Sustainable and Renewable Energy Resources: Discussion

I sincerely welcome our guest, Dr. Lisa Amini, director of IBM's smarter cities technology centre. I apologise for the delay but there have been difficulties in the House today with other meetings. I am conscious that Dr. Amini must leave at 4 p.m.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this committee. If a witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and the witness continues to so do, the witness is entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his or her evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and witnesses are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Dr. Amini to make her initial presentation.

Dr. Lisa Amini

I thank the committee for inviting me. When one considers the related sub-problems to do with energy security such as renewable energy sources, efficiency and emissions, the defining challenge of our time and generation is to deal with these. It is similar to the space race or the industrial revolution in previous times.

To take this on, we must solve the problem on a global level for all nations and all peoples. It will need to be solved incrementally over time. People who wait for others to solve the problem will be left behind, especially when one considers globalisation and the ability of people to move from place to place.

My training is as a computer scientist so I focus on solutions in the virtual space, not necessarily chemistry, civil engineering or material sciences. There has been a fundamental change in the field of computer science. This is related to the energy security problem in that previously we were focused on challenges on automation, on using computers for automating tasks. This has significantly changed in recent times in a move towards optimisation. This is relevant to the energy security problem or the way in which we are attempting to tackle that problem.

When I refer to optimisation I mean representation of these real world artefacts like chemical properties, mechanical properties or other physical properties of systems and the use of mathematical or logic-based techniques to try to resolve problems in that space and then support decisions based on these models. It is also to automate the control of systems based on decisions from these models.

My research centre focuses on the theme of smarter cities. This is related to the energy security problem because by the year 2050 we believe that roughly 6 billion people will live in cities and this will significantly change their profile for energy consumption and waste. People will move from rural and other areas into the cities and change the way they earn a living, change the way they live and therefore significantly change how they consume energy, water and produce waste. According to estimates, roughly 75% of the world's energy will be consumed by cities and roughly 80% of greenhouse gases will be emitted by cities. This is a significant change. The figure of 6 billion is the total world population today and that number of people will move into the cities by the year 2050. This is a very disruptive change in terms of consumption of resources. The advantage is that localisation is achieved along with economies of scale and a better quality of life so there is much to gain from this movement of people into the cities, despite these energy and waste challenges.

I am speaking about IBM research on a global scale and not just about my research centre here. In terms of the IT space for renewable energy sources, essentially what is needed is monitoring of the distribution network that supplies energy to the different consumers. Here the problem is that introduction of renewable energy introduces instability and integration challenges for the grid. What we are trying to do with IT is to be able to monitor this and to provide stabilising technologies. One of the examples is a decentralised transactive control methodology. Instead of thinking of it as some single controller that will try to control the entire system, it is to have technologies that would be able to distribute this just like the generation is being distributed. Another important piece which IT can help is the reliability of the grid, such as, being able to monitor the individual pieces of it.

Approximately 27% of the energy produced is lost in transmission because of faults and issues with the distribution network. This is an approximate number, based on looking at many different transmission networks.

Another important area where IT is trying to help with the energy security problem is in trying to model the different types of energy generation that could be used, tidal, wind, nuclear and so on, and to use those models to try to get better information on the building of the plants, the distributions and so on. This is another aspect on which we focus.

We also deal with security. The committee members are probably aware that the number of attacks have increased. In 2009 there was an attack on the US energy security grid. Hackers are getting into the system and their attacks are growing and becoming exponentially worse because they are leveraging what are called, botnets, essentially, networks of systems that have been corrupted such that whenever an attack is launched, all of these systems can join in the attack and therefore, the attacks become progressively worse. Some of these attacks are being carried out by individuals but they are also being carried out by nation states and energy becomes an important target.

Another area of focus is smarter buildings. Commercial and industrial buildings consume about 40% of the electricity produced. This is a significant amount. We are deploying instrumentation such as metering and sub-metering. The reason for doing so is to get better information on how the energy and water is being consumed and then identify anomalies and help the operations personnel to control and remediate those problems and help users to be able to adapt their behaviours, and so on.

The IBM results tell us that smarter building technologies can reduce the water and energy consumption of buildings by approximately 50%, which is significant, with a similar reduction in emissions. The significant savings in energy are 50% to 70% and in water are 30% to 50%.

Can 36% of water be saved?

Dr. Lisa Amini

We believe so, yes. Our pilot studies show this.

I ask Dr. Amini to explain that statistic. We have been aware of savings in electricity but savings in water is new to us. In what way does it work?

Dr. Lisa Amini

It is composed of many factors. It is surprising to us how much leaks are a significant factor. It is easy to find leaks in high pressure lines quickly but in many cases - I believe this is also the case in Ireland - low pressure lines deliver the water and these have slow leaks that are not always identified quickly and this is one problem. Another problem is the equipment such as on-off levers and so on. Depending on the type of building and how the water is being used, such as watering plants, when this is not combined with heating and cooling of the building, it can cause more loss to evaporation, for example.

Another important area for us is the combination of energy and water. Infrastructural issues arise in this regard and were referred to. In many ways, the water problem is the energy problem. There are two important aspects in this regard, the first of which is the cleansing and treatment of water and what is required to desalinate it. It is an energy problem. The second concerns the water supply chain. A significant amount of energy is consumed when taking water from wherever it is captured, processing it, pumping it to the entities that need it, taking it back and reprocessing the wastewater. There is a supply chain. Unfortunately, the water is not really being treated and optimised as one would treat a product in a supply chain in a manufacturing environment, for example.

Another important area for us encompasses energy and transport. There are many foci in this regard, including electric vehicles. An especially important area in this space involves the fuel consumed as a consequence of congestion and non-optimal driving. The important factor in trying to solve this problem is achieving better mass transit systems. We are trying to address the reasons people often do not use mass transit services. They may not meet one's time or reliability requirements, or it may be too much trouble to take one mode of transport and transfer to another. We need to think about how we can create IT systems that would help to glaze over the fact that people have to use many modes of transport, bearing in mind the most economical way for governments to deploy them. If people see all of the pieces of the system, they regard it as cumbersome and not suited to their time requirements. Therefore, they tend to continue to drive their cars.

I will outline where IT breakthroughs are required. We are examining hardware and software architectures, many of which were originally envisioned with transactional workloads in mind. I refer to the need for much more data analysis and optimisation. We need a change to try to support the energy security workloads to which I referred. This is part of the energy problem. The types of optimisation system in question are much more computationally complex than traditional transactional systems. I refer to large-scale systems with intensive energy requirements. Another important issue on which we are working is how to lower significantly the energy requirements of our data centres.

Let me refer to the most important and challenging aspect. Members will have heard me talk about the fact that we use models, including physics-based models and models derived from sensing data from the real world. This is a challenging problem for us because the models need to be created and updated continually and reflect accurately the real world. We are working on technologies to do this and have made advances.

We are working on the issue of energy security and different problems, in respect of which we believe information technology can make a difference. I am interested in hearing members' comments and getting feedback.

I thank Dr. Amini for her interesting presentation. We are all politicians and not dealing with technology in terms of what it can do and how realistic and practical it is in delivering public policy. It is easy to see the potential and how wonderful technology can be, but it is impossible to see how we get from here to there. One of the examples to which I would like to refer is smart metering which has been introduced as part of an ESB pilot scheme and on which we have been waiting for a very long time for feedback. It takes an inordinately long time to see progress that will result in the transformation smart metering can bring. Much of the problem is a human one. It is possible to do many things, but it must also be possible for people to do what is suggested in their own lives and communities. Consider the circumstances that would obtain if we had a European supergrid, which concept is talked about frequently. It would be highly reliant on information technology and ensure a power supply from renewables could be exchanged when we needed it. A development on that scale would be transformative but vulnerable to attack. If there was an attack on a supergrid, everybody would be in trouble. The question arises as to how big the system could be without it becoming vulnerable, unless one could be 100% certain that attacks could be prevented or pre-empted.

With regard to electric vehicles and managing congestion, I would have believed one of the considerable changes concerned working at home or in small rural communities. Information technology has liberated people in this regard. Will Ms Amini comment on this? It seems to be apposite in Ireland where people do work from home. People living on the west coast of County Mayo are working effectively for global companies. Does Ms Amini have anything to say about this aspect of IT development?

I thank Dr. Amini. While her presentation was interesting, I believed she was going to tell us something different. I want to raise a few issues. I have been wondering how information technology can solve some of our problems. Consider Ms Amini's statement that 50% to 60% of water supplies could be saved. This figure is astonishing and gives us pause for thought. I gather from what she said this would be most applicable to a pressurised system which, as she knows, we do not have in Ireland. We only use gravitational pressure systems. Perhaps newer houses use pressurised systems, but, as far as I know, the Irish water distribution system is not pressurised. The system used in some European countries is pressurised.

The water is pumped.

Water is pumped to reservoirs and then fed to houses using gravitational pressure systems. It is the houses to which we are referring.

If we move on from the point on research and take what Ms Amini said to us as a given, are there ways in which information technology can provide solutions? Let us consider smart meters, for example. The smart meter is a basic instrument that gives a read-out. Does Ms Amini envisage developments in this regard that would ensure a dishwasher or dryer could not start until electricity was available at a cheap rate, for example? Is Ms Amini working on such developments?

I always realised there was a loss of electricity transmitted along power lines. A figure of 20% was mentioned in this regard. I would like to hear more about Ms Amini's results in this area. The loss raises many questions about the supergrid, an issue raised by Deputy McManus. How far would one need to transmit electricity in order to lose 20% of its value? The loss has an impact on the market, the spot price and the efficiency of the supergrid. To anticipate a question that may be asked by the Green Party, how close to home should power generation occur? Dr. Amini will see what I am getting at. We discussed the supergrid. This, it seems, will have a 20% impact on costs, profits and waste. At some point, it must become counterproductive for us to send electricity from the west of Ireland to the Urals or Moscow orvice versa. Is a model or equation available for us to use?

Dr. Lisa Amini

The first question was what solutions we can obtain from information technology for these problems. I will cite some examples. At present, data is frequently captured or problems are reported and the information is stored and not necessarily followed up. This is one of the main features IT provides. The solutions we have allow us to take in this data. We have created systems that are able to take in vast amounts of information from large numbers of sensors. We then look across this data and use the results we obtain to make changes. For example, in our smarter buildings we are able to tap into the building management systems. We can look at the data, alert the operations people to changes they should make and make direct changes to the control of the lighting, chillers and so forth. There are, therefore, a significant number of solutions.

It sounds like a major retrofit would be required. Is that the case?

Dr. Lisa Amini

The answer is "Yes" and "No". Most buildings today have some form of building management system in place. Information is often monitored under these systems but unless someone tries to look for information and dig through it, as usually only happens when someone is told to do this, one does not have a solution. The idea is to have systems that can look into this data and identify anomalies. They can then point out that statistically a certain event should not occur and certain steps should be taken to pinpoint the problem.

The systems we are developing can not only identify problems definitively on the basis that they are anomalous with other behaviour but can look at them and make predictions regarding trends. This allows one to get information out ahead of time when problems arise. These are examples of solutions which show that IT is allowing organisations to run and manage their systems and to be proactive in examining data and predicting and making changes.

The Senator asked whether one could obtain any benefit if one is not using pressurised water systems. There is both metering and sensoring of the pressure and flows in the network. Sensoring technology and meters can tell one whether the water is being delivered from point to point. Smart meters basically tell one how energy is being consumed within a building. Regardless of whether we are talking about high pressure systems, the same sensoring and metering technology is definitely of value for us.

The third question was how energy losses occur in the distribution network. The Senator is correct that distance has an impact. Part of the promise of renewable energy is that generation does not all take place at a single, distant location. One can have many different sources generating energy close to the location at which the energy is being consumed. The challenge with renewable energy sources is that they are unpredictable and are dependent on the weather - wind and the sun - and water.

The following question is discussed regularly in this committee. Let us say Ireland is in export mode and wants to sell 100 MW of electricity to Moscow. We release 100 MW into the grid and 100 MW arrives at the other end in Russia. The 100 MW that reaches Russia may have come from anywhere between the west of Ireland and Moscow. Where does the wastage occur in such circumstances if, as Deputy McManus stated, there is a working grid along its entire length?

Dr. Lisa Amini

One has transmission lines that transmit the data.

Yes, transmission lines exist physically but the power is placed on the grid in the west and arrives in eastern Europe. In the meantime, however, every generator across Europe feeds power into the grid. This means the power is not travelling from the west to Russia, in other words, the 100 MW that goes into the grid is not the same 100 MW that comes out of it. Does this create waste?

Dr. Lisa Amini

It depends on the distance the power travels. That is a factor. Essentially, there are interconnection points along the grid which tap in additional energy. These interconnection points and the transmission wires are where loss occurs in many cases.

I now have an understanding of the position.

Dr. Lisa Amini

Deputy McManus asked whether we can modify user behaviour. As long as a person must choose between his or her family's prosperity, comforts and quality of life and saving the world, we will have a problem. I agree, therefore, that user behaviour adaptations are required. It is the policies adopted by the Government that incentivise people to make changes. Making refusal to change costly makes a difference. Doing this without stifling productivity or economic growth is the challenge for policymakers.

We, on the IT side, can also contribute. We tend to look at the issue in terms of trying to make sure the technology is either so fundamental to the way one has to operate that people realise they must use it or that it is so compelling to what they want that they have to use it. In the IT space, we tend to rely on either how effective the solution is or we use social sciences types of analysis in terms of whether this communicates the information well to them and so forth.

One element of our projects is user behaviour modelling and adaptation. For example, we have a project where we are studying energy, water consumption and conservation in civic offices. Part of this involves detecting anomalies and helping operations people and part of it is being able to make predictions so that we can feed back this information to the energy companies to enable them to better manage the network. Another major part of this work relates to how the occupants of a building interact with us and the information they provide us to help ensure they are still comfortable with their environment when using less energy and to identify problems and so forth. User behaviour adaptation is definitely an important factor. While we can do some things on the IT side, there are also significant policy requirements.

The Deputy referred to security and attacks. If one does not have instrumentation and sensors and an ability to look for anomalies, assess consumption patterns and so forth, the networks will be wide open to attack. Much of what is being requested for smart grids and smart metering are technologies that ensure one does not wait for someone to go out and identify a problem. Information is proactively coming back and being analysed so that we are able to identify and isolate attacks more quickly and better deal with them. This is a problem we have with computers in general. People are attacking them. It is no different for our energy systems than it is for our financial or other systems. That is the problem we have. We need automation and optimisation. We will not do well without it. If we do not have it then we are even more open to attack. We must ensure that the systems are resilient. There is significant work in what we refer to as building resilient systems and software. The assumption is that instead of trying to always protect against attacks, we ensure that when an attack is made the software can handle it.

The third question was on IT and work at home. This is fantastic. We use it a great deal. It is very important for our work. We need it not only so that people can work from home but so that we can collaborate with our other research and software laboratories. We have a significant initiative currently to deploy telepresence systems across IBM to try to improve the quality of distance communications and distance working. IT is a part of that telepresence. There are many IT systems also being developed for remote collaboration tools. It is a significant investment in product line for IBM to build those collaboration tools. It is an important part of the work. If one thinks about it, if everyone could live in the community he or she wanted to live in and commute virtually to work that would solve many of our problems, but not all jobs work that way.

I thank Dr. Amini and apologise for being late. I had a meeting with the Irish Farmers Journal and theIrish Farmers Association. I suspect that was the case also with Deputy Crawford. I was talking about resilience at that meeting. We are talking about it now in a different sense.

Given that we have an opportunity to speak to Dr. Amini, the representative of such a large, august company as IBM, are there international comparisons of which we need to take note? IBM has operations in Sweden. Sweden has set out a fairly ambitious objective to be free of the need for oil by 2020. I do not know if the current government still holds with the objective which caused considerable interest at the time, certainly in the Green Party. The plan was to go beyond oil and have an economy that did not rely on oil.

A company such as IBM has a role to play in the realisation of such a policy objective, as do many other companies in the private sector and the public sector. Is there any clear differentiation based on Government policy for a company to rise to the challenge as set by policy formation, as it were? Is IBM or any other large company of which Dr. Amini is aware involved in piloting the practice needed to become universal, that she would see as being a good idea? For example, in Sweden there is a town called Vaxjo, which is ahead of the curve in terms of having low energy consumption and using sustainable systems for water. Güssing in Austria is well known in that regard also. Freiburg in Germany also has a certain reputation in that respect. We attempted at least to declare Ennis a digital town. It was to be highly computerised and as low energy consuming as possible. I am not sure whether Dr. Amini was involved in that project. People in Ennis tell me that the project was talked up but it did not live up to its expectations to a large extent. Where does the private sector fit in when it comes to Government policy? Does it seek to rise to the challenge? Does it work independently or collaborate with Government more closely? Is there a difference between IBM in Sweden given its clear 2020 objective compared to another country that does not have such an objective?

Dr. Lisa Amini

If I understand the question correctly, IBM is a commercial company and with that it has expectations in terms of trying to have a profitable business. Sustainability issues, security issues and intelligent water management are a challenge for economies and governments but also an opportunity for IBM to apply IT to those areas. My research centre is working with, for example, Dublin City Council and the four local authorities on understanding their data and the challenges they face in prototyping technologies that we believe will be valuable for them. We are doing that in different ways in different form factors. I do it from a research perspective where we might come in with a product. Other parts of the business do it from the service perspective.

We are interested in and are working with governments. For example, IBM has a programme about the executive service corps and the employee service corps where what we take certain employees who have volunteered to do this out of their normal daily jobs and bring them to a region or area to focus on the problems and to understand what solutions they can provide and on which to work with the local authorities. We have a number of programmes through which we do this but it sounds like Deputy Sargent may be asking for-----

I am really asking about Sweden as much as this country. Does Dr. Amini know about the objective in Sweden for 2020?

Dr. Lisa Amini

I have heard of it in terms of removing the dependence on oil. I do not know IBM's involvement in that.

I am amused that when Dr. Amini made notes she did so directly on her computer rather than using paper. She is a model of how we should all be in that we should stop using paper to a certain extent.

I was very interested in Dr. Amini's presentation especially her reference to the fact that in the future everyone will live in cities. Armed with that knowledge we should develop cities. I was in Istanbul at the weekend. It is interesting to see how a city as ancient as Istanbul has evolved without planning. The city has terrible traffic problems. The only city I have ever seen that was planned is Shanghai in China. We visited there approximately four years ago when the city was preparing for Expo 2010. How and what they were planning was extraordinary. Dr. Amini referred to smart streets. The system was so efficient one could identify which light was out on a particular street so that it could be fixed. I presume that is what Dr. Amini is talking about. I have not visited everywhere but that is the only city I have seen at that level. They can plan in such a way due to the governance structure. They do not have to deal with elections. There is no problem associated with stopping and starting. I have never seen anything like it. The planning even encompasses the huge port in Istanbul, which I believe is the biggest in the world. It is laid out for the next ten years, it is well planned and represents the way we should proceed. However, the rest of us are not able to plan like that. This is where I see a slight problem. On the basis of the research work Ms Amini is doing, we can see how changes will happen and how we should be planning. If a new city emerges in Ireland, where will it be? Why do we not plan for it now? Why do we not make it smart in terms of information technology?

I was in Stockholm and noted the system that city has for refuse collection. It is quite extraordinary. The system operates in a small area of the town that has been reclaimed. The authorities have opted for very high-tech solutions. There are pockets in which such systems can operate. I have seen places which demonstrate that we could do things so much better. As Senator O'Toole stated, retrofitting is a big problem.

I was interested in Ms Amini's comments. I do not have a question so much as a comment. What is the Government doing with the information in question? I am interested in determining where the problems lie. While we have the data, we must ask what we should do with it. As Ms Amini says, it is filed into some cupboard. Often there is no desire to revisit it. A good example concerns the flooding last year, particularly in Cork. The ESB discussed the release of water from the dam. There are many data. Will they be used to prevent a recurrence of the flooding by the council or the ESB?

Ms Amini referred to water leakage from the mains. The majority of leaks are of processed water from the pipe infrastructure; the waste is not really caused by the end users. Admittedly, we could all change our practices to save a good deal of water but the amount we waste is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount lost from our old pipe network, wherein all the problems lie. Even if we were to introduce water metering, there would be no incentive for the local authorities to fix the system at their end. This is where I see a dilemma. Information is always power. Ms Amini is talking about obtaining information so we will know how products are used. It is not good enough having the information; one must act on it.

The problem of energy consumption is a national one. If we have high energy costs, it is bad for our balance of payments. It is in our interest to keep costs down. However, this is a theoretical matter for the Government and no individual feels a sense of responsibility to change the existing system. We need to incentivise local authorities. How come they have not stopped wasting water and fixed the systems? I know they cannot afford to do so and that they will always say they need funds from central government. This is where I see a problem. Information technology is progressing but it is not really resulting in lower energy use.

We carry around many gadgets that we would not have had ten or 20 years ago. Each of us uses more energy today than we would have used 20 years ago. The opposite should be the case. We are all carrying mobile telephones and computers. Television screens are much bigger and people have more televisions in their houses. Technology should be capable of lowering our energy consumption but it is not having that effect.

With regard to the smart management of buildings, the trouble is that many gadgets are on stand-by constantly. Does this not use as much energy as having them on fully? While I am in the habit of turning off lights when I see them on, I know others who are not so conscientious. We should have systems that turn off lights after a certain period, but to achieve this the whole system must be on stand-by. Therefore, is there not high energy consumption?

A problem arises in terms of what information technology can do in regard to Government policy. One must ask how to save energy when building in the commercial sector. We must also ask what can be done at residential level. Ultimately, it is a question of incentivising changes. If energy attracts a cost, one will rethink how one uses it. Cost is the only factor to which people will respond. Having said that, one must bear in mind the example of water provided by local authorities. I do not have a question as such but would like to hear Ms Amini's comments on my remarks.

I sincerely apologise for being late. I was meeting the human rights group from Northern Ireland. I was then obliged to attend a meeting with the IFA. There was another group in attendance first and I could not contribute until it left. Circumstances were complicated.

I am interested in the effort to save energy and in the use of information technology. Most older people have medical cards, yet they cannot use those cards if they are seen by a doctor on call or a doctor in a clinic who is not their normal doctor. In such cases, the patient may have to go to a hospital instead of just receiving some antibiotics or some such product. Has there been contact with the HSE to try to update its system in order to bring it into the 21st century? The circumstances that obtain are absolutely ludicrous.

When we changed from the punt to the euro, all the affected countries made the change on the same day without any complications. It is impossible to understand how an organisation that is spending up to €20 billion still has not a computer system that is working to the advantage of the patient and the health service generally.

A group water scheme of which I am aware uses meters. When the meters were installed, leaks could be traced, thus allowing a cut in consumption in the order of 90%. This is absolutely unbelievable. A private scheme I know that is fully metered is supplying water at a rate of €1 per 1,000 gallons. It supplies 17,000 homes and, therefore, is not a small scheme. The county council charges €6 per 1,000 gallons for water of a lesser quality. There are obviously many issues we can deal with in that regard.

The main issue that annoys me is that large organisations such as the HSE are not using the systems they should be able to use with a view to minimising cost.

Dr. Lisa Amini

With regard to health care and the sharing of the records, from an IT perspective we have created standards for sharing records and systems for doing so. The issue is not the technology because it already exists. In some countries, it is a question of privacy regulations but it is also about control. If the records are not shared, there is a control point for the patients and doctors. Technology will not convince people to change; the policy would have to require people to change. I must admit I am not in the health care industry.

The waste in this area is unreal.

Dr. Lisa Amini

The Deputy is correct that consumption is not the main cause of water waste. Leaks in the water infrastructure are the main cause. However, waste can occur at home if people do not upgrade their water systems and do not repair leaks. When water meters are installed, we get data back on how much a family will consume. There tend to be variations due to a family's economic ability. The main reason, however, for such variations is due to the house's water system. Smart metering can help address these matters. Without any understanding of how water is consumed in different homes and buildings, one does not know how much is wasted in leaks. Small leaks can consume more than what the householders would consume.

On the question of new cities versus built cities, it is fantastic for us to come into a new environment with a clean slate. Incredible savings can be realised from these sites. In the projects which IBM is involved, however, those in built environments vastly outnumber those in new areas.

The challenge for many built environments is that a decision must be made on how much will be invested in making a building energy efficient. Our technology can get the information pulled in and the systems deployed to analyse that data. Doing it in built environments is achievable. Decisions on investing to make a building energy efficient must take into account factors such as will the costs be recouped over the life of the building and so forth. That is where IT can assist by collating information on energy efficiency. When we talk about smart cities, it is not just about adding smarts to the operations but also to the planning. We often find the instrumentation can be sparse. Certain roads may be instrumented and have loop detectors while some may not. Certain buses may have GPS while others may not. From collecting information from these instruments, we have the technology to predict traffic congestion and alternative routes. It makes the technology more complex because of the need for prediction algorithms. Having more instrumentation can make the technology more complex because there might be more data to read and assimilate.

Our strategy is to focus on greenfield developments as well as the built environment. The built environment is where most of the challenges such as congestion, cost, scale, quality and reliability emerge and have to be tackled. However, both environments will face the same problem of the willingness to accept investment must be made at a particular scale. The technology will show where to make the improvements but in the end it comes down to investment.

We consume more energy to achieve a higher quality of life. The technology that brings us a better quality of life brings us a larger energy bill. As I stated earlier, with so many people moving from the regions into cities they bring with them certain expectations regarding their quality of life. Their energy consumption profiles will be significantly changed which is a huge challenge for us.

The energy savings with stand-by mode vary with the technology. For lights, the development of motion-sensing lighting has made savings. We are examining the use of that technology and the information we have gained from it to develop other systems. For example, the same technology that tells one to turn off the lights in a conference room should also inform the system to release it to other people and offices in the building who can use it. We will be developing multiple uses of these same sensors to achieve quality and costs-savings.

I thank Dr. Amini for her interesting presentation. As Deputy McManus said, we all have a layperson's approach to these matters so listening to experts like Dr. Amini is impressive and helpful. We are public representatives and legislators. Will Dr. Amini identify any legislative changes we can make to assist in achieving energy savings? I also understand Dr. Amini will be giving advice to Dublin City Council. If it is not confidential, will she give us an outline of her proposals to the council?

Dr. Lisa Amini

In terms of priorities, I do not fully understand the inner workings of the Government. I am not sure about the legislative arm versus the local authorities. Is this committee part of the local authorities, or are members national representatives? Will the Chairman please help me to understand?

This is a national forum. None of us is a member of a local authority any more.

Dr. Lisa Amini

Our biggest challenge is that sometimes when people look at these technologies, they say, in effect, "You have to show me exactly what the return on investment will be". It is very easy to find things the technology will not do right. If we deploy this technology, for example, we shall certainly have security vulnerabilities, but will we have more or less? If we deploy this technology will we use more or less energy on stand-by? The challenge here is for the representatives to have sufficient confidence that if we go into areas and work hard, with the investment and supports in place, we shall be able to resolve the problems and make advances. It is a progress and iterative approach that needs to be followed. That is a big challenge for us, in supporting the initiatives we are trying to put in place, in the deployment for the grid, for example, and the investment that is needed there. This is critical. Unless we are willing to take that leap of faith and make some of these changes, we shall be left behind. I am not sure whether that is a good response.

On the question of what we are doing with regard to Dublin city, I am very happy about the relationship we have there. Essentially, as I mentioned earlier we have an agreement to be able to analyse some of the operational data that has been captured. For example, there is information that helps to tell the amount of traffic on the streets which is used by the operational team. We have several projects, essentially, and have set up an infrastructure wherein we can analyse some of the data and identify potential anomalies - results that might help. In one case we are looking at savings with civic office buildings, for example, being able to better use and identify challenges with water and electricity. In another case we are looking at the transportation congestion and the bus data and using that to try and better predict where the buses are and the anomalies and hopefully we will be able to resolve those.

Those are our first three projects, building test-bed and infrastructure, analysing and trying to make improvements in water and energy conservation in civic offices and helping with the transport systems. We started with bus information and we intend to look at more modalities. We would like to look at trains, buses, bicycles and all the different modalities. I am not sure if that helps.

It does, yes. I do not believe anyone else has any comments, so I again thank Dr. Amini very much for her presentation which we found very interesting and helpful, as well as for her time. I apologise once more for the slight delay at the commencement of the meeting, due to circumstances beyond our control here.

If members will hold on for a moment, there is some private business we have to get through before we conclude.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.55 p.m. and adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 November 2010.