Speakers full of energy for conference

AS an island nation, energy costs and energy sources for transport matter more to us than to most other countries: being competitive while keeping the wheels of motion and transport oiled means considering alternatives to oil and fossil-based fuels.

Transport’s a big energy guzzler, accounting for a quarter of world energy demand, and burning half the world’s oil output each year. Transport and energy matter, as do sustainability and energy efficiency, with concerns over climate change, security of energy supply, and environmental pollution. This is more important for a Europe with limited fossil fuel reserves, more so again in Ireland with practically none.

That’s why 200 people are using their own energy and resources to travel (via jet, ferry, rail, bus, car and bike) to an All-Ireland conference in UCC at the end of this month, at which 80 specialist papers will be delivered.

It’s just the second time that transport and energy have been paired so closely, as themes in the Irish Transport Research Network Conference (ITRN2011), and there’s a heavy-hitting calibre of visitors and papers. They’ll range from the macro, like transport electrification from Dr Mary Reidy, of the US National Grid, and Laura Burke, director of the EPA, to the cutting edge of industry, from the likes of Renault, from Marvin Cooke of Toyota, and Ralph Griewing, head of electromobility in Siemens worldwide.

There’s also more down-home studies on things like integrated public travel, future strategic planning of bus routes, integrated ticketing and maximising bike lanes to cut urban sprawl and commuter crawl. There’s even an assessment on the infrastructure investment that was needed to re-open the Cork-Midleton rail line after years of public and political clamouring.

In case you’d think it was all for train-spotters, academics and anoraks, its organiser, EPA research fellow, UCC’s Dr Aoife Foley (back in academia after 16 years in industry) will quickly put you back on track. “All these efforts will make Cork and UCC a worldwide centre of energy research excellence. Life has to get greener and more sustainable. We live in an era of increasing population growth worldwide and less natural resources. I always think of my kids in this regard. It’s human nature to want more of things, but we must do so considering the environment and the future of the planet,” she says.

On a grounded, even upbeat level, “it’s about Ireland’s energy future. Energy and transport R&D is a great jobs opportunity for Ireland. Improvements in transport sustainability will be driven by R&D with better use of our existing transportation infrastructure, smarter use of information communication technology and the application of alternative fuel vehicles,” says Dr Foley. “We have some interesting sessions, two devoted to cyclists, one dedicated to alternative-fuelled vehicles, such as compressed natural gas and electric vehicles. There is even a paper entitled Commuting: A Virtual Poll Tax across Irish Regions,” she says.

The international conference is billed as All Ireland, with local organisation backed by TCD’s Dr Brian Caulfield and Dr Aoife Ahern from UCD. Minister of State Alan Kelly, TD (public transport and commuter affairs), Bord Gais Eireann’s CEO John Mullins CEO and UCC President Michael Murphy will mix with European speakers, US visitors, even delegates from Malaysia, and given the importance of transport and energy to an island nation, sponsors, appropriately, are Bord Gais Networks, Port of Cork, Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

Work on getting the several hundred delegates and dozens of speakers to Cork as efficiently as possible is ongoing since September. Showing mobility and energy on her own terms, Aoife Foley (whose specialisms include transport electrification and climate change and energy storage, and who has worked with Sustainable Energy Research Group’s Dr Brian O’Gallachoir), is about to depart Cork for Belfast’s Queen’s University for a new lecturing post shortly after the August 31 event. She’s not quite jumping ship from UCC, as research links will continue via the new QUB renewable energy centre of excellence in the Titanic Quarter.

Both colleges, UCC and QUB, have a strong commitment to renewable energy research (UCC in its ERI, Tyndall, marine and engineering departments), and both centres of learning and research were founded in 1845. That’s the same year that UCC’s first president Robert Kane published Industrial Resources of Ireland, promoting Ireland’s water power potential.

Roll on 165 years, and investment in research in energy storage, in pumped hydro (think Wicklow’s Turlough Hill) is quite probably a topic for another day, in Aoife’s diary.

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