The net gain if Ireland deploys smarter infrastructure

3 Nov 2011

Time for smart thinking: Martin Shanahan, CEO, Forfás

Advances in smart technology will help to significantly reduce the cost of deploying Ireland’s future infrastructure, such as energy grids, transport systems and vital water supply.

As an example, the projected cost of deploying the future Grid 25 energy network could be reduced by close to €1bn largely through use of like smart sensors and meters, according to a new report by Forfás.

The report, Intelligent Infrastructure – Realising the Competitiveness Benefits and Enterprise Opportunities, claims that by harnessing next-generation broadband technologies, sensors and analytical software, the cost of deploying and managing critical infrastructure will be reduced.

Forfás reckons the following areas can benefit enormously using smarter infrastructure:

  • Energy – the ESRI has estimated that the rollout of smart electricity metering could result in a net gain to the economy over the next 15 years of more than €174m through reduced energy usage and environmental benefits. A smart gas metering pilot study has also found potential savings of €50m over the next 20 years.
  • Transport – intelligent transport systems such as barrier-free tolling on the M50 and the use of sensors to monitor traffic and sequence traffic lights will help reduce congestion and fuel costs.
  • Water – smart technologies like sensors are already being used to monitor and control water and waste water. Expanding use of this technology will cut down on waste and reduce operational costs.

Forfás CEO Martin Shanahan says it was the way forward for critical infrastructure to use the latest technologies such as sensors, analytical software and communications technology.

Mobile machine-to-machine (M2M) devices with their own SIMs, for example, could be used to transmit greater amounts of information and ensure everything functions at peak performance.

Deploying these technologies is a new phenomenon and one that Ireland could take a lead in.


“In the context of significantly reduced budgets, we need to develop smart solutions to leverage the significant investments already made to deliver the world-class infrastructure required to support enterprise growth and job creation and ensure (Ireland is) known as a location which is committed to competitive infrastructure provision,” says Shanahan.

“Intelligent infrastructure solutions can play a substantial role in reducing the burden on the Exchequer.

“Advanced technologies can also be used to create revenue-raising opportunities and improve competitiveness.

“Take for example Grid 25. The projected cost for that project has been reduced from €4bn to €3.2bn largely through advances in smart technology.”

Shanahan says that rolling out intelligent infrastructure could result in opportunities for new goods and services and thereby result in new jobs.

For example, IBM is already creating 200 new jobs in west Dublin at its first-ever IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre, which aims to revolutionise how cities provide services, such as water and transport.

“The global market for the goods and services needed to provide intelligent infrastructure solutions is growing rapidly,” he explains.

“Ireland has a number of strengths which can be leveraged to realise some of these international opportunities, such as a strong ICT base, a good research base in relevant areas and a strong track record as a base for test bedding intelligent infrastructure solutions.

“To realise the competitiveness benefits and enterprise opportunities it will be necessary for public policy to facilitate the deployment of intelligent infrastructure solutions in Ireland and to provide strategic support to realise the enterprise opportunities for the development of new goods and services for export.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years