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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 15, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    Green Jobs

    Harry McGee

    A year ago, this month, with the calamitous scale of the State’s
    financial crisis becoming all too apparent, the Government published a
    document that it claimed was the long-term panacea for the Irish
    The Smart Economy document outlined a brave new world of a
    high-productivity and low-carbon future, where technology and the
    planet-friendly would merge. The spirit of Roosevelt’s blueprint to
    overcome the Great Depression was also evoked. This, the Green Party
    Minister Eamon Ryan grandiosely claimed, would be the “Green New
    With the State’s finances lurching into the abyss, the media and
    public reaction to the document was cool, to the point of derision.
    The reasons were understandable. It was a long-term project, with no
    solutions to stem the haemorrhage. And it was only a framework, with
    no details as to how those magical ‘green collar’ jobs could be
    But the Smart Economy remains the Government’s main jobs strategy for
    the next decade. This year, three working groups were set up to put
    flesh on the bones and come up with actions.
    The first group, looking at smart technology, reported during the
    summer, with the promise of 35,000 jobs. And this week, the Green
    Enterprise group published its report, claiming a potential 80,000
    jobs in its area.
    That’s 115,000 jobs so far. The new Programme for Government has
    identified the overall potential at 127,000 jobs. That means the third
    group, the Innovation Task Force, due to report in January, will
    promise a further 12,000 jobs, at the very least.
    It’s an ambitious, and on the face of it alluring, policy. But where
    will all these green and smart jobs come from? Well predicting jobs,
    especially from emerging technologies, is fraught, and the Government
    accept this.
    The Smart Technology strategy makes a priority of a super-fast
    broadband communications network (10,000 jobs). It also said that
    Ireland could become a location for massive data centres and for cloud
    computing, which would create a further 10,000 jobs. The first of two
    IFSC-type structures is mentioned; this one as a financial services
    centre for buying and selling digital content (10,000).
    Smart meters for electricity and electric cars are also mentioned, as
    is the ‘internet of things’.
    An example is the pilot ‘Work Flow’ project where
    cameras and traffics sensors transmit information to the computers and
    mobile phones of commuters. If traffic is too heavy they can decide to
    telework from home or from new eCentres located in commuter beltways.
    This week’s strategy identifies a potential 50,000 jobs by 2020 in the
    Irish renewable energy sector. This includes wind, ocean, solar and
    biomass. A national energy-efficiency retrofit programme of the entire
    housing stock of 1.2 million homes could create a minimum of 23,000

    A further 10,000 jobs could be created in waste and in other
    energy-efficiency programmes, as well as in a second IFSC-type
    operation, this one a centre for green investment and carbon-trading.
    The potential does seem massive. But how real are these jobs? Mr Ryan
    this week said that some 15,700 green jobs had been created since
    2007. But when you parse the figures some 9,000 come from semi-state
    company ESB’s commitment to become a low-carbon utility and the home
    energy-efficiency scheme. The latter’s figures of 5,600 don’t reflect
    full-time jobs, rather the number of assessors and contractors who
    have registered.
    Professor Richard Tol of the ESRI has written extensively in this area
    and is dubious about some of the claims.
    In the renewable energy sector, for example, he says that many of the
    jobs are not new but are replacement jobs.
    “It’s not one-one-on but it almost that. We are not looking at more
    energy use, just a move towards a different energy. The new jobs will
    be more dependent on Government subsidies so it will make makes energy
    more expensive,” he contends.
    He says that it’s in the ocean energy sector that the most flamboyant
    claims have been made. His contention? Few jobs will be created, in
    the short-term at least. He says that the technology is at least a
    decade away from deployment so that claims ranging from 2,000 to
    10,000 jobs are not realistic.
    Similarly with wind power, he says the claim of 17,000 jobs is to good
    to be true. He said the basis is the number of jobs created per
    kilowatt hour in Denmark. Yet, in Denmark they design and build
    windmills, as well as put them up and operate them. In Ireland, it
    will be mainly the erecting of them and operation, he said.
    He does agree that retrofitting homes on a national programme will
    create a lot of job and will also cut energy costs and cut emissions.
    There is potential elsewhere, he says. Ireland should focus on other
    areas, he said. He thinks that the country has developed a huge
    expertise in food production, as well as in biopharmaceuticals. It
    could use that expertise for developing third-generation biofuels.
    “For me, electric cars are like the Tour de France. You know, we know
    we are not going to produce a Tour de France winner next year because
    we do not have the expertise.
    “But biopharma and food I would liken to rugby where we have skills
    and have a good chance of winning the grand slam. We should
    concentrate on what we are good at,” says Prof Tol.
    Others within Government say that chances must be taken, that Ireland
    can’t be technology takers. One senior adviser argued trenchantly that
    chances have to be taken and all opportunities exploited.
    “Sure there will be lots of failures. That’s the nature of being a
    first mover and trying to be cutting edge. If we succeed in any area,
    the job bonanza will be enormous.”

    I was at a teleconference yesterday  that allowed a group of journalists in Dublin ask questions of Stephen Chu, the US Energy Secretary. The US has invested an eyebrow-arching $80 billion in green energy under the Recovery Act. He said that some of the ventures will fail.

    He employed a baseball metaphor. He said you need to swing from the heels. That’s a swing used by a player who wants to hit a home run. Of course, the downside is, that if you don’t hit a home run you are struck out.

    In other words, you have to take a chance. If you want a big success, sometimes you have to take the risk that nothing will come of it.

    But 127,000 jobs looks like a big ask.


    • Liam says:

      Very dubious stuff, in the US their stimulus program made all kinds of claims about jobs saved and created and it borders on fiction for the most part. As for Ireland we live in a country where we have no idea when the next bus is coming even though the mobile technology has existed for more then a decade. Also all this expenditure will be done on the back of a “30 year interest only mortgage”.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, funding for the 3rd level Strategic Innovation Fund was reduced by 31%: see page 58 of this document.


      People on fixed term contracts in colleges (post docs and the like) are required to contribute to the pension levy even though they will not collect a public sector pension as they are not full time public sector employees. Read the letter from Kevin Ryan in last Saturday’s Irish Times.

      Smart economy my eye. It’s only looks smart in the eyes of the incredibly thick.

    • Keith says:

      There’s no indication in any of the Government’s actions since last December that they actually intend implementing the recommendations that would lead to any new jobs being created in this sector. In fact, as Dan has pointed out, they’ve actually started hampering the sector.

    • DesJay says:

      Eye-brow arching $80 billion? The Iraq war, when all is paid, will cost at least $1 trillion.

      Home run or strike out? Not exactly. Three strikes, Harry, three.

      As for the Irish actors who are currently playing the roles of government ministers, isn’t it just like them to announce a policy and then put working groups together to “put flesh” on the bones? What if there are no bones there?

      Ah, sure who cares? The faithful supporters will always vote FF, and the biggest groups of waverers can be identified by pollsters before the election and can be bought off with goodies and promises.

    • Harry says:

      Well, in the context of green jobs, it’s eyebrow arching compared to the total investment in Ireland. Indeed the innovation fund announced a year (wasn’t it 300 mill or was it 500 mill – can’t check right now) ago hasn’t been fully allocated yet. The big jobs stimulus programme announced in the Budget was meant to be huge. But it’s 130 million… not exactly revolutionary.
      Obama’s stimulus programme within the Recovery Act is impressive… true, small beer when compared with Iraq. But then everything is small beer when compared with Iraq. You can get into circular arguments about that.
      Point about three strike-outs is a teensy weensy bit pedantic. It was the expression I was using, not the rule book of the game of baseball. You’d need to have your bases loaded before embarking on blogs around here!!

    • Eoin says:

      “It only looks smart in the eyes of the incredibly thick.”

      We cannot often agree Dan but this is fabulous.

    • Munster Irish says:

      A replacement job is still a job, a new one at that.
      127,000 jobs in the next decade means about 10,000 jobs a year for next 10 years. Given the ‘parsed’ number of 9,000 jobs announced recently, it seems that the Government is on track with their plan.
      It won’t happen if ambition is not stated, target and conditions set
      I hear the Chicago Black Sox are going to open the green IFSC.

    • You’d have to be incredibly dubious of the claims and for Green Jobs to be created, other jobs will have to be lost.
      On a simple level, the more renewable energy then surely certain fossil fuel power stations will close. Every house insulated to within an inch of its life drops the demand for the oil delivery man, the person who services the oil delivery fleet, the person taking the orders and so on.

    • Ray D says:

      Three or four nuclear power stations here would be green, secure our energy needs, needed badly, and would stimulate the economy and set it on the right track.

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