The year in clean tech – green data centres, tidal farms and energy trading

28 Dec 2012

Richard Bruton, TD, Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, and Paul Dunne, facilities manager, at Google's new data centre in west Dublin

From Greenpeace storming Apple’s California headquarters in May to new Irish ventures making headway in the energy-efficiency space and Ireland’s first electricity link with Britain, we take a look at some of the most popular clean-tech stories of the year.

Clean-tech stories that caught people’s attention this year included the opening of Google’s new €75m air-cooled data centre in Dublin in September.

Based at Profile Park in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, the centre was built in less than a year. At the time of opening, Google said the data centre would employ around 30 people, ranging from computer technicians to engineers. It hosts computers to run services, such as Google search engine, Gmail and Google Maps.

At the opening, IDA Ireland CEO Barry O’Leary spoke about how advancements, such as the new East-West Interconnector, would play a role in continuing to attract data-centre operators to locate in Ireland.

In September, Ireland’s first electricity link with Britain, the East-West Interconnector, opened. The project had started in 2010 and involved the laying down of an undersea link under the seabed at North Beach, Rush, Co Dublin, to Barkby Beach in Prestatyn, North Wales.

The Irish semi-state company Eirgrid said the interconnector would have the capacity to transport 500 megawatts – enough energy to power 300,000 homes.

Dermot Byrne, Eirgrid’s former chief executive, said the interconnector would bring the Irish and UK energy markets closer, allowing Ireland to export its renewable energy resources – namely wind energy.

Greenpeace version of an 'iPod' outside Apple's Global HQ at Infinity Loop in Cupertino in California on 15 May 2012. Image courtesy of Greenpeace

Greenpeace version of an ‘iPod’ outside Apple’s Global HQ at Infinity Loop in Cupertino, California, on 15 May 2012. Image courtesy of Greenpeace

It was also the year in which Apple’s Cupertino headquarters in California was targeted by Greenpeace activists. On 15 May, the activists barricaded themselves in a giant Greenpeace version of an iPod to appeal to Apple to power its iCloud using cleaner energy instead of coal.

The move from the activists came following Greenpeace’s publication of the report How Clean is Your Cloud in which it hit out at Apple, Microsoft and Amazon for relying on coal and nuclear energy to deliver their cloud services.

Green financing

In February, took a look at how Ireland is fast becoming a global hub for the green-tech industry. The Green IFSC initiative is aiming to position Ireland right at the epicentre of financing the future green economy.

At the time, assets in green investment funds managed out of Ireland were reported by PricewaterhouseCoopers to have more than doubled in the past two years to reach €2.3bn. The Green IFSC has plans to grow green assets managed in Ireland to US$200bn by 2017.

2012 – International Year of the Bat

A Townsend's big-eared bat. Its average lifespan is 16 years, but bats may live up to 30 years. Such bats are not intrinsic to Ireland. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Townsend’s big-eared bat. Its average lifespan is 16 years, but bats may live up to 30 years. Such bats are not intrinsic to Ireland. Image via Wikimedia Commons

In May, a rather different type of clean-tech event took place in Dublin, when bat experts from around the globe took to the city for the Eurobats conference. The experts gathered at Dublin Castle under the auspices of Eurobats, an international agreement that focuses on the protection of bats in Europe.

One of the main topics that was up for discussion was how to protect bats as a result of wind farm developments.

At the time, Paul Scott from the Irish environmental consultancy Scott Cawley said Ireland is only starting to monitor whether wind farms in the country are having an impact on our existing bat population.

“While wind farms have been proven to impact bats in the US and in mainland Europe, we don’t have any scientific data here in Ireland to conclude whether wind turbines are impacting our nine species of bat,” he said.

Making waves

In terms of new clean-tech ventures, the Irish energy-monitoring company Climote won three awards at the Energy Show in March.

The start-up, which was set up in 2011, has come up with a technology to help people manage their home heating remotely via their smartphones.

At the time, the company’s founders, Derek Roddy and Eamon Conway, claimed Climote’s technology could reduce home heating bills by up to 20pc.

Another company that was in the news was Celestial Green Ventures, a sustainable forestry development firm, which announced it was creating 30 new jobs in February.

The company develops REDD+ forestry projects from which carbon offsets are produced and subsequently traded. CEO Ciaran Kelly said Celestial Green Ventures was likely to take on 10 new hires this year, with an additional 20 set to be hired in 2013.

Andre Fernon, Roy Horgan and Dr Mazhar Bari of SolarPrint

Andre Fernon, Roy Horgan and Dr Mazhar Bari of SolarPrint

And, just this month, Dublin start-up SolarPrint raised €1m in an investment round that included investors from Bank of Ireland Seed Capital, Kernel Capital and a group of private investors.

The company, which was set up in 2008, has pioneered a new type of printed solar cell technology that converts light from any source of energy, including the ambient lighting in your home.

Used in wireless networks, SolarPrint’s technology could signal a powerful new means of helping to create smarter buildings of the future.

Tidal energy

In October, Bord Gáis and the Irish tidal energy technology company OpenHydro were awarded a lease to develop what could be potentially Ireland’s first tidal energy farm.

The Crown Estate awarded the lease to Tidal Ventures, a joint project between OpenHydro and Bord Gáis, to develop a 100MW tidal farm off Torr Head in north Co Antrim. The plan is for the tidal farm to be built by 2020.

An OpenHydro 16m tidal turbine before being deployed off the coast of Brittany, France, in 2011

An OpenHydro 16m tidal turbine before being deployed off the coast of Brittany, France, in 2011

OpenHydro’s chief executive James Ives said the tidal farm, when built, will have the capacity to generate 100MW of energy – enough to power more than 75,000 homes in Northern Ireland.

OpenHydro designs and manufactures marine turbines for generating renewable energy from tidal streams.

Ireland and renewable energy

In May, Ireland’s Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, announced details of the Government’s Strategy for Renewable Energy up to 2020. The policy document contained 36 actions for the country to maximise the economic potential of renewables.

At the time, Rabbitte said Ireland could export as much energy as it consumes.

Key actions in the Government’s plan included increasing onshore and offshore wind-farm developments, building a sustainable bioenergy sector and encouraging R&D in renewables, such as wave and tidal.

“Given the scale of our wind resources, in the medium term we could be exporting wind energy on a scale that matches the total electricity consumption of the country,” Rabbitte said.

Then, in June, Rabbitte and the former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry, MP, met in London, where they agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding on renewable energy trading between the two countries.

Wind power

wind energy

Wind farm developments in Ireland this year included the Northern Ireland company Simple Power opening its first wind turbine in October. Bord Gáis said it would be investing €400m into its wind-farm portfolio to develop a further 250MW of wind energy over the next three years.

Then, in November, Bord Gáis secured a €155m loan from the European Investment Bank to go towards the construction of six wind farms.

In October, Energia and the Irish Infrastructure Fund opened two new wind farms in Co Tyrone.

Bord na Móna announced in December that the build of its €140m Mount Lucas wind farm in Co Offaly would create up to 150 construction jobs.

And, at its autumn conference in October, the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) claimed that Ireland’s wind-energy market could have the potential to create 30,000 jobs by 2020, if the Government were to bring about reforms to the industry.

Among these reforms, the IWEA called for the creation of renewable energy divisions in IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás to help attract wind turbine manufacturers to Ireland. The IWEA also proposed a joint Irish-UK government policy to help Ireland export at least 6GW of wind energy by 2020.


The rotor, weighing around 25 tonnes, is lifted by cranes to the top of the wind turbine tower. Image via Siemens

Finally, Siemens started testing an offshore wind turbine with the world’s largest rotor in October in Østerild, Denmark. The turbine, according to Siemens, has the world’s longest rotor blades – each measuring 75 metres in length.

The company said the rotor will have a swept area of 18,600 metres – almost the equivalent of two and a half football pitches.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic