Energy Research Knowledge Centre


Research themes and prioritisation


The Energy Research Strategy 2008–2013 of the Irish Energy Research Council (IERC) set out a vision for energy research in the medium term, and strategic actions for each of the following major areas of research:

  • Energy systems modelling and analysis;
  • Fundamental frontier and multi-disciplinary research;
  • Energy R&D and demonstration in five sector-specific fields:
    • ocean energy;
    • grid/infrastructure/smart grids;
    • energy in buildings;
    • energy in transport;
    • sustainable bioenergy;
  • Research support in identifying and mapping Ireland’s energy resources;
  • A watching brief for technologies of potential application in Ireland.

More recently, in 2012, a research prioritisation study was published which identifies marine renewable energy and smart grids and smart cities as key priorities in energy research. For the longer term the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and University College Cork, have developed modelling skills to support the establishment of energy strategies and policies. Based on such models SEAI is developing national technology roadmaps which set out a vision for the future role of technologies in Ireland.

In 2002 SEAI began a programme of trialling and demonstrating technologies that had been used successfully in other countries. By 2006 some of these technologies were the subject of deployment support programmes. In 2010 more than 90 % of Irish energy R&D funding was allocated to energy efficiency (including smart meters and electric vehicle infrastructure), renewable energies and other power storage technologies (including transmission and distribution technologies, grid communication, control systems and integration).

The two most active areas of R&D in the universities and Institutes of Technology are energy efficiency and bioenergy. These two sectors accounted for 21 % and 18 % respectively of total funding during 2004–2010. Other areas of significant activity are solar energy (13 %), marine energy (10 %), energy policy, modelling and analysis (10 %), and electrical grids (9 %).

Finally, the most important categories of investment by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in energy research to date are energy efficiency (24 %), solar energy (21 %) and electrical grids (16 %).

As of February 2013, marine renewable energy has been given a further boost with the announcement of significant investment via SFI and in-kind contributions from industry to create a new research centre. The centre will take advantage of Ireland’s attractive location with regard to marine energy resources, and will create technologies for wave, tidal and floating wind devices.

Organisation of research


The main priorities for public energy research have been determined by the IERC, SEAI and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR). SEAI is the statutory authority responsible for promoting the development of sustainable energy in Ireland. Since 2008, SFI has also played an important role in funding energy research.

The majority of funding derives from the budget of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and is distributed via SFI and Enterprise Ireland. For example, the SFI Charles Parsons Awards provides funding for projects and researchers in tertiary education institutions. Whereas SFI tends to support more basic research, funding for applied research and removal of barriers to implementation is disbursed via SEAI.

While basic research tends to be carried out in academia, businesses conduct a significant amount of development and applied research. Private research funding for their own needs is carried out by ESB, Bord na Mona (semi-state companies), Airtricity, GE Energy and others including SMEs.

Private companies also collaborate with academic researchers in a number of energy Research Clusters such as I2E2 (energy efficiency in industry) and the International Energy Research Centre (various research themes). Companies tend to dominate the demonstration and deployment/diffusion phases of the research chain, particularly for mature technologies where market penetration is the goal.

Energy research is a cross-cutting area that concerns several authorities and agencies including the EPA, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and the Marine Institute. DCENR chairs an inter-agency liaison group.

Figure 1: Simplified organisational structure of energy research in Ireland.

Programmes and budgets


Budget overview

Despite the economic crisis that has severely affected Ireland, public research spending has increased over the past five years. According to the International Energy Agency, government energy R&D spending in 2010 was €64.9 million, with about 10% of public research spending going to energy.

The university sector in Ireland undertook a total of around 500 energy R&D projects in the period 2004–2010. These projects corresponded to €156 million of research funding. A further €18 million was provided to fund 200 projects carried out by Ireland’s Institutes of Technology. Over the same period, the amount devoted to energy-related projects followed an increasing trend, with a higher proportion of funding allocated to demonstration projects.

SEAI produces a regular inventory of R&D projects and spending. Table 1 shows energy research by technology including the amounts of funding involved, while Table 2 shows funding by source.

Table 1: Main funding of energy research in Ireland by technology.

Table 2: Main funding sources of energy research in Ireland, 2004–2010.

Programmes and initiatives

In Ireland, energy research is not structured into programmes but is funded mainly according to technology, as outlined in Table 1 above. 14 Research Clusters had also been formed by 2011, covering every energy topic and operating with a broad cross-section of industry involvement, ranging from large multinationals like Pfizer and Siemens to local SMEs like SolarPrint and Wirelite Sensors. These Research Clusters are described below.

PRECISION – Plasma Technology for Nano Manufacturing

This cluster focuses on fostering interaction and collaboration between academic and industrial partners to develop the scientific and technological knowledge needed for present and future manufacturing applications using plasmas. Plasmas are a platform technology used across many application sectors, including nuclear energy. PRECISION focuses on nano-scale products, process reliability, manufacturing costs and advanced materials processing.

CLARITY Sensor Web – Adaptive Sensing and Information Discovery

CLARITY focuses on the intersection between two research areas – adaptive sensing and information discovery – to develop innovative new technologies. Its overarching aim is to develop a new generation of smarter, more proactive, information services. CLARITY’s research in the energy sector relates to applications for energy grids.

Advanced Biomimetic Materials for Solar Energy Conversion (SEC)

The mission of this cluster is to develop new materials and synthesise devices to mimic the steps involved in natural photosynthesis. SEC directs its research to the production of sustainable energy by harnessing free energy from the sun, together with the application of engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, physics and computational modelling.

Information and Communication Technology for Sustainable and Optimised Building Operation (ITOBO)

The objective of ITOBO is research in information and communication technologies (ICT) to allow the development of a holistic, methodical framework for life-cycle information management and decision support in the construction and energy management sectors. One goal is to develop a smart building that is energy-efficient, user-friendly and economical to maintain.

Network Embedded Systems (NEMBES)

NEMBES investigates a ‘whole system’ approach to the design of networked embedded computer systems by combining expertise in hardware, software and networking with the design and management of built environments. This facilitates the gathering and delivery of information in various areas, including energy.

Informatics Research Unit for Sustainable Engineering (IRUSE)

IRUSE focuses on energy-efficient buildings through a combination of simulation (CFD, whole building and reduced-order modelling), building information modelling (IFC BIM); systems integration and optimisation, improved instrumentation in buildings, and stakeholder-driven visualisation of performance data.

Electricity Research Centre (ERC)

ERC is an industry-university research collaboration whose work is driven by the energy industry worldwide and especially the Irish electricity sector. The scheme aims to overcome challenges related to energy provision and climate change, in particular the impact of higher levels of renewables, distributed generation and flexible consumer demand.

Technology Centre for Biorefining and Bioenergy (TCBB)

TCBB focuses on the commercial development of the potential of Irish biomass resources. It gives industry members the ability to build on the expertise, knowledge, research skills and facilities available in Irish third-level institutions to create energy and valuable industrial materials from sustainable sources of biomass. TCBB is funded mainly by Enterprise Ireland.

Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN)

CRANN aims to develop new nanomaterials with improved mechanical, magnetic, optical and electrical properties and to apply them in electronic, medical devices, sensors and new drug delivery systems. Its research in relation to the energy sector focuses on energy storage.

Maritime and Energy Research Campus and Commercial Cluster (MERC3)

Research carried out under MERC3 focuses on the exploration and development of Ireland’s maritime and energy potential. Marine energy is one of the strategic pillars of MERC3, the other three being marine recreation, maritime safety and security, and shipping logistics and transport.

I2E2 Energy Efficiency

The I2E2 scheme carries out research for manufacturing industry in the areas of efficiency, management and sustainability. I2E2’s research focuses on compressed air systems, appropriate working techniques, energy from low-grade heat, dynamic power use and eco-energy parks. It is mainly funded by Enterprise Ireland.

BuildWise – Building a Sustainable Future

The aim of BuildWise is to specify, design, and validate a data management technology platform that will support integrated energy and environmental management in buildings. The platform uses a combination of wireless sensor network technologies, an integrated data model, and data mining methods and technologies.

International Energy Research Centre (IERC)

Research under IERC focuses on integrated energy systems. Specifically, the areas covered include the integration of energy systems in commercial buildings, home area networks to drive energy reduction, smart energy networks in factories, and scoping potential new research areas. Industry collaboration is central to the approach.

Electrical Power and Energy Systems Research Cluster

This cluster carries out research into power grids and is based at Queen’s University Belfast.

National govermment departments


Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Roinn Cumarsáide, Fuinnimh agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha

This Department sets energy research policy, along with SEAI. Its other responsibilities with regard to energy are electricity and gas policy, electricity and gas regulation, energy efficiency, energy poverty, oil security, corporate governance of state energy companies, north-south energy co-operation, and peat.

Irish Energy Research Council (IERC)

IERC was launched in 2006 and comprises leading academics, officials from government departments and agencies, and prominent figures from industry. The council was established to co-ordinate energy research in Ireland and produce an energy research strategy.

Department of Education and Skills and associated bodies

An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

The Department of Education and Skills has responsibility for education and training in Ireland. The department is engaged in a wide range of activities covering the key elements of policy planning, quality assurance, resourcing, regulation and evaluation, as well as providing a broad range of support services for the education sector.

National research programme management agencies


Marine Institute, Galway

Foras na Mara

The Marine Institute carries out a range of energy-related research: WAVETRAIN II; ORECCA (Offshore Renewable Energy Conversion Platforms, Coordination Action); MARINA (Marine Renewable Integrated Application Platform); optimisation of mooring systems for wave energy arrays; and the Galway Bay wave energy test site.

Environmental Protection Agency

An Ghníomhaireacht um Chaomhnú Comhshaoil

The EPA manages the Environmental Research Centre (ERC), which was established to allow a more structured approach to environmental research. The Agency also manages and funds energy-related R&D programmes.

Funding organisations at national level


Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)

Fondúireacht Eolaíochta Éireann (FEÉ)

SFI is the national foundation for research in Ireland and provides grants for researchers. SFI focuses on three broad areas: Biotechnology (BIO), information and communications technology (ICT), and sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies (ENERGY). The Foundation also manages the Research Clusters dedicated to energy.

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)

Fuinneamh Inmharthana Éireann – Údarás Fuinnimh Inmharthana na hÉireann

Established as Ireland’s national energy authority under the Sustainable Energy Act 2002, SEAI supports and carries out energy policy research, and improves the coherence of Irish energy research and development. The SEAI Strategic Plan 2010–2015 sets specific priorities and objectives for the authority, including the strengthening of national expertise in energy modelling and analysis.

Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland is the organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets. The organisation provides funding to support research into clean technologies.