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
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
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.