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Geoscience: the Foundation for Infrastructure | Business Post 25 October 2020

Geoscience: the Foundation for Infrastructure | Business Post 25 October 2020


​The article below was published in the Business Post on the 25 October 2020.

Irish geoscience companies and the wider construction sector have the capacity and ability to deliver key infrastructure, both in Ireland and overseas

Geoscience is the understanding of the earth beneath us and that understanding is crucial in how we design and deliver all manner of infrastructure. It informs the foundations for buildings; the construction of roads, railways and pipelines; the provision of water supplies; the safe treatment of wastewater and the development of minerals needed for society.

Geoscience draws on several skills and disciplines including geology, geochemistry, the engineering properties of rocks and soils, groundwater and its interaction with surface water. And it uses many methods of investigation to gather the data which underpins it; these include satellite imagery, mapping, geophysical surveys using aircraft, drones and/or ground surveys, soil sampling and drilling. The careful and accurate collection of this data provides the basis for successful design and delivery of infrastructure projects.

Geoscience Ireland (GI) is a network of 41 companies which provide surveying, data collection and analysis, design and contracting services to projects in over 80 countries.

Launched in 2012 in response to the global economic crisis, it is a programme of Geological Survey Ireland, part of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and is focused on helping Irish-based companies win business in overseas markets and works closely with Enterprise Ireland, the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The network of companies employs over 4,500 highly skilled graduates, mainly scientists and engineers, which between them had a turnover of €1.23 billion in 2019, 41 per cent of which was derived from overseas markets. And during the past eight years, the GI network has created 1,300 net new jobs.

The role of international financial institutions (IFI) in infrastructure

IFIs are crucial to the funding of infrastructure across the globe, but in particular in less developed economies. They include the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.

The UN and the EU operate major investment programmes, as do the governments of most advanced economies. Most IFIs are focused on reducing poverty, improving living conditions, supporting sustainable economic and institutional development and promoting regional cooperation.

Indeed, the UN's Sustainability Development Goals include several which are focused on sectors which involve geoscience – clean water, clean energy, basic infrastructure, renewable energy and climate action. And the shift from fossil fuels to green energy will require the increased use of critical raw material minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper and zinc, which in turn need to be sourced by environmentally and socially acceptable methods.

The IMF estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic will result in an additional 110 million people being driven below the poverty line. In contrast to the 2008-2010 recession, IMF policy is focused on economic recovery by investment in infrastructure.

The IMF estimates that a spending increase of 1 per cent on infrastructure raises economic output by 1.5 per cent over four years. This view is shared by governments throughout the world and is evidenced by the Irish government in its recent budget which allocated €10 billion to capital spending in 2021.

Geoscience Ireland (GI): meet our team

Geoscience Ireland (GI) has a small secretariat of four which supports its member companies in network support, including by tracking the tenders placed by the IFIs, the UN and the EU. It provides information on markets and market entry; promotes collaboration between member companies and with third-level research institutions. Many infrastructure projects are procured directly by the private sector, and GI's Secretariat also tracks these opportunities.

Sean Finlay is the Director of Business Development for GI.

Andrew Gaynor is the Manager of Business Development and liaises with other business clusters at national and international levels; GI is one of only five Irish business clusters registered with the European Cluster Platform.

Stephen Walsh is a senior Market Advisor with GI and manages GI's involvement in a new apprenticeship it has created for the Geo Drilling industry. The apprenticeship is delivered by Institute of Technology Carlow. Stephen coordinates a European Commission-funded business development project for small and medium-sized enterprises called Geo Energy Europe which focuses on geothermal energy.

Jessica Allen is a Market Advisor tasked with tracking and coordinating tenders form multiple portals.

Brexit and Infrastructure

Over 50 per cent of GI members are active in the UK and remain concerned as to the potential impacts of Brexit. One hopeful sign is that the UK government has reiterated its commitment to infrastructure spending and this policy has all-party support.

The Programme for Government in Ireland envisages a number of North-South infrastructure initiatives such as upgrading the Belfast-Dublin rail line and the North-South electricity interconnector. The progression of these projects will be a key source of commissions for GI's member companies.

Another is that bilateral agreements between Irish and British professional bodies for engineers and geoscientists should ease any problems relating to mutual recognition of qualifications.

In summary, the team at Geoscience Ireland believes that, despite the problems presented by Covid-19 and Brexit, the strong focus by governments, transnational and multilateral financial organisations on infrastructure spending will be an essential element in meeting these challenges.

Irish geoscience companies and the wider construction sector have the capacity and ability in delivering key infrastructure, both in Ireland and overseas. The development of green energy sources, particularly offshore wind and geothermal energy also provides a distinct opportunity for Ireland and Irish companies.

To view the article on the Business Post website, please click here.