Up to 20 posts will be filled this year at the centre, which aims to become a hub for energy research and development in the State. It also aims to become an international centre for excellence, NUI Galway (NUIG) says.
Researchers from Teagasc, the Marine Institute, partner universities and other international bodies will collaborate with the centre, directed by Prof Vincent O’Flaherty. It is based in the university’s Environmental Change Institute, to which more than 100 researchers in college are affiliated.
Prof O’Flaherty aims to take a “holistic approach”, focusing not only on research but also on education and outreach. The initiative will build on NUIG’s reputation in bio-energy, energy efficient technologies, renewable resources and energy policy, he says.
Potential for new approaches extends from electricity-producing micro-organisms to smarter wind power, Prof O’Flaherty says. “The challenge is to integrate science-driven understanding with engineering-based implementation,” he notes.
“For future economic growth, this is one of the few areas where a positive outlook is guaranteed. If we can upscale our energy research and take a more co-ordinated approach nationally, there is a clear opportunity for Ireland to take a leadership role in this critical field.”
Last year, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan initiated a €26 million ocean energy programme, but the outgoing US ambassador to Ireland, Thomas C Foley, was among those critical of the slow pace of development. He said the west coast could be the location for a technological cluster which would attract investment.
Ireland’s natural advantage, due to latitude, weather, Atlantic location and current sources of fossil-fuel-based electrical power, gave it a distinct economic fillip, Mr Foley said.
“Yet it doesn’t feel to me that people are aware that they are in a race here,” the ambassador said.
Late last year, a new Oireachtas sub-committee was established to create jobs through the use of renewable energy resources. Its remit is to focus on opportunities for renewable energy projects in rural and undeveloped areas of the State.
Dundalk Institute of Technology’s Centre for Renewable Energy was one of the first groups to address the new sub-committee.