Ireland’s IERC gets €1m energy research funding boost

30 Jan 2012

Mick McKeever, DIT researcher (from left); Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD; Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, TD; and Dominic O Sullivan, UCC researcher

Ireland’s International Energy Research Centre (IERC) has been given a €1m cash injection from the Government, via Enterprise Ireland, to ramp up its energy research projects. The aim is to position Ireland as a global clean-tech hub for the development of integrated energy solutions.

With the issue of energy security having come to the fore as a major global challenge, a key element of the research at the IERC will involve linking up knowledge-intensive international and Irish companies with leading researchers to develop innovative energy solutions for global markets. That was according to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, TD, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD, who both jointly announced the IERC funding yesterday.

The two ministers also announced the approval of the first two projects as part of the IERC. In all, €1m in funding will be provided via Enterprise Ireland.

Key research areas

Some of the main research areas that will be pioneered at the IERC include:

  • Energy storage in commercial buildings. In particular, such research will look at using wireless networks to control and manage heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
  • Redesigning and developing storage heating solutions.

The IERC itself is operating as a type of ‘virtual’ research centre, with the researchers meeting at Tyndall National Institute in Cork. It is supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources working with a co-ordinated agency project team comprising IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Four higher education institutions have also backed the IERC. Contracts have been signed with NUI Galway, University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology.

The energy research agenda of the IERC is also industry led, with global companies in Ireland collaborating on it. Such firms include United Technologies, Bell Labs, HSG Zander and IBM. Irish unities Bord Gáis Energy and Bord Gáis Networks are also involved.

Powering the green economy in Ireland via targeted research

Powering the green economy via targeted research that can be commercialised

Global clean-tech focus

Rabbitte said the Government’s strategy is to position Ireland as a leading-edge location for such energy research developed for global markets.

He said the research carried out at the IERC will complement existing energy research activities in Ireland, including the smart grid and renewable energy integration research at the UCD Electricity Research Centre, where the researchers work in partnership with global companies, as well as EirGrid and ESB Networks.  

“Energy is of fundamental strategic importance to the economy and it is essential that we continue to invest in research to develop energy efficiency technologies which will underpin the Government’s energy efficiency objectives and support economic growth in the clean technology sector,” said Rabbitte.

Job creation and the green economy

Bruton pointed to how, in getting “out of this crisis” and getting jobs and growth back in the economy, that the focus will have to be on sectors where Ireland as a country has “distinct” advantages.

“The green economy clearly is one of these sectors, as not only do we have unrivalled natural resources in the area, but we have also built up a base of excellent research strength over the past decade.”

From research to commercialisation

Bruton said the challenge for Ireland now is to make sure that research is channelled and targeted at commercialisation.

“That is why this centre is led by top-end global and Irish companies operating in the energy field, and will enable them to collaborate with world-leading researchers and institutions in developing cutting-edge solutions.”

He said that in the coming weeks, the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs will target the green economy.

Bruton pointed to how the clean-tech focus will “build on this good news with further changes to the Irish research sector to create more good ideas and ultimately, good jobs.”  

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic