Knowledge is power
At the flick of a switch lights come on, kettles boil and TV and computer screens spring instantly to life. The power grid is arguably the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century, yet it is something most people take completely for granted.
Who: Electricity Research Centre, EirGrid, ESB Networks
What: Research into future power generation and supply systems
When: Ongoing since 1991
Why: To position EirGrid and ESB Networks at the vanguard of major changes in their industry
Electricity is the seamless, behind the scenes facilitator of modern life and Irish consumers rarely experience disruption to their supply. The Irish electricity system has always been well managed and continues to be so today
under the direction of EirGrid and ESB Networks which are responsible for power transmission and distribution respectively.
Like electricity companies everywhere at this time, both organisations are experiencing a period of unprecedented change. The challenges they face are many and range from maintaining efficient distribution networks to successfully
integrating renewable energy sources into the power system. Close links between Eirgrid, ESB Networks and the UCD based Electricity Research Centre (ERC) have ensured that all three organisations are up to speed with the latest
industry-leading research in their sectors. In return the ERC benefits from grounding its research in relevant problems as identified by its industry partners. “The relationship with EirGrid and ESB Networks gives us access to real data and we’re working on problems that matter now, not on some remote, abstract research,” explains ERC founder, Professor Mark O’Malley.
“The electricity supply and generation set up here is small on a global scale but big enough to be meaningful in terms of how it is planning for the future. Both EirGrid and ESB
Networks are progressive, far seeing organisations and one can’t underestimate the value to a research group of having such a well-established working relationship with them,” he says.
EirGrid’s director of corporate affairs, planning and strategy, Michael Walsh, says the energy sector is open minded and interested in innovation regardless of where it comes from. “The last 20 years have seen huge growth and increasing complexity within our industry and for us there is enormous benefit in being able to tap into the research and expertise of entities such as the ERC,” he says. “What they’re doing gives us a window on world research and on the future for our industry and this helps inform our strategic thinking. We are keen to tap into this innovation for the benefit of our customers and consumers.
“We have also attracted staff through working with the ERC and they bring strong research backgrounds and a body of knowledge that will allow us to become world leaders in the integration of renewable energy sources,” Walsh adds. “We have an input into the research they do and give them actual problems to deal with which makes their research relevant and interesting internationally. The Irish grid is small but of a scale that allows us to support major industries such as the big pharma and ICT producers. We are working with companies that require a world-class power system that is reliable, affordable and has a guarantee of quality and supply. Interacting with the ERC is one of the ways of ensuring that we continue to do this.”
Jerry O’Sullivan, chief executive of ESB Networks says the collaboration with the ERC has really worked for his organisation because the research has been focused on current needs. “The quality of the people working in the ERC
is second to none and we have benefited from having their knowledge applied to the kind of research work that makes a practical difference for us,” he says. “We are working towards implementing the vision contained in our 2020 Sustainable Networks Strategy and have set ourselves the objective of becoming a world-class sustainable networks business,” O’Sullivan adds. “However, this brings enormous challenges as the targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency are quite daunting.
Our networks will play a key role in the integration and penetration of renewable energy sources and in areas such as demand side management and transport electrification. We will have to make our networks smarter, more accessible, more flexible, more efficient and more costeffective. This is quite a check list but the ERC engages in the sort of quality, applied research that will help us meet these business objectives.”