Irish Islands Play in Role in Developing New Energy Approaches

The news that Dublin City University has recently developed a Sustainable Systems and Energy Engineering Masters major has been welcomed by two Irish islands spokesmen now adopting a new energy approach.
Irish Islands Play in Role in Developing New Energy Approaches
Valentia Harbour

Both Michael Cecil, Rathlin Island Development and Community Association Chairman and Colum O’Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Energy Group in Kerry have welcomed the new courses. DCU have developed the Masters major and undergraduate degrees enrolling in 2020-21 including modules on Advanced Sustainable Energy Systems that must include a sustainable hydrogen element.

Dr. James Carton, DCU Assistant Professor in Energy Sustainability and Hydrogen acknowledges the role the Irish islands can have in this new academic offering saying, “Cormac Walsh of Energy CoOps Ireland and the ‘Valentia Islands’ project aim to build a relationship with DCU around our new sustainable Masters offering, working together on a shared learning journey that may include field trips, guest speakers, project supervision and shared research engagements.”

Cecil maintains that there will be plenty of people wanting to complete the new courses and meet the changing world of sustainability head on. He points out, “It is encouraging to see DCU launching a new diploma in Sustainable Energy and Masters.  In the North of Ireland, the universities and colleges offer a range of renewable energy related training and study options.  The Department for the Economy is supporting a range of free, online, entry level and advanced courses (OCN, City & Guilds, etc) on green technologies, energy management, e-mobility and renewable energy engineering.

“Queen’s University and Ulster University also offer postgraduate courses in green technologies, for example, QUB offers a Foundation Degree in Energy, Environment and Sustainability and UU offers Renewable Energy and Energy Management PgDip/MSc and Renewable Energy Engineering BEng (Hons).

“Rathlin is already working with QUB to offer opportunities for final year post-graduate students to carry out valuable research on energy uses and possible pathways to a successful transition from fossil fuel dependency to green alternatives.  The Hylanders initiative will continue to provide opportunity for case studies in the obstacles and opportunities manifest in small island communities (transferable also to small rural communities) for the transition from fossil fuels to green energy; case studies that will become more valuable as renewable technologies are tested and implemented.  “

The Masters course will provide engineering graduates with the skills to develop as an engineer in energy, sustainability and environmental policy and compliance, climate change and decarbonization, Energy audits, carbon foot printing, carbon budgets and economics,  Energy system instrumentation, integration and measurement,  Advanced energy systems, transport, energy vectors and emerging renewable energy technologies, energy modeling and analysis.

The islands partnership with educational institutions does create more employment options. Cecil argues, “If the industry is prepared to adopt the island’s availability for use as a test bed for renewables, especially hydrogen, alternatives to current fossil fuel dependency, there will be ideal opportunities for further partnerships with educational institutes. 

“The development of the Rathlin East Lighthouse Centre as a space where science, business, education, research and the arts can meet together to explore innovative solutions to global issues, in the practical context of a community striving to address the local impacts of these same issues, will strengthen the creative opportunities for good partnership between the island community and other players in the game. “

Likewise O’Connell in Valentia understands the alliance that can be built, saying, “We certainly believe the local economy and the practical application of hydrogen to everyday life in Valentia would be a natural draw for academia. Though hydrogen is a proven energy vector, it is still in its infancy in terms of lifecycle development, and so there is a lot more of development and innovation that can come, and this starts with academia. “

Paul McCormack the coordinator of GenComm which seeks to utilize hydrogen as the catalyst to develop energy secure communities stated, “The green recovery of Europe will be about people not just technology. We need to upskill the engineers, technicians and installers to optimize these new technologies and deliver zero carbon solutions in our energy provision. As we make a just transition from the old to new dynamic economy, green energy solutions will be critical. However the low carbon sector needs investment in skills that will deliver these new technologies and sustainability for the economy. Through our work in GenComm, HAZEL and other renewable energy projects we are working with partners developing the courses and training necessary to meet the challenges and deliver innovation in society.”

In the Annual Energy Recruitment and Employment Trends Report (2019), 48% of energy professionals are concerned about a impending talent emergency, while 32% believe the crisis has already hit the sector, and 28% report that their company has been affected by a skills shortage. Meanwhile the Global Energy Talent Index shows that 45% of employers in the renewable energy sector believe they can overcome this skills gap if enough qualified, skilled graduates are available.

Queens University students have studied data in relation to Rathlin, and there is a value in this educational tie in for both parties according to Cecil, who says, “The QUB students’ contribution to data gathering and research on Rathlin Island has been invaluable.  The work itself is the outcome of many years of relationship building and development with the Rathlin Policy and the Ministerial Forum that oversees the action plan for the policy.  It marked a moment when discourse on the Policy commitment to the decarbonization of the island became practical and the resulting research has informed subsequent grant applications and project engagements that take the island further along the transition pathway.”

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, talks of a new ‘green industrial revolution’. For many observers the islands are leading new thinking in terms of the hydrogen economy. Both Rathlin and Valentia islands are leading on the green commercial and tourism evolution. Cecil says, “The islands, although not yet ahead in the practical implementation of the green industrial revolution, are increasingly familiar with the narrative.  There is a desire to see the energy security and strength increase and for the community to become net producers rather than customers.  The community’s support for the alternative solutions that have been proposed for exploration and eventual implementation has been, and is, clear and strong.  Much of the groundwork has been done on which a green industrial revolution can be built without opposition and with significant welcome.  The islands recognize the need to address issues of green energy, energy security and alternatives to the destructive use of fossil fuels.  This is driven by the community’s vulnerable economy but also to an immediate closeness to our environment and recognition of our reliance on it and the need to protect the hand that feeds us.  The closer we get to practical implementation of pilot models and to adopting new technologies the stronger will be our commitment to a just transition for all. ”

O’Connell speaking with regard to the Valentia experience says, “We believe that Valentia is strategically set up to meet any government’s strategic plan on Climate Change. The Hydrogen as an energy vector is critical to addressing the carbon challenges of critical sectors such as rural heating and the marine industry. These have typically proven challenging in terms of carbon reduction. Not only are we looking to position ourselves as producers of Hydrogen, but our STEM education program will enable us to create alliances to academic courses such as the masters in sustainable energy systems in DCU.

“Valentia is ideally suited for an off grid solution such as a floating offshore renewable energy source producing hydrogen. The very nature of the grid in south Kerry means it is virtually impossible to add significant loads onto the grid. An off grid solution such as hydrogen ensures an abundant source of energy such as wind, which is available along the south Kerry coast it put to optimum use.”


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