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Shannon Energy Valley

A world-class cluster of sustainable energy-related activities in the Mid-West of Ireland, comprising industry & commerce, supporting services, research & development, and education.

The Mid-West region is ideally positioned to become the centre for sustainable energy in Ireland, based on its natural resources, existing infrastructure, availability of skilled and semi-skilled workforce, and its strength in research & development and innovation. This cluster will benefit Ireland's economy and environment, as well as having a dramatic impact on the much-needed development and re-vitalisation of the Mid-West region.

Objectives

  • Creation of a world-class cluster of sustainable energy-related activity to support job creation and business start-ups through national and international investment

  • Reduction of Ireland's carbon footprint, energy generation costs, dependency on fossil fuel imports and helping the country meet environmental and emissions commitments

  • Enhancing Ireland's capability in the sustainable energy sector by attracting world-class R&D energy expertise, realizing its commercial benefits and enabling further advanced R&D activities

  • Growing Ireland's smart economy by developing additional education and training capability at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in specialized energy disciplines

Background

In the early 1990s a group of prominent business leaders and politicians formed a vision of a vibrant financial services industry in Ireland. Centred around Dublin's Docklands area, the idea quickly progressed towards reality. Educational providers designed relevant programmes, and leading players in the international financial services sector were enticed. Today, the Irish Financial Services sector has become a wonderful success story, to the extent that in 2005 it was estimated that one in every 40 people working in the country was employed in financial services.

Recent economic developments have made investment in the Shannon Region an imperative. A group involving the University of Limerick, National University of Ireland Galway, Shannon Development and the Irish Technology Leaders Group (ITLG) have come together with a vision of creating an initiative similar to that of financial services but in the area of energy and centred on the Shannon region. The initiative has been named the Shannon Energy Valley with the overall goal being to create a national hub for energy research & development, industry and commerce which would attract mobile international investment and generate high-end employment.

Ireland tends to be sub-divided by industry sector - the Dublin area is seen as the centre for ICT companies, Galway the centre for biomedicine and Cork the centre for the pharmaceutical industry, for example. The energy sector is a new and emerging one and is appropriate that it be centred in the Shannon region. The past historical resonances are particularly powerful as the Ardnacrusha project on the Shannon in the 1920s was the largest renewable energy project the world had ever seen at that time. However, with a view to the present, the initiative is based on the fact that the Shannon region has large-scale coal, oil and gas generating stations along with excellent grid connectivity infrastructure already in place, and a liquid natural gas terminal under construction. Finally with respect to the future, by 2020, 10 billion will be spent on the design, development and construction of wind-farms in Ireland, the majority of which will be within one hour of the Shannon Energy Valley. Energy supply and CO2 abatement represent a more urgent problem for Ireland than any other country with the exception of Singapore and Hong Kong. Our goal must be to solve this problem for Ireland and then export those solutions.

Energy research in Ireland has typically been emergent, ad-hoc and fragmented without a coherent strategy for achieving targets set out in the various policy documents. The Shannon Energy Valley concept seeks to provide a big-picture coherent ecosystem relating to energy. The main research partners, UL and NUIG, will combine their research efforts in a coherent way from the outset, and will be complemented by the other research bodies in the region. The educational partners will also provide a range of undergraduate and post-graduate programs right up to PhD level to provide the necessary human capital for the project. In addition, UL has created a Professorial position in Energy, due to be appointed in 2010.

Both UL and NUIG have been to the forefront in research commercialisation in recent years, and the formal alliance between the two institutions will allow greater leverage of this. Following a translational approach, fundamental research will be translated into industry practice through demonstrator projects in the Energy and Environment Park. Shannon Development will provide assets in the form of appropriate land-banks for the Energy and Environment Park, and will also spearhead the policy aspect which requires that the necessary planning policies, capital allowances and tax incentives are established to make the initiative feasible and to attract the appropriate foreign direct investment in the sector. Other agencies and public bodies will clearly have a role here also. The energy providers in Ireland will also form an important part of the Shannon Energy Valley in addition to foreign direct investment. The ITLG group will provide mentor networks and facilitate access to expertise and venture capital necessary to fully realise the vision. The benefits in terms of job creation are evident with both immediate short terms jobs in the creation of necessary infrastructure but also excellent potential for value creation and highly skilled jobs through both re-training and advanced training in a targeted long term growth area represented by the sustainable energy sector.