If Ireland pursues energy efficiency strategies there is no doubt new green jobs can be created, the head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland Barbara Nolan told Siliconrepublic.com today.
With green energy predicted to be the single biggest economic opportunity for Ireland in the coming decades, an all-island conference held today in Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland today explored the green job opportunities specifically around energy efficiency and ways in which the construction industry can diversify into the area and create green jobs.
Hosted by the European Commission Representation in Ireland, the conference featured a host of experts and policy makers who thrashed out ideas about innovative solutions to make the island of Ireland more energy efficient, exploring links between the North and South in Ireland and looking at ways for co-operation on energy efficiency.
Chair of the conference, Barbara Nolan, who is also head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, presented the statistic that Ireland currently depends on imports for over 80pc of its energy consumption, as a backdrop to how to progress from here with the all-island future green economy.
Barbara Nolan, head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland
"The purpose of today’s conference was to try to get better co-operation between North and South on addressing the whole area of energy efficiency and also – in making these energy efficiency measures – to pursue the potential for creating green jobs," said Nolan.
She said the whole issue of energy efficiency "doesn’t stop at borders".
"We have to have a more coherent approach on an island basis as this is an island that is importing too much energy."
Nolan added that this dependence on energy imports has to be "seriously addressed on a pragmatic basis".
"We all have to think about what steps to take, including renovating homes and buildings, harnessing innovation and smart technologies and ensuring that future projects take energy efficiency into account."
Many energy stakeholders were present at the conference, from the public and private sectors, North and South. For instance, Glen Dimplex CEO Seán O’Driscoll spoke at the conference, as did ESB Electric Ireland CEO Padraig McManus.
Others who spoke at the conference included Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness; environmental architect and television presenter, Duncan Stewart; Prof John FitzGerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland (ESRI) and Giovanni De Santi of the European Commission. It also included a presentation on the Dundalk 2020 and Newry Low Carbon City projects.
Giovanni De Santi of the European Commission , MEP Mairead McGuinness, MEP and environmental architect Duncan Stewart
Retrofitting houses – green jobs opportunity
Nolan said many of the speakers at the conference today spoke about the retrofitting of houses to achieve better insulation and reduce the amount of energy they require and the resulting green job opportunities
"Clearly since we have a lot of construction workers unemployed at present it could be an interesting area in which to perhaps retrain them for this purpose," she said.
"You also have the development of products that would require lower energy use – that would be more in the engineering capacity and upper range of skills in terms of devising products like that.
"Energy is not going to get any cheaper, particularly energy that is dependent on fossil fuels because these will all eventually expire because they are not renewable."
In terms of green start-up potential, Nolan pointed to how the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, announced that he would be bringing out a new policy paper on energy efficiency in the coming months.
"We will have to wait for the details of that to see what is planned but there was quite a lot of interest in that particular announcement."
Push on retrofitting needed
Asked whether there are enough green energy conversion courses for construction workers in Ireland right now, Nolan said firstly there needs to be a "big push" to do retrofitting and to support it.
She pointed to examples of initiatives that have taken place in Northern Ireland to retrofit social housing.
"Obviously it is costly and there isn’t a lot of public money available at the moment for making schemes but it is an area where there could be potential. I mean it is not a goal in itself to create jobs, but in pursuing energy efficiency policies there is the potential for new green jobs."
Biggest economic opportunity for Ireland?
Alex Attwood, MLA, Minister for the Environment on the Northern Ireland Executive, said it was his "growing belief" that "renewable and green energy is the single biggest economic opportunity for Ireland in the coming decades".
Adding to Attwood’s words Nolan agreed that green energy is a big opportunity for Ireland.
"It ties in nicely with the goal of reducing Ireland’s massive dependence on imports of energy with also the goal of creating more jobs and particularly jobs that would require at least some of the skills of people for example who may be unemployed from the construction area."
Also speaking at the Conference in Dundalk today, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte pointed to how energy efficiency is an area of increasing investment and innovation in Ireland.
"It will provide the foundation for the best use of our energy supply, creating new opportunities for our country and ultimately contributing to economic growth through new jobs and investment."
"The potential to exploit wind and wave and to harness it, to put it into the national grid, and become a major energy exporter is achievable.
These are exciting times for job creation through energy efficiency and I want us to ride that wave," added Minister Attwood.
Phasing out 60-watt lightbulbs in the EU
Nolan added that it was fitting that the conference was held on the very day that 60-watt light bulbs are to be phased out and replaced by more efficient alternatives across the EU.
Giving the following analogy she said: "By changing all the light bulbs in their homes, European families can save 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – the equivalent of taking seven million cars off the road."
More on energy efficiency and the EU
The European Commission Representation in Ireland hosted this first all-Island conference to address the challenges involved in making the EU 20pc more energy efficient than it was in 2005 by 2020,
On 22 June of this year, the European Commission launched the proposed Energy Efficiency Directive, which contains a set of measures which encourage EU member state governments to step up their efforts to achieve the Europe 2020 target, use energy more efficiently and thereby potentially reducing energy bills and creating jobs.
The EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050 will be launched in the autumn of this year.