Energy infrastructure delivering but investment required

Energy infrastructure delivering but investment required

27 February 2012 at 00:00

Energy infrastructure in Ireland has served the country well but is now facing significant challenges, including security of supply, competitiveness and carbon emission targets, according to Engineers Ireland’s annual assessment of the country’s infrastructure.

The publication of the report, ‘The State of Ireland 2012 – a review of infrastructure in Ireland’, marks the beginning of Engineers Week 2012 (www.engineersweek.ie) which runs until Sunday, March 4, and states Ireland struggles to meet peak demand in the infrastructural areas of transport, water and waste, which all require significant investment and better maintenance. Ireland’s regional communications infrastructure is improving but overall country-wide deficiencies in this area still hamper producer and consumer needs, according to the Engineers Ireland assessment.  
 
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, launching Engineers Week 2012 and the report today in Buswells Hotel stated: “As my portfolio ranges across, energy, exploration and communications, I have some appreciation for the important role that infrastructure plays in our everyday lives and I also appreciate that engineers make infrastructure.” 
 
“Ireland needs to engineer its way to the knowledge-based society that we all agree is our future. We need more engineers. We need them now, and we need them in future. We need schools to make maths and physics interesting and we need young people to choose engineering as a career. That’s why I welcome the initiative that is Engineers Week. It’s a week of activities all over the country intended to capture the imagination of our young people.”
 
The report, which uses a grading system applied by expert members of Engineers Ireland, analyses five key areas of Ireland’s infrastructure: energy, transport, water, waste and communications.  Energy infrastructure, allocated a ‘B’ grade, achieved the best mark of the five areas evaluated.  The ‘B-’ allocated to communications, an improvement on Engineers Ireland’s 2011 appraisal of this sector, reflects the advances made in broadband speeds.  The other three areas received a ‘C’ grade, with none of the sectors assessed achieving the highest possible ‘A’ grade.
 
Speaking at the launch, John Power, Director General of Engineers Ireland, said the report was the second in a series intended to promote improvement in our international competitiveness through productive infrastructure.  “The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has stated the core focus of capital investment is the upkeep of existing infrastructure, rather than investment in new projects. Engineers Ireland acknowledges the reality of the need to reduce public expenditure. Nonetheless, capital investment is vital to meet the Government’s desire to stimulate the economy and meet its stated job creation objectives outlined in the Action Plan for Jobs. Crucially, vital skills are being lost to the Irish economy and the Irish construction industry through the absence of major infrastructural projects. This report is intended as our contribution to the debate on building the future of Ireland. It recognises the challenges facing the country and sets out fundamental steps which should be taken to meet those challenges.”
 
The report outlines a vision for Ireland’s energy infrastructure that comprises a reliable, competitive, sustainable supply of energy to meet the needs of Irish society and its economy, and possibly provide a source of income through the export of natural energy resources.  It states Ireland’s transport system is of mixed quality, where top quality signature projects sit alongside much poorer infrastructure. The development of an integrated and competitive transport network which meets the needs of a growing economy by providing internal and external connectivity of the very highest standard is paramount according to the report.
 
The document says investment over the last decade has helped to improve water quality, which had been deteriorating.  Challenges remain, however, in flood protection and in mitigating the effects of climate change.  The vision should be to develop a safe, healthy, plentiful supply of water at low cost, as well as effective management of the quality of water resources and improvement of resilience to the increased dangers of flooding.
 
The waste industry is proactively moving towards an integrated approach to waste management and to a position where waste is considered a resource which can generate energy and employment while retaining an ongoing commitment to recycling.  However, recycling ambitions and the need to meet EU objectives must be taken into account.  The deficiencies of Ireland’s communications infrastructure prevent it from meeting producer and consumer needs according to the report. It emphasises that Ireland needs to have a fast and reliable communications infrastructure which drives the knowledge economy and compensates for our peripheral status.
 
Engineers Week 2012, a week long programme of nationwide events run by Engineers Ireland with the aim of highlighting the importance of the engineering sector and the need for more graduates with technical skills to meet the Irish economy’s needs, runs until Sunday, March 4.  An estimated 255 events will take place nationwide over the course of the week.  To find out more information about events taking place near you or to register your attendance log onto www.engineersweek.ie.