Energy, Energy Transition, Future of Infrastructure, Ireland

Conor Cooney leads AECOM’s energy team in Ireland with recent clients including SSE, ESB and Energia across technology areas such as solar, hydrogen and biofuel thermal generation. Here he shares his thoughts on why energy independence and security within the island of Ireland is so important – and what can be done to achieve it.

AECOM’s recently published global research report on the energy transition serves up timely data and insight into the massive shift currently taking place in the way energy is produced, consumed and managed across the world.

As energy practice lead for Ireland, one point from Lost in Transition? really resonated.

“The energy transition is broader than a shift to carbon neutrality. For many nations, it is also a path toward energy independence and security and, ultimately, to lowering the cost of energy.”

Recognition of this on the island of Ireland cannot come soon enough. Both ROI and NI are lagging when meeting their 2030 targets for clean electricity delivery. The rollout of renewables is being hobbled by grid bottlenecks, rising cost of capital and slow planning processes.

Such delays and issues could have a steep cost for Ireland in terms of instability and insecurity of energy supply. As Lost in Transition? says, “energy security has risen up the political agenda across multiple governments. In Europe, many countries [have] sought to diversify their dependence on imported pipeline gas.”

Ireland is no exception to energy instability: as an interim measure, we are seeing standalone gas projects fast-tracked through planning and approvals to meet rising electricity demand. In contrast, the planning wait time for an onshore wind project can take years.

At AECOM, we are seeing some welcome progress in the face of these challenges. For instance, we are helping Energia build out an ambitious solar programme; supporting SSE to deliver offshore wind and low carbon power generation to bridge gaps in renewable supply; delivering innovative hydrogen projects for ESB; and are providing EPUKi with robust environmental reporting to ensure consistency and success with their future planning applications. But more can be done.

Time to think big

The pace of change needs to pick up to close the gap between ambition and implementation in Ireland. We need to think big. The time has come to scale up – moving away from single, one-off projects to programmes of work, delivered in a way that seeks to share learnings and resources while also obtaining benefits for clients otherwise not attainable if project elements were managed separately.

It may sound paradoxical, but the development of local, indigenous, low-carbon energy supply on the island needs an international, outward-looking mindset. The scale of the challenge demands it. Global expertise, investment and political willpower must be sourced and shared. Looking ahead, cross-country collaboration – as Lost in Transition? argues – will be required to transmit new clean energy from the point of generation in Ireland to the wider European energy market.

Practical, profitable, predictable, and people centric

It is good to see the data from the qualitative and quantitative research carried out with senior executives from Europe and elsewhere published in Lost in transition?. Even better to see those insights, recommendations and success stories turned into practical, profitable, predictable and people-centric strategies to accelerate the transition to net zero.

The challenges when shifting towards a decarbonised island of Ireland, and a cleaner global economy are manifold – but so too are the opportunities for energy independence and security by harnessing our huge renewable energy potential onshore and offshore. We must keep that goal firmly in our sights.

Want to read more?

Register here to receive your copy of the Ireland Annual Review 2024, which this year contains special reports on the energy transition across both ROI and NI.  You’ll find industry expert commentary and insights into the challenges, opportunities and progress being made on the journey to a low-carbon economy.

The Ireland Annual Review has been a fixture in the industry calendar for more than 30 years. In each edition, we examine economic and construction performance across Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) over the past 12 months.

You will also find our market forecast for the year ahead – including estimated tender price increases and indicative building costs.

By registering, you will be the first to receive a copy of the Ireland Annual Review 2024 when it launches in January 2024.

Conor Cooney

Originally published Dec 11, 2023

Author: Conor Cooney

Conor Cooney is AECOM’s Energy Practice Lead for Ireland.