governments.They can be particularly useful to bring electricity to places now ‘off grid’.

The world, and individual countries, will have to realise that more expensive energy, and reduced growth might be required.

Ireland’s windy future

In 1935, the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power plant built near Limerick in the 1920s was supplying 80% of the country’s electricity.  Our electricity needs were far less at that time, of course, but we were still far more self sufficient in energy than we are today, as 60% of our energy is provided by natural gas, and 90% of our natural gas is imported.

Back in the 1930s, the vast majority of Ireland’s electricity was generated by harnessing the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. Ardnacrusha served us well for decades, but over time, the plant was unable to generate enough electricity to meet the growing demands of industry here, and modern homes, now mostly supplied with electricity.

These days our electricity needs have vastly increased, and the range of sources we get our electricity from has hugely diversified.

One of the good news stories for Ireland, is terms of its energy future, is the ready availability of lots of wind, particularly along the coastlines. As of 2015, 17.7% of Irish electricity was generated by wind power, making us second only to Denmark which has reached 30%.

The government has a target in its white paper to increase the energy consumption from ‘renewables’ to 16% from 7% currently. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland believes that electricity generated from wind will exceed domestic needs by 2030.

Ireland will then be in the happy position of becoming an electricity exporter, possible with a new electricity connector to the UK. It’s possible, if targets are reached, that Ireland could be providing 2.5% of the EU’s energy needs by 2050 through wind power generation.

Renewable mix

Ireland is also blessed with a valuable wave energy resource. One study found that the average wave power in Europe is highest near the west of Ireland.  The potential for utilising wave is huge. There is some 525 TWh of wave and tidal power in Irish waters. The total electricity requirement for the Republic of Ireland in 2006 was just 27.8 TWh!

Solar photovoltaic technology will be far more important, even in Ireland, where, as we know the sun doesn’t shine enough.

County councils around the country are building solar panels using PV technology on farmland. These ‘solar farms’ will provide electricity to the grid, and help to power new homes that will be built in coming years.

Bioenergy too will be far more developed here in coming decades. Plants are already being built in Dublin and Cork which will take food waste and harvest bio-gases to generate significant amounts of electricity.

Each bio waste plant can provide electricity for thousands of homes, and divert food waste which is going into landfill at the present time. Ireland will not move into nuclear. There are cheaper, better options and the political opposition and cost would seem to rule nuclear out here.

There are also, geologists believe, significant ‘hydrocarbon’ resources in the Irish offshore that lie underdiscovered due to the depths they are at. There is gas, we know this from Corrib, but many believe there is also oil, plenty of it, and as technology improves it will become easier and cheaper to prospect for this liquid gold.

So, all in all, Ireland’s energy future looks promising if we fully exploit our huge wind, wave and untapped hydrocarbon resources in our offshore.

That’s leaving aside the thorny question of potentially exploiting two large oil reserves trapped in rocks underneath Leitrim and the counties of southwest Ireland through ‘fracking’ technology.

 

Fancy a holiday on Mars?; the science behind the VW scandal; what Snowdon got wrong about aliens; rechargeable solar/ wind roof batteries

Click above to listen to the discussion on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan

HD's Vista Set

The discovery of water on Mars means that holiday makers this century could see sights like this  (Credit: http://www.topgalleriesphoto.com)

The discovery of water on Mars has increased the chances of it becoming the ultimate holiday destination. Martian water, although salty, could be made drinkable, used to generate electricity and as a rocket fuel.

The VW diesel emissions scandal only came to light when diesel VW’s cars were subjected to a random test, in ‘real’ road conditions. This revealed that nitrous oxide emissions were up to 35 times higher than what was permitted.

Edward Snowden, in a rare interview from hiding, commented that alien messages would be likely to be so heavily encrypted as to render them invisible. Alien hunting scientists quickly stepped in to contradict his remarks.

Cheap, reliable, rechargeable batteries, which could store energy from the sun or wind, when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, store it, and release it as required, have been developed by Harvard University scientists.

[The item above was first broadcast on East Coast FM on 1st October 2015.]

The Energy Saver: Jean Malone, Siemens Ireland

Jean Malone, pictured above, has found career success at Siemens Ireland as Manager of its Dublin-based Energy Centre

As fuel costs rise, industry must find ways to reduce its energy costs in the short-term and introduce efficiencies that protect it against future price hikes. The Energy Centre at Siemens Ireland is helping customers all over the world – from Cork to China – to do that, and heading up this operation is TCD engineering graduate Jean Malone (2006).

The Centre in Ireland is set to be at the heart of Siemens’ strategy to be a strong local partner to its customers by providing energy savings for them despite the relentless rise in fuel costs as the demand for fuel increases, and the taxes on their use – greenhouse gas taxes – likewise increase. At the heart of this is Jean Malone and she is proud of what’s been achieved so far for Ireland.

‘We are gearing up at the moment.” said an excited Jean. “Our system can handle a couple of hundred customers right now, but we are planning to add around 1,000 new customers per year.” Siemens Ireland is engaging with local branches of Siemens in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Italy, Holland, Portugal as well as Germany, and as far away as Chengdu in China, to help a new manufacturing plant.

Human’ engineering

Jean, who is from Clane in Co Kildare, recalls loving maths, technical graphics and all the technical subjects when she was in secondary school. She was specifically drawn to the medical device sector, as it combined engineering with some direct human benefits. However, after her Leaving Certificate in 2001, she decided that it would be best to select a general engineering course to begin with, and she chose engineering at TCD.

She enjoyed college life at TCD, but after Jean completed her second year, she began to have some doubts as to whether engineering had been a good idea. “The course was tough, but rewarding – but I couldn’t foresee what my future job or career would be like,” recalled Jean. “I wasn’t sure if it was right for me – and I took a year out between 3rd and 4th year.” She needed some time and space to go travel, and figure out exactly what she wanted to do. Her parents were okay, she said, but wanted her to do work experience, for at least part of the time she was out of college. She agreed to do that.

Jean applied, and was accepted to do six weeks of work experience at a company called Chiroxia, based at Citywest, which had been set up by Jim Coleman, a vascular surgeon, who had returned from the US full of ideas for various kinds of medical devices. The company employed engineers to realize Coleman’s vision. It was an exciting place to work, and Jean immediately felt at home there, and enjoyed her work immensely.

Her profile at the company increased when she observed a particular behavior of a substance – at high and low temperatures – that was being prepared for insertion into the human body, which hadn’t been observed by any of the full time engineers at Chiroxia. This was a technical breakthrough for the company, which led to some design changes.

Jean was offered a nine-month contract, which she accepted. In that time she applied knowledge that she had learned in her first three years of college. This work experience changed everything, and any doubts she had about a career in engineering disappeared. “I went back to do my final year full of energy. I was so excited about the topic when I got back, and it completely changed how I viewed the course as well,” said Jean.

Crash response

When the Irish property market crashed ‘almost overnight’ the Irish arm of Siemens AG – the massive engineering and electronics corporation, headquartered in Munich, and employing 370,000 people in some 190 countries – started to look at how existing, or old buildings could be improved or upgraded, as the ‘new build’ market had evaporated.

Siemens put a toe in this market when they developed an energy efficiency plan for a large Ireland-based customer. The idea was to conduct a complete ‘audit’ of the energy usage at the customer’s manufacturing plant. This was done by strategically placing energy meters at key locations in the production plant, and gathering a data stream. That data was then  looked at by a team of energy engineers at Siemens Ireland, who made recommendations to the customer on how to improve energy efficiency.

Siemens Ireland decided to set up an Energy Centre locally, so that this large customer could go online at any stage and look at how it was consuming energy. Once the Centre was up and running, it made sense to offer similar services to other companies base in Ireland.  Eventually, what had started as a local R&D project attracted the interest of Siemens HQ in Germany, who have supported the development of the Centre to provide energy efficiency services for its customers across Europe and beyond.

Success at Siemens

Jean completed her degree at TCD in 2006. After that she worked briefly as a waitress in Belfast before returning home to Co Kildare, where she lived again with her parents for a short time and got a temporary position with Green Isle Foods in Naas. She was glad to be back home, but was keen for a job that would allow her to live more independently.

She started to look for work in Dublin, and an opportunity came up with Siemens. Initially, her job involved working with customers to identify the exact product that they required; to help them find the right product, and the correct complementary products. The idea was to refer customers to websites and give them the skills and knowledge to be able to source new parts themselves.  She did that successfully and then moved on.

The next role was more interesting, as it involved working with a customer to develop an energy efficiency solution. First, Jean worked with a sales person to design a solution suited to the customer’s energy needs, then she worked with a project manager who would roll out the solution for them. It was a challenging, diverse and interesting job.

It also helped Jean’s career and she was offered the role of Siemens Energy Centre Manager. In this role she deals with some very large customers in Ireland, in energy intensive sectors such as pharma, chemicals, food and leisure. The Irish Centre is also responsible for meeting the energy needs of Siemens’ customers based in Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as a growing number of customers across Europe and beyond.

“I enjoy the diversity of the role, each site different challenges, and you have to adapt to those challenges,” said Jean. “Within Siemens there are so many different opportunities. I do enjoy the idea of working towards something that will create more jobs for engineers in Ireland. We have a plan to expand and we have just taken on 4 new people recently under the Job Bridge scheme,” she added.

This article was first published in Science Spin, Issue 56, January-February 2013

Tapping Dublin’s Electronic Brain, Harnessing Ireland’s Tidal Potential

LISTEN: Tapping Dublin’s Electronic Brain, Harnessing Ireland’s Tidal Power

Tidal power is in its infancy worldwide, but its potential is now being looked at seriously in many countries including Ireland. Experts estimate that up to 10 per cent of Ireland’s entire electricity needs could be provided by tidal power. We discuss what is happening in the world of tidal power, at home and abroad, and how Ireland can realise its potential in this emerging field.

IMAGE: Irish company Openhydro is aiming to place tidal turbines on the seabed – as pictured above – that will be completely invisible from the surface. (Credit: Openhydro)

Guest: Dr Stephen Nash, tidal energy researcher at the department of civil engineering at NUI Galway.

Dublin’s quest to become the world’s smartest city continues with the launch of DUBlinked. The aim of this project is to harness freely available information into new services and products that make life easier for Dubliners, ensure the city runs more efficiently, and has better services – all while saving the taxpayer money too.  

Guest:  Dr Ronan Farrell, researcher at the Department of electronic engineering at NUI Maynooth, and co-ordinator of DUBlinked.

Broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 04/08/2011

To contact the show email:  sciencespinning@dublincityfm.ie

Time and tide wait for no man

First published in The Sunday Times, 30th Jan. 2011

IMAGE: Waves seen here on the right below crashing ashore onto the Dingle Peninsula, a rugged, beautiful area of southwest Ireland [Credit: killarneylake.com] 

There are few places where waves crash so powerfully and consistently on the shoreline as the west of Ireland. The USA, South Africa, Australia and Chile have locations that might rival Ireland’s west coast for wave power potential, but none surpass it. If Ireland can find a way to better harness and store wave energy we have the potential to lead the world in this field and also create thousands of new, ‘sustainable’ jobs into the future.

Waves are generated by the action of the wind on oceans. When wind speed is faster than the movement of waves at the ocean surface there is a transfer of energy from wind to wave. This transfer of energy can build up right across a large ocean, such as the Atlantic, with the energy eventually released, and lost to mankind, when a wave crashes onshore.

The locations around the world where waves are strongest are on the western side of landmasses, large and small, from western Australia to western Ireland. This is due to prevailing westerly winds driving the waves ashore. These ‘westerlies’ are strongest during winter, and that is why wave energy too is more powerful during winter months.

The current government in its ‘Ocean Energy Roadmap 2010:2050’ states that ocean energy can create 70,000 new jobs, provide a greater security of energy supply due to reduced reliance on gas from Russia and oil from the Middle East, reduced carbon dioxide ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions, and establish Ireland as a leader in ocean energy.

There are huge efforts going on right now in many nations to develop technology that will allow, in the first instance, for the capture of wave energy. This is not a simple engineering problem to solve. For example, it is logical that wave energy is highest during a storm, but think of trying to develop machinery that can withstand and harness the power of an enormous storm hitting the west coast of Ireland in the depths of winter.

The two leading wave energy firms in Ireland are Ocean Energy Ltd. from Cobh, and Wavebob from Maynooth. These firms have different approaches to the same problem. How to capture the energy locked inside waves, and to convert it into electricity. They have both tested their ideas first in a wave energy test tank at the Hydraulic and Maritime Research Centre, UCC, and in Galway Bay. The next step is the open ocean.

The Government’s policy of supporting Irish firms that wish to conduct research into the harnessing of wave energy has undoubtedly contributed to the success of Wavebob and Ocean Energy, and got them to such an advanced stage. These supports for indigenous Irish wave energy firms must continue and be accelerated by the incoming Government.

The potential rewards are enormous if an Irish firm could win the technology race to commercially harness wave energy. A world’s first here for Ireland could establish it as the leader in wave energy. Wave power can provide for up to 40 per cent of our domestic electricity needs from waves. That would mean cheaper electricity for Irish homes and businesses, increase competitiveness, reduce our dependence on imports of fossil fuels, give Ireland greater control over its energy supply, and help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The potential benefits don’t stop there either. If a way could then be found to solve the ‘wave energy storage’ question, where wave energy could be stored, for example, on a stormy day and released for use as electricity on a calm wave-less day, ensuring consistency of energy supply, then the sky’s the limit. A solution to this tricky ‘storage question’ would mean that Ireland could meet 100 per cent of its electricity needs from wave energy alone, and still have lots of electricity over to export.

The potential for wave power to provide all of our electricity needs and for Ireland to become an exporter of electricity is a feasible and exciting long term strategic goal. For that to be achieved, and it is within our capability to do it, the new Government should set out is own clear strategy to continue the good work in this area that has been done up to now. It would be a terrible mistake for the next Government not to continue the drive to make Ireland a wave energy leader.

It is worth recalling here the fate of Ireland’s once promising wind energy sector. Like wave power, Ireland is blessed with an incredible wind energy resource, one that few nations can rival and, once upon a time, if the right steps were taken we had the potential to lead the world in wind energy technology.

It never happened, as not enough supports were put in place to make it happen. This allowed Denmark to step forward to become the world’s wind energy leader. The Danes now are too far ahead of the rest of us to be caught up. The wind is in their sails now, and they are the world’s acknowledged wind technology leaders.

Let’s hope the next government – despite all the distractions they will face – will not let history be repeated, and, through neglect, indifference or blindness to the vast potential of Ireland’s wave power, open the door for some other nation to become the world’s wave energy leader.

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