The signing of the first EU Concerto contract awarded to
Ireland in June 2007 saw a part of the Co Louth town of Dundalk
become Irelandís first sustainable energy community.
The goal is innovation on a local scale - developing clean
energy sources and reducing energy demand in a 1.5-square-mile
Sustainable Energy Zone. The project is part of an
EU program to encourage pilot projects that can be scaled-up
to regional or national levels. Dundalk is working with two
other towns - in Austria and Switzerland - said Aideen O'Hora,
the project manager for Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI),
the government agency in charge. hOWEVER, the biggest changes
are taking place in Dundalk.
The zone has a bit of everything an industrial park,
a college campus, a high school, a hospital, a hotel, other
businesses and two housing developments in a town of
about 30,000 people. The five-year project will be a year
old in June, but other initiatives got a head start and the
town of Dundalk is already seeking money for an energy-conscious
expansion that could double its size.
Some of the current projects are literally high profile.
The first thing a visitor spots is a wind turbine 200 feet
high that has dominated the campus of the Dundalk Institute
of Technology since 2005. It is the inspiration for an even
bigger one that will provide power to Xerox in the
industrial park. Self-powered streetlights being tested on
the campus and in the industrial park also draw curious looks
because their small wind turbines and solar panels make them
appear as if they are ready for lift-off.
However, most of the work is less obvious or is in the planning
stage. For example, a wood-fuelled system with a gas boiler
backup will deliver heat and hot water to many buildings in
the zone through underground pipes. In addition, inside the
H. J. Heinz plant, clever engineering has put the machinery
on an energy diet.
Energy conservation in the zone means improving the insulation
for both new and existing homes. SEI says that, by 2010, renewable
energy will account for at least 20 percent of the heat in
the zone and at least 20 percent of the electricity used by
That timetable looks overly modest to Lawrence D. Staudt,
the director of the Center for Renewable Energy at the Dundalk
Institute of Technology, who says that Ireland is ideally
suited for wind power because of its perch in the northern
Atlantic - and he is eager to see it move ahead.
The limiting factor is Ireland's electrical grid, which is
being updated. The winds (and wave-power energy potential)
are strongest on the western coast, but the country needs
some 'big pipes' to carry the power to more populous
areas, Mr. Staudt explained. "Ireland will become an
exporter of green electrons" - he predicted.
The turbine is the largest commercial wind turbine on a college
campus, Mr. Staudt said and it has cut the college's electricity
costs in half. It will pay for itself in just over seven years,
The campus center is also studying the self-powered streetlights
that are being imported by Horseware - a horse-blanket
company in the industrial park. Ciaran Herr, Horseware's purchasing
manager, said he brought some of the lights to the Dundalk
plant after seeing them in China. However, they have their
"The County Council said they were interested in buying
them, but I must guarantee 100 percent light at night"
- Mr. Herr said. "I can't do that." If there were
four or five short winter days without wind, the solar energy
wouldn't be enough and the two small batteries in each streetlight
would run dry. Therefore, the lights will be best used in
places like parks and remote areas, Mr. Herr said - and a
power backup might be added. The plan for the zone calls for
streetlights like these to be installed in Dundalk's industrial
At Heinz, energy innovation started with recycling and conservation.
Then the engineering staff looked for savings in the refrigeration,
compressed air and boiler systems. A big chunk of Heinz's
electricity bill comes from freezing the dinners, said Shane
Kearney, the chief engineer. The system uses compressed ammonia.
"The greater the pressure, the harder it is to pump"
- Mr. Kearney said. "We took the pressure down to where
the motors didn't have to work so hard. That took 30 percent
off the freezing bill in the first year."
Then utilities workers took a critical look at the compressed-air
system used to drive machinery and found that fixing leaks
quickly made a big difference in costs. "When we plugged
the leaks" - Mr. Kearney said - "we could drop the
third compressor." In addition, the second compressor,
said Micheal McNally, the utilities supervisor, now has to
work only part of the time.
There is more work to do. For example, the heat drawn from
the refrigeration apparatus could be used to heat water for
cleaning - but, the generation of the heat and the cleaning
of the plant take place at different times of the day and
the storage of warm water could lead to bacterial growth -
unacceptable in a food plant. Still, Mr. McNally thinks a
way may be found to do it safely.