The Monday Interview: Winds of change blowing into Cork

Dr Cian Desmond. Picture: Clare Keogh

With 900 people from 38 countries coming to Cork next month for a major international wind energy science conference, it is time to focus on the incredible renewable energy resources in the country, according to Cian Desmond.

The Blarney, Co Cork native works at the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI), where his research is primarily focused on offshore wind energy.

He will chair the Wind Energy Science Conference 2019 taking place over four days at UCC, organised on behalf of the European Academy of Wind Energy in association with MaREI.

“Previously this conference covered two topics — the wind and the turbine. What we’ve done is broaden it out to include other types of scientists and engineers. 

"A substantial part of that is social, economic and policy, and then the likes of electrical systems and safety, environmental issues. If you want to tackle the problems facing sustainable development, you need a multi-disciplinary approach.

“It’s not enough to say here is a wind turbine, let’s stick it here. You need to work out what the social impact of that is, to make sure the people nearby are invested in it, that they are getting the benefit out of it. That is why the social and economic aspect of the conference is a big growth area, along with the environmental and safety aspects,” Mr Desmond said.

The current focus on renewable energy and sustainability is encouraging but everyone must feel like a stakeholder, not just those involved in the industry, according to Mr Desmond.

“We were all obsessed after the recession about getting the country back on its feet, but now we are becoming more mindful of sustainable practices and lifestyles such as veganism, electric vehicles and changing the energy mix.

Wind energy is a fantastic option in this country. The technology is mature, we’ve got extraordinary resources, we’re world leaders in terms of the amount of wind energy we can integrate into the grid system, but the challenge is the social and economic side of it. Solving those challenges takes a multidisciplinary approach.

“They’re Ferraris in the sky, they are as efficient as you can get. But the people who are hosting them need to get a benefit out of it. Wind energy is a real opportunity for rural Ireland if we can get the business model right,” he said.

All forms of renewable energy should be part of the national conversation, not just wind, according to Mr Desmond. 

“The message doesn’t however need to be that it is wind and nothing else. The discussion shouldn’t be around ‘my technology is better than yours’. 

"It is multiple technologies. We have to have the wind turbines, the solar panels, the biogas and hydrogen production. It is a mix of energies.

“There’s no silver bullet here, but a broad range of technologies. You can’t only be generating energy when the wind is blowing, you need to have other sources feeding into the mix also.”

Floating wind is the next big thing with the way the industry is going, he said, and there are great benefits in terms of being able to mass produce platforms.

“With floating wind, there is a great opportunity for mass production. But then there are also challenges. The focus of our research is the combined effects of the water and the air — aerodynamic and hydrodynamic forces. 

"Offshore wind is currently very expensive, so our research is about getting a better picture of what is going on.”

What is happening in MaREI is world-leading research, he said.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

“The work being done MaREi is staggering. We are involved in projects all over Europe and the world. We’re got the engineers, marine biologists, electrical engineers, economists and policy people. 

"They are all working on these beautiful projects. I’ve wanted to work in this area for years, with the social and environmental side of it a big part of my motivation.”

UCC as a conference venue will enhance the experience for the delegates from around the world, according to Mr Desmond.

It will be the first time the biennial conference has taken place outside mainland Europe and is the largest scientific conference ever to be held in Cork, with up to 900 delegates attending 700 talks across 140 sessions in eight diverse scientific themes. 

The conference will take over the entire UCC main campus from June 17 to 20.

“It is the biggest we’ve had in Cork, and we’re lucky to have such a venue. The aim is to start that conversation between all these different types of scientists. 

"We will have 700 presentations over the four days with delegates from 38 countries. We’re covering a lot of interesting areas.

“We’re also keen on getting our delegates out and seeing what Cork has to offer, hopefully extending their stay and exploring the region. 

"Ideally, we want to firmly cement ourselves on the conference circuit, to get events of this scale back.”

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