Engineers Ireland have launched a report on the country’s current infrastructure and recommendations for its digital future, including investment in Ireland’s education, research and broadband.
The engineering body’s report “The State of Ireland 2021: Infrastructure and a digital future” shows that Ireland is performing well in many digital areas. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) published by the European Commission, ranks Ireland as the fifth highest among countries in the EU.
Ireland has shown success in attracting both multinational talent and workers to boost the digital economy, while it had a weakness in both education and telecommunications investment, ranking 58th and 59th in the world for these two areas, according to a report by the Institute for Management Development.
Engineers Ireland president Prof Orla Feely noted the importance of education in the engineering sector, as today’s engineers need to be “all-rounders” with the growth of digitalisation in the sector.
“Core IT skills are more important than ever and digital expertise on sensor networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and virtual reality are becoming a basic prerequisite.” Feely added.
The engineering body believes Ireland can take a leadership role within the EU in the creation of a “supergrid” that would coordinate energy supply across Europe and drive the reduction in global carbon emissions.
Here are the key points Engineers Ireland has recommended for the year ahead.
1: Expedite the National Broadband Plan
Ireland’s National Broadband Plan has been in the “build stage” since 2020, with more than 92,000 premises in the build phase of the project as of June 2021.
The project is slated to be complete by 2027, but delays have raised concerns about that deadline being met.
The report said there are many who need these services immediately and cannot afford a few more years of being “disconnected from the digital community”.
In order to speed up the process, Engineers Ireland recommends the remaining areas that have larger populations are surveyed first.
“For those in less populated areas that will not be serviced by the plan for several years, we recommend that the Government investigate the viability of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband as an interim broadband solution for rural communities.” The report added.
It also recommended offering subsidies for satellite broadband while the network is being built, such as tax credits.
2: National Digital Strategy
The first phase of Ireland’s National Digital Strategy was launched in 2013, with a public consultation on a new strategy held at the end of 2018.
The report recommends Ireland publish and implement the new National Digital Strategy to provide a “whole-of-government” approach, in order to support the digital sector and encouraging digitalisation across Ireland’s businesses and society.
3: Secure Ireland’s energy grid and supply
The rising demand for data centres in Ireland is likely to cause a challenge in energy supply for the country. Last year, EirGrid predicted that data centres could account for a quarter of the country’s electricity usage by 2030.
Engineers Ireland said Ireland needs to accelerate its green energy projects to sustainably meet the growing power requirements. While these projects are being built, Ireland should push for approval for the planned 700MW interconnector between Cork and France.
“Greenlink, a 500 MW interconnector linking the power markets of Great Britain and Ireland is planned for commission in 2024, but it may not be adequate to supply Ireland with enough power.” The report added.
Ireland should also explore the possibility of more interconnectors with the UK and France as well as other countries.
“As a hub for engineering and technical innovation, now is the time for Ireland to drive forward by expanding the capacity of our interconnectors and green energy networks to help future proof national and European energy requirements.” Engineers Ireland registrar Damien Owens said.
4: Invest more in research and development
To help Ireland’s growing digital economy, Engineers Ireland believes the Government should offer more support for entrepreneurs and early-stage investors. This can also be done by investing more in third-level education technology transfer programmes.
“By subsidising more third-level courses that are made open-access and available online, the Government would provide access to digital upskilling and promote interest in digitalisation amongst the general public.”
The report also recommended more funding for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, to promote more research projects in higher education institutions.
Engineers Ireland also noted the growing importance of cybersecurity and said there was a 413pc increase in the number of cyberattacks from June 2020 to June 2021.
“The Government’s National Cybersecurity Strategy to 2024 should be implemented in full. It has a range of systematic measures to protect our nation, develop the cybersecurity sector, and deepen our international engagement on the future of the internet.” The report noted.
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