Engineers Ireland shares wish list for the country’s digital future

Investing in education, energy and the National Broadband Plan are some of the engineering body’s great suggestions for next year.

Engineers Ireland has published a report on the country’s current infrastructure and recommendations for its digital future, including investing in education, research and broadband.

The corps of engineers report, The State of Ireland 2021, shows that the country is doing well in many digital areas. For example, the Digital Economy and Society Index published by the European Commission ranks Ireland as the fifth highest country in the EU.

The report highlighted that Ireland has proven to be successful in attracting multinational companies and workers to drive the digital economy, but ranks low on investment in education and telecommunications, according to a report by the Institute for Management Development.

Engineers Ireland President Professor Orla Feely highlighted the importance of education in the engineering sector, as today’s engineers must be ‘all rounder’ with the growth of digitization.

“Basic IT skills are more important than ever and digital expertise in sensor networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and virtual reality are becoming a basic prerequisite,” added Feely.

With all of this in mind, here are the key recommendations Engineers Ireland has made for the coming year.

1. Accelerate the National Broadband Plan

The first location went online under Ireland’s National Broadband Plan early last year, but the rollout has faced obstacles.

The project aims to connect more than 1.1 million people in 544,000 homes, businesses, farms and schools in Ireland, where commercial operators do not currently offer high-speed connectivity. It’s scheduled to be complete by 2027, but delays have raised concerns about meeting that deadline.

The Engineers Ireland report said that there are many who need these services immediately and cannot afford a few more years of being “disconnected from the digital community”.

To speed up the process, Engineers Ireland recommended that the remaining areas with larger populations be surveyed first.

“For those in less populated areas that will not be served by the plan for several years, we recommend that the Government investigate the feasibility of low earth orbit satellite broadband as an interim broadband solution for rural communities,” the report adds. .

He also recommended offering subsidies for satellite broadband while the national network is being built, such as tax credits.

2. Focus on the national digital strategy

The first phase of Ireland’s National Digital Strategy was launched in 2013, setting out practical actions to help drive the number of people and businesses interacting online across industry, business, schools and education. The government has been seeking to take advantage of this phase with a new strategy, and a public consultation was held in late 2018 on the matter.

The Engineers Ireland report recommended that Ireland publish and implement the new National Digital Strategy to provide a ‘whole government’ approach to supporting the digital sector and fostering digitization in Irish business and society.

3. Securing Ireland’s grid and power supply

Last year, EirGrid predicted electricity supply challenges for Ireland in the coming years, in part due to “demand growth driven by large power users and data centers”. He added that data centers could account for a quarter of the country’s electricity use by 2030.

Engineers Ireland said the country needs to accelerate its green energy projects to sustainably meet growing energy requirements. While these projects are being built, Ireland should push for approval of the planned 700MW interconnector between Cork and France.

“Greenlink, a 500 MW interconnector connecting the UK and Irish power markets, is set to come online in 2024, will not be suitable to supply enough power to Ireland,” the report says.

Ireland should also explore the possibility of more interconnectors with the UK and France, as well as other countries.

“As a center for engineering and technical innovation, now is the time for Ireland to move forward by expanding the capacity of our interconnectors and green energy grids to help future-proof European and national energy requirements,” said Engineers Ireland Registrar Damien Owens.

4. Invest more in research and development

To help Ireland’s growing digital economy, Engineers Ireland believes the government should offer more support to early stage entrepreneurs and investors. This can also be achieved by investing more in technology transfer programs for tertiary education.

“By subsidizing more third-level courses that are made open access and available online, the government would provide access to digital enhancement and promote interest in digitization among the general public,” the report said.

He also recommended more funds for the Department of Continuing and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to promote more research projects in higher education institutions.

Irish engineers noted the growing importance of cybersecurity and said there was a 413 percent increase in the number of cyberattacks in Ireland from June 2020 to June 2021.

“The Government’s National Cybersecurity Strategy until 2024 must be fully implemented. It has a range of systematic measures to protect our nation, develop the cybersecurity industry, and deepen our international commitment to the future of the Internet, ”the report says.

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