The news that Dublin City University has recently developed a ‘Sustainable Systems and Energy Engineering’ Masters major has been welcomed by two irish islands spokesmen now adopting a new energy approach.

Both Michael Cecil, Rathlin Island Development and Community Association Chairman and Colum O Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Energy Group in Kerry have given a welcome to the new courses. DCU have developed the Masters major and undergraduate degrees enrolling in 2020-21 including modules on Advanced Sustainable Energy Systems that must include a sustainable hydrogen element.

Dr James Carton, DCU Assistant Professor in Energy Sustainability and Hydrogen acknowledges the role the Irish islands can have in this new academic offering saying: “Cormac Walsh of Energy CoOps Ireland and the ‘Valentia Islands’ project aim to build a relationship with DCU around our new sustainable Masters offering, working together on a shared learning journey that may include field trips, guest speakers, project supervision and shared research engagements.”

Michael Cecil maintains that there will be plenty of eager people wanting to complete the new courses and meet the changing world of sustainability head on. Michael points out: “It is encouraging to see DCU launching a new diploma in Sustainable Energy and Masters.  In the North of Ireland, the Universities and Colleges offer a range of renewable energy related training and study options.  The Department for the Economy is supporting a range of free, online, entry level and advanced courses (OCN, City & Guilds, etc) on green technologies, energy management, e-mobility and renewable energy engineering.

“Queen’s University and Ulster University also offer postgraduate courses in green technologies, for example, QUB offers a Foundation Degree in Energy, Environment and Sustainability and UU offers Renewable Energy and Energy Management PgDip/MSc and Renewable Energy Engineering BEng (Hons).

“The growing range of courses suggests there is a growing need from the industry to have a qualified, professional job pool to fish in, as well as an increasing commitment from Governments to encourage and support training opportunities to prepare for the strengthening green industry opportunities.  The rising profile of environmental issues, especially among young people, will also drive the need to supply accessible training and inspiring career pathways.

“Rathlin is already working with QUB to offer opportunities for final year post-graduate students to carry out valuable research on energy uses and possible pathways to a successful transition from fossil fuel dependency to green alternatives.  The Hylanders initiative will continue to provide opportunity for case studies in the obstacles and opportunities manifest in small island communities (transferable also to small rural communities) for the transition from fossil fuels to green energy; case studies that will become more valuable as renewable technologies are tested and implemented.  “

The masters course will provide engineering graduates with the skills to develop as an engineer in Energy, sustainability and environmental policy and compliance, climate change and decarbonisation, Energy audits, carbon foot printing, carbon budgets and economics,  Energy system instrumentation, integration and measurement, Advanced energy systems, transport, energy vectors and emerging renewable energy technologies, energy modelling and analysis. Michael maintains there will be employment opportunities at the end of the courses due to the current interest in hydrogen technology, saying: “Advances in hydrogen technology and transport in Northern Ireland, significantly through the market capabilities of Wrightbus (Co Antrim) and their related company, Ryse Hydrogen, which aims to create a network of hydrogen production and fueling plants will, if supportive levels of Government financing are made available, be able to significantly expand job opportunities.  An announcement at the beginning of December 2020 that Wrightbus have won a £66m contract with the Department for Infrastructure, sets the ambitious goal that by 2022, Northern Ireland’s public transport system will have 100 zero-emission buses, with 80 powered by electric battery and 20 by hydrogen fuel cell.   This investment in hydrogen, and  low-emission buses, is a promising investment for the wider energy sector, and will have a positive impact on jobs and on education, training and career pathways. Northern Ireland has an available work force and already has natural energy resources and technologies to become a world-leader with timely investment.  “

The islands partnerships with educational institutions does create more options. Michael argues: “If the industry is prepared to adopt the island’s availability for use as a test bed for renewables, especially hydrogen, alternatives to current fossil fuel dependency, there will be ideal opportunities for further partnerships with educational institutes. 

“The development of the Rathlin East Lighthouse Centre as a space where science, business, education, research and the arts can meet together to explore innovative solutions to global issues, in the practical context of a community striving to address the local impacts of these same issues, will strengthen the creative opportunities for good partnership between the island community and other players in the game. “

Likewise Colum in Valentia understands the alliance that can be built, saying: “We certainly believe the local economy and the practical application of hydrogen to everyday life in Valentia would be a natural draw for academia. Though hydrogen is a proven energy vector, it is still in its infancy in terms of lifecycle development, and so there is a lot more of development and innovation that can come, and this starts with academia. “

Paul McCormack the coordinator of GenComm which seeks to utilise hydrogen as the catalyst to develop energy secure communities stated ‘the green recovery of Europe will be about people not just technology. We need to upskill the engineers, technicians and installers to optimise these new technologies and deliver zero carbon solutions in our energy provision. As we make a just transition from the old to new dynamic economy, green energy solutions will be critical. However the low carbon sector needs investment in skills that will deliver these new technologies and sustainability for the economy. Through our work in GenComm, HAZEL and other renewable energy projects we are working with partners developing the courses and training necessary to meet the challenges and deliver innovation in society.’

 The Deputy Chair of Stormont’s Economy Committee, Sinead Mc Laughlin said: “The restructuring of the energy market to eliminate carbon emissions can be excellent news for our society, providing the opportunity is grasped. “

Welcoming exciting technologies such as the battery storage of electricity and green hydrogen she added: “Northern Ireland has academic researchers and businesses at the cutting edge of understanding how these technologies can transform our society and the prospects for our economy. Supporting these can provide jobs and wealth for our society. “

In the Annual Energy Recruitment and Employment Trends Report (2019), 48% of energy professionals are concerned about a impending talent emergency, while 32% believe the crisis has already hit the sector, and 28% report that their company has been affected by a skills shortage. Meanwhile the Global Energy Talent Index shows that 45% of employers in the renewable energy sector believe they can overcome this skills gap if enough qualified ,skilled graduates are available.

Queens University students have studied data in relation to Rathlin, and there is a value in this educational tie in for both parties according to Michael who says: “The QUB students’ contribution to data gathering and research on Rathlin Island has been invaluable.  The work itself is the outcome of many years of relationship building and development with the Rathlin Policy and the Ministerial Forum that oversees the action plan for the policy.  It marked a moment when discourse on the Policy commitment to the decarbonization of the island became practical and the resulting research has informed subsequent grant applications and project engagements that take the island further along the transition pathway.

“We also recognize the opportunity for the island community to be a valuable partner for others and, in this case, to contribute to the University’s educational development opportunities.  The energy audit was carried out and overseen with such competence that as well as providing valuable material for Rathlin’s development it became an award-winning thesis for the student who has since entered successful and promising employment in a related field. A second student is now following a similar pathway and we are hopeful that this success will consolidate our relationship with our regional Universities and provide opportunities for much more of the same. “

The ‘Hylanders’ desire an energy security and independence for their islands. Michael continues: “Remote and often isolated communities including small populated offshore Islands by their geographical location almost always sit at the end of fragile energy supply chains. They seldom if ever have a means to produce energy from fossil fuels and often suffer from poorly serviced and insulated dwellings. Enabling and empowering those communities to take control of their power needs as well as potentially providing much needed economic return will enhance a greater “sense of place”. “

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnston talks of a new ‘green industrial revolution’. For many observers the islands are leading new thinking in terms of the hydrogen economy. Both Rathlin and Valentia islands are leading on the green commercial and tourism evolution. Hylanders is an evolutionary route. Michael says: “ The islands, although not yet ahead in the practical implementation of the green industrial revolution, are increasingly familiar with the narrative.  There is a desire to see the energy security and strength increase and for the community to become net producers rather than customers.  The community’s support for the alternative solutions that have been proposed for exploration and eventual implementation has been, and is, clear and strong.  Much of the groundwork has been done on which a green industrial revolution can be built without opposition and with significant welcome.  The islands recognize the need to address issues of green energy, energy security and alternatives to the destructive use of fossil fuels.  This is driven by the community’s vulnerable economy but also to an immediate closeness to our environment and a recognition of our reliance on it and the need to protect the hand that feeds us.  The closer we get to practical implementation of pilot models and to adopting new technologies the stronger will be our commitment to a just transition for all.  For the islands to get ahead of the game will increase the sense of pride and value in our environment and our desire to share the experience and the commitment with others as the offer of a good example.”

Colum speaking with regard to the Valentia experience says: “We believe that Valentia is strategically set up to meet any government’s strategic plan on Climate Change. The Hydrogen as an energy vector, is critical to addressing the carbon challenges of critical sectors such as rural heating and the marine industry. These have typically proven challenging in terms of carbon reduction. Not only are we looking to position ourselves as producers of Hydrogen, but our STEM education program will enable us to create alliances to academic courses such as the masters in sustainable energy systems in DCU.

“Valentia is ideally suited for an off grid solution such as a floating offshore renewable energy source producing hydrogen. The very nature of the grid in south Kerry means it is virtually impossible to add significant loads onto the grid. An off grid solution such as hydrogen ensures an abundant source of energy such as wind, which is available along the south Kerry coast it put to optimum use.”

Leave a comment