Ireland should take a leadership role in the development of a new 'supergrid' that would coordinate energy supply across Europe, according to Engineers Ireland.

In a report on Ireland's digital future published today, the body has said Ireland is ideally positioned to play a leadership role in creating a new European smart grid that could coordinate the national back-up systems of countries to support renewable energy usage across the continent.

‘The State of Ireland 2021: Infrastructure and a digital future’ recommends that Ireland needs to expedite the National Broadband Plan, implement the National Digital Strategy, secure its own energy grid, and invest more in research and development to position the nation as a global digital leader.

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Damien Owens, Registrar at Engineers Ireland, said, "Ireland should play a vital European leadership role in creating the smart grid of the future, in effect a ‘supergrid’, to drive renewable power.

"Countries need back-up systems to ensure security of supply, and while countries and major cities have their own back-ups, a co-ordinated pan-European grid could streamline this and create further carbon-reduction benefits."

The Programme for Government outlines the need for Ireland to build its energy interconnectivity with Europe and the need for the country to become a major contributor to a pan-European renewable energy generation and transmission system. "As a hub for engineering and technical innovation, now is the time for Ireland to drive forward by expanding the capacity of our interconnectors and green energy networks to help future proof national and European energy requirements."

The report highlights that Ireland is currently performing well in many digital areas. The World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2021, published by the Institute for Management Development, ranks Ireland 19th worldwide.

The Digital Economy and Society Index, published by the European Commission, ranks Ireland 5th highest among countries in the EU, behind Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

However, to take a leading position in these rankings and better prepare Ireland for the digital needs of the future, the report says Ireland can still do more to improve its digital environment and become more competitive globally.

Infrastructure improvements are critical to encouraging positive developments in the digital space, as is further investment in higher education to support the labour needs that are required to build this infrastructure, according to the report.

Speaking about the impact of digitalisation, particularly on the profession of engineering, Professor Orla Feely, President of Engineers Ireland, said, "Over the past decades, technology and digitalisation have become woven into the fabric of society and business, including engineering firms and businesses, at every level.

Digitalisation is now an integral part of the engineering sector, meaning today's engineers need to be all-rounders. Core IT skills are more important than ever and digital expertise on sensor networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, and virtual reality are becoming a basic prerequisite."