Winds of change in Europe
25th September 2015
The role of energy storage in Ireland’s energy future
25th September 2015

Navigating the GridLock

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Interview with Neil McDonagh, AECOM’s Head of Power in Ireland.

Tell us what has been happening with AECOM’s Power Group in Ireland recently?

It has been a very exciting year. We have grown the high voltage/power business unit in Ireland (established over two years ago to complement our multidisciplinary service offer) to become one of the largest private sector HV electrical consultancies in Ireland. Our engineers work on a variety of HV projects in Ireland and further afield. The work we deliver typically involves HV infrastructure (substations, cables, overhead lines) and power system studies (grid connection/earthing studies).

What do you see as the main challenges for both industry, and for you in your own business?
There are three key challenges for the industry: the planning paradigm, public perception and funding.
Planning: As I am stuck in traffic trying to drive along the north shore of Dublin bay, looking out over at Bull Island at the Poolbeg Chimneys, I think to myself, if planning were sought on either The Bull Wall or Poolbeg Power Station in the 21st century, would it be granted? I think the answer would be: probably not, at least not without considerable and prolonged opposition.

Instinctively, people tend to think of the impact of anything new as being negative. These projects show that this is not always the case. The Bull Wall has unintentionally created Bull Island, which has provided Dublin with new habitats, as well as recreational and amenity areas, that could never have been imagined. The Poolbeg chimneys have become such a part of the Dublin skyscape, that there is considerable opposition to the idea of taking them down. One thing seems clear: people – and not always the same people – tend to resist change, no matter what that change is.

The planning system can at times seem to put development on the back foot. For a variety of project types, developers propose schemes and are often told why they can’t take them forward, rather than how they can. There is a real risk that Ireland could already be losing out on investment if companies opt for locations with a more flexible approach to development.

Public perception: Objection to projects captures the attention of the nation a few times a year, which is no different to any other democratic country. It is always valuable to look further afield for new development models. As part of my role with AECOM, I recently visited a few windfarms in the Netherlands that were built in close proximity to communities without any opposition. Of course windmills are part of the fabric of Dutch society, but this wasn’t why there were no objections. Interestingly, the developer had created an innovative model where the local communities were shareholders in the wind farm. I am not suggesting this model would translate directly to Ireland, but it is worthwhile considering how communities could be incentivised to actually support projects, rather than merely not objecting to them, which is so often the focus of a development team.

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As for our own business, it is a bit more simple: our focus is on recruiting the right people and giving them interesting projects to deliver.

There is a general demand for HV electrical engineers globally, and while there is a demand in Ireland, it is not as high as in our other markets. Like many businesses in Ireland, we do not limit our horizons to our borders. To diversify our work stream we work hand-in-hand with our UK team and our wider global business. Our Ireland-based employees have been involved in projects in the UK, Channel Islands, Malta, Benelux and Africa, and provide specialist services to AECOM teams across the globe.

Where do you see the main activities over the coming years?
In Ireland, it seems that much of the activity on the transmission system is as a result of renewable connections or connecting data centres to the grid. In addition, the highly anticipated solar wave similar to that experienced by other European countries is on the way. If and when this wave hits, the first movers will most likely be developers that already have grid connections co-located with large land banks.

For our Ireland operations, being part of a large, global organisation means that colleagues all over the world are frequently looking for back-office support on their projects. As Ireland enjoys a certain prestige in the area of HV consulting in many of the geographies where AECOM works, our Irish team has numerous opportunities to provide support for our global projects.

One thing we are excited to bring to the market here is the provision of power system analysis services to renewable developers, which are needed for grid connections. This is something that I have specialised in myself for many years, and I am now honoured to be leading the delivery of this service for AECOM across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). We have the best-in-class industry software and the highly skilled staff to carry out these studies.

AECOM…at a glance
AECOM is a premier, fully integrated professional and technical services firm positioned to design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets around the world for public- and private-sector clients.

AECOM provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering customised and creative solutions that meet the needs of clients’ projects.
• Serving clients in over 150 countries around the world
• Over 85,000 dedicated professionals globally
• Over 900 offices around the world
• Ranked #1 engineering design firm by revenue in Engineering News-Record magazine’s annual industry rankings
• US$19B Revenue
• A Fortune 500 firm
• Have engineered more than 250GW generation assets globally
• Over 88,000 kilometres of transmission lines Globally
• 300+ renewables projects globally
• Over 500 staff in Ireland
• Regional offices in Dublin, Belfast and Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry/LondonDerry

Neil McDonagh
neil.mcdonagh@aecom.com
Head of Power, Ireland
AECOM, 4th Floor, Adelphi Plaza
Adelphi Centre, George’s Street Upper
Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0)1 238 3100
Web: www.aecom.com

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