In a recent Business Post feature, Engineers Ireland explored the future of the sector and, specifically, posited what skills engineers will need to develop over the next decade.
Future in-demand skills will need to align with the green future aspirations for the built environment and the role it must play in decarbonisation globally. In dealing with climate change, Engineers Ireland expresses the need for “creative, flexible, holistic engineering solutions in almost every area”, and emphasises that the sector is already “in the fray” when it comes to upskilling.
In the above Business Post article, titled ‘Engineers step up to the mark to ensure green future’, business development director of Geoscience Ireland, Sean Finlay, warns that guaranteeing future energy supply is an immediate priority and that this is fundamental to Ireland’s continued economic growth. He goes further to say that failure to do so could jeopardise the State’s ability to successfully attract and retain foreign direct investment, or FDI.
While the government is committed to a move away from fossil fuels, and is broadly in favour of developing the potential of offshore wind energy, “we do face a gap. We are not going to be able to fully rely on renewables for some time”.
As with offshore wind, the potential of geothermal energy is immense, however, it requires a proper regulatory framework. A Geothermal Bill was drafted more than a decade ago and this is apparently being “revisited” by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications under energy minister Eamon Ryan.
Government has highlighted renewable energy, electric grid infrastructure, public transport, electric vehicles and home energy retrofitting as priorities, and, as a profession, engineers are at the forefront of developing solutions to the climate emergency.
According to PJ Ryan, convenor of the ACEI Sustainability Committee, “Engineers have already developed new e-mobility solutions for transport which will be the ‘new normal’ in 2030. They will work to develop new solutions to decarbonise the gas grid with the injection of biogas and green hydrogen. Research groups will develop carbon capture and storage and renewable technologies. Energy storage will be crucial for the electricity grid in addition to designing a more resilient and adapted ‘smart grid’, which is harmonised to balance the demands of heat pumps and electric vehicle charging. Another important aspect will be matching energy demand with renewable energy production on an hourly basis in order that energy consumption can be truly carbon free”.
Earlier this year the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, or ACEI, launched its new Sustainability Vision and ACEI members are currently designing energy solutions to help reduce carbon emissions from our homes and environment.
Speaking about the future skills required by engineers, registrar at Engineers Ireland, Damien Owens, explained that engineers already contribute to the development of infrastructure, including energy infrastructure from preliminary concepts, pre-planning and design, scope and design, right through to project management, inspection and certification, health and safety supervision, and much more. He went on to say that “Engineers Ireland recognises, and will respond to, the clear call for new and innovative engineering solutions”, which will be achieved through third-level education that is responsive to current challenges, while preparing for longer-term transitions.
“A ready supply of engineers will be crucial for the delivery of the revised National Development Plan and the government’s climate ambitions.”
Significantly, Engineers Ireland asked leaders and academics ‘Over the next ten years, what skills will engineers need to develop?’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main areas highlighted were digitalisation (BIM, data management and analytics, programming, AR/VR, AI, IoT) and sustainability (environmental impact, energy efficiency, green construction, renewable energy). Most importantly, it was acknowledged that in a changing world, engineers will need to become “highly flexible lifelong learners”.
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