2016 IRC-GSI Policy and Society

In 2016 Geological Survey Ireland partnered with the Irish Research Council’s programme for Research for Policy and Society. Four projects connecting physical and social science research were selected for funding and started in early 2017.

For more information on the programme, please contact the IRC http://www.research.ie/scheme/research-policy-society-2016

1. Risks, Awareness, Perceptions, and Behaviours pertaining to the adverse human health effects of previous and future flood events in Ireland

Dr Eoin O’Neill, University College Dublin- Environmental Policy at UCD Planning and Environmental Policy

Climate change will exacerbate the frequency and intensity of flooding events in the future, with major societal impacts including public health consequences. Associated with such increases in flooding, one area of concern is the effect on the incidence of waterborne infectious disease, with a variety of microorganisms having the capacity to transmit disease. Compared to infrastructural flood-related impacts, the increased exposure to waterborne pathogens, through consumption of contaminated water, is less well known. The impact of extreme weather events on waterborne illness has been shown to be a factor in triggering waterborne disease outbreaks. However people frequently fail to undertake preventative actions at a household level to mitigate against contamination of drinking water sources. With 800,000 Irish people relying on a private unregulated groundwater source (private wells) for daily consumption, Ireland presents an interesting case study. Whilst there is increased awareness of property and financial-related impacts of flooding, less attention has been paid to health impacts. There are low levels of household awareness of the potential health risks from consuming groundwater-fed drinking water sources inundated by floodwaters. Therefore this research project, employing a mixed methods approach comprising quantitative and qualitative elements, will: explore and quantify the effects of intensive rainfall/flood events on the instance, severity and profile of “sentinel” pathogens; and, identify the knowledge and awareness gaps of well owners and users concerning drinking water sources and flood awareness and preparedness. The project will seek to develop guidelines to inform public authorities when responding to extreme weather conditions so as to reduce the risks of infectious disease outbreaks. The provision of this evidence base to inform public policy concerned with groundwater sources and public health is the principal contribution of this project.


2. Public perception of groundwater use and resources in Ireland

Dr Geertje Schuitema, University College Dublin - College of Business

Prof. Frank McDermott, University College Dublin - School of Earth Sciences

Groundwater is important in Ireland, comprising 20-25% of all drinking water supplies. In rural areas where no public or group water schemes exist, groundwater is often the only source of drinking water. Although the overall quality of groundwater that feeds public supplies in Ireland is gradually improving, there are still major concerns about maintaining good quality levels in private wells that are normally not sampled. Locally, groundwater quality can be poor, posing a significant health risk to populations that rely on private wells for drinking water. In this project, we aim to get a better understanding of the public’s perception of groundwater, whereby we distinguish between those on water public supply, private group water schemes, and private well owners. Previous studies indicate that private well owners tend to underestimate the risks of poor water quality by focussing on perceptual biases, especially in comparison to those on public water supply or private group water schemes. We aim to investigate why this is the case, particularly by looking at common proxies that people may use to judge the water quality (e.g., the colour). Moreover, we aim to develop communication tools in order to increase the awareness of private well owners of the risks of contamination of their water supply.


3. G.O.THERM.3D: Providing a 3D Atlas of Temperature in Ireland's Subsurface

Dr Javier Fullea, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies – School of Cosmic Physics

With the backdrop of climate change and Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels, the need to exploit Ireland's potential for secure, reliable and diverse indigenous renewable energy supply is immediate. The contribution of geothermal energy to the required energy transformation of Ireland has fallen behind targets and is far from realising its full potential. As a guide to geothermal conditions beneath our feet, Ireland's current maps of temperature within the subsurface are based on unrealistic assumptions and only a few shallow borehole temperature measurements. G.O.THERM.3D proposes a novel approach to quantify and map temperature in Ireland's crust in an integrated approach that simultaneously accounts for multiple geophysical and petrological datasets. Based on this integrative approach a new 3D temperature atlas for Ireland's crust will be built from the bottom up. The 3D temperature model will provide an insight into the thermal regime within Ireland's subsurface, offering a robust constraint on future quantitative modelling of both shallow and deep geothermal prospects across the country. The temperature model and its associated data will be made publicly available for the community on an interactive online platform and the main results will be presented in national and international conferences as well as outreach events to increase public awareness of geothermal energy. The outcomes of this project should assist in the development of public policy on geothermal energy exploration, mapping, planning and exploitation.


4. An Economic Analysis of Policy to Deploy Shallow Geothermal Systems in Ireland

Dr Lisa Ryan, University College Dublin – School of Economics

Energy systems are undergoing a transition from a supply of fossil fuel-based, centrally-generated electricity and heat, to a more distributed renewable electricity and heat system that is becoming increasingly integrated. EU Member States have set renewable energy and heat, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, targets for 2020 and 2030. While Ireland has achieved great progress in deploying renewable electricity, particularly wind, renewable heat has been less successful and Ireland is at risk of missing the renewable heat targets by a wide measure.

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy resource that has the potential to increase the share of renewable heat in Ireland and achieve Irish renewable heat targets. While policies to support the deployment of geothermal energy in the residential sector in the form of ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) have been mentioned in the White Paper on Irish Energy Policy, there are currently none in place. In addition, there has not been a comprehensive analysis of the sector in terms of the barriers to uptake, the current and future costs of the technology, and the most suitable policies to support the deployment of GSHPs.

This project addresses this deficit by firstly developing a model of uptake scenarios of GSHPs in Ireland, then it utilises the model to examine the potential impact of GSHPs on emissions and renewable heat targets. A subsequent step carries out an economic assessment of GSHPs incorporating both societal and private net benefits and finally some possible policy options are proposed and tested, based on the CBA and best practice in the literature. This research will be informed by researchers from the applied geosciences centre iCRAG and other UCD energy groups. It should be useful to policy makers and academics interested in renewable energy policy and technology adoption.