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What can Ireland do to make energy consumption more efficient?




Chris Collins of Schneider Electric Ireland says the country has the tech to help cut emissions, it just needs to rethink its approach to energy use.

The rapid rise of energy costs in tandem with the cost-of-living crisis was certainly a focus of Budget 2023. But what about Ireland’s climate targets?

Understandably, many people were looking for help with high energy bills – a problem that will hopefully be only temporary. What is not temporary, however, is the climate crisis. And Ireland has legally binding targets to cut emissions by 51pc by 2030.

With these ambitious targets in mind, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications was allocated more than €1bn in Budget 2023.

A €337m chunk of this will go towards grants for energy efficiency. According to Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath, TD, this represents the “highest funding ever” committed to energy efficiency.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, TD, added that a key priority over the coming months is “to scale up and speed up our transition to renewable energy systems”. This, he said, would “a real lasting solution” to the fossil fuel crisis that is causing so much hardship for people.

But is this action enough to respond the climate crisis? In general, Ireland’s progress on reaching its emissions targets leaves a lot to be desired.

A report published recently by the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) showed that Ireland’s energy-related emissions increased by 5.4pc in 2021, following a brief reduction at the beginning of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency warned that “urgent” measures are needed for Ireland to meet its climate targets, based on greenhouse gas emissions projections for the period 2021 to 2040. So what should be done?

‘We have a lot of catching up to do’

According to Chris Collins, Ireland country president for Schneider Electric, “we have a lot of catching up to do” and we will need “more than significant cuts to stay within the legal limits”.

This is something most of us already know. Indeed, Collins made a very similar statement in August when Eurostat published estimates indicating that emissions had risen across the whole of Europe in the first quarter of this year – with Ireland experiencing the third highest increase in the EU.

Following on from those earlier comments, Collins told that there are a number of things the Irish Government should focus on immediately to see results.

“The most immediate thing we can do to drive our sustainability agenda is to focus on reduction, using existing technology to cut out the inefficiencies in our existing infrastructure,” he said, adding that a lot of energy consumed in buildings is wasted.

Chris Collins Schneider Electric headshot.

Chris Collins. Image: Schneider Electric

“We can attack this waste through digital technologies that help our homes, commercial buildings and factories make better decisions on how they use their energy.

“Government-led legislation and support in the form of energy incentives and rewards are valuable ways to cement this progress made by businesses and create a more cohesive strategy for Ireland.”

Ireland needs to invest in digitisation as “a sustainability enabler” so homes as well as businesses can minimise energy waste through tech such as smart thermostats.

“Energy efficiency might sound like an outworn concept but it’s one of the fastest-growing ways to cut carbon emissions and save the planet,” said Collins.

Technology will be an incredibly useful asset for sustainability overall, he added. “The good news is we do not have to wait for this technology to get developed, it’s already here.”

Ireland needs the ‘courage to think differently’

However, Collins said that leveraging tech’s potential regarding sustainability would require “courage to think differently about how we digitise at all stages of planning, construction and operation”.

“There is plenty of technology available to help, from electric fleet vehicles to digital technologies that make electricity usage more visible, connected, controlled and smart – cutting waste.”

Besides using tech to track and cut energy waste, what other suggestions does Collins have for Ireland? He reckons that one of the biggest obstacles to Ireland’s transition to clean, renewable energy is providing capital investors and developers certainty during the planning and reviewing process.

“It is taking too long for projects to be reviewed and [enter] into production, worsened by the current global supply chain challenges. Once approval is given, components still need to be built, prolonging the wait even further.”

He also recommended that the State start thinking about building grid resilience and creating micro grids around some of the larger cities.

“Data centre operators also need to start thinking about investing in their own renewable energy generation assets on site to power themselves and use battery storage and smart grid solutions to feed excess power back into the national power grid,” he added.

‘Ireland as a nation is behind on its climate goals, but the ambition and opportunity are there’

For its part, Schneider Electric is working with customers in Ireland such as Interxion by Digital Realty, Eirgrid and University College Dublin to help improve their energy management and efficiency. Other partners and customers in Ireland include windfarms, tech multinationals and life sciences manufacturers.

“We are working with a major pharmaceutical manufacturer in Ireland to deploy digital assets that measure and monitor their electrical infrastructure and help them make operating decisions that reduce their consumption and maximise the life and efficiency of their assets,” said Collins, citing one example.

As for Schneider Electric’s own internal operations, Collins said the company has “measured and published sustainability targets for over 15 years” and has committed to becoming fully carbon neutral on its end-to-end footprint by 2040.

“Here in Ireland, we are moving to a new net-zero building in Galway from November. The building will have electrified heating and hot water, electric vehicle power stations, and we are also looking into the prospect of having onsite renewable energy generation including solar and wind power coupled with local energy storage.”

Despite the fact that Ireland has a lot of work to do in meeting its climate goals, Collins is relatively optimistic about embracing the challenge that lies ahead and becoming “a leader in the green energy revolution”.

“Ireland as a nation is behind on its climate goals, but the ambition and opportunity are there, and businesses are leading the way. The Covid pandemic highlighted the need to digitise.

“The fact that carbon emissions reduced significantly during the lockdown can inspire us to rethink energy use and our approach to consumption – efficiency, smart usage – as well as generation – offshore wind and solar – particularly as the world faces the ongoing energy crisis.”

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Singapore pulls plug on COVID tracking program • The Register




Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday that it was finally pulling the plug on its COVID tracking program.

On February 13, the city-state’s TraceTogether (TT) program, which uses the Bluetooth radios in mobile phones to track movements, and its business check-in system SafeEntry (SE) will come to a halt.

According to the ministry’s announcement, the government had already begun stepping down TT and SE, and would no longer require infected persons to submit TraceTogether data.

“SE data is no longer being collected, and MOH has deleted all identifiable TT and SE data from its servers and databases,” said the department.

The exception is data that was controversially used off-label in a murder investigation.

The systems will remain intact – as well as registration details including name, business registration, and mobile phone number – in case there is a need for reactivation. One example given is if a more dangerous COVID-19 variant were to spread. Apps will also remain available.

The ministry told members of the public, who haven’t been required to have them since last year, that they may “uninstall their TT App, and enterprises may do the same for the SE (Business) App.”

Furthermore, those with a physical TT token, which came in handy for the non-tech savvy as a device that exchanges anonymized identifiers, were asked to return the dongle for recycling.

Singapore began developing the open source TraceTogether at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The app constantly sought out other Bluetooth-enabled devices that ran the app and logged when they were in close proximity. The country required users to register and inform authorities if they contracted COVID-19 and used the app to draw up lists of contacts who were then isolated.

Other countries, including Australia, based their apps on the technology. While many nations seemed to flop at COVID tracking, Singapore fared somewhat better, even with similar technology. That success has been attributed to a culture willing to comply, combined with a government that modified behavior through other strict rules to keep the virus from spreading.

One example of the additional measures was tracking devices issued to travelers during a required one-week isolation after arriving.

In April, TT and SE became largely superfluous as their use was no longer mandatory except for select events. The efficacy of such systems relied on mass compliance so if some people weren’t using them, they were less effective anyway.

However, job postings for positions related to the program near that time sparked speculation that the system would remain in some form in the island nation, unlike in most other countries. Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) told The Register in late March 2022 the job listings were merely for replacing existing employees.

Australia quit its app in August after it was deemed a massive failure. Japan followed in September, and China discontinued use of its tracking app in December. ®

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Irish biotech Ovagen raises €1.1m for germ-free egg production




Based in Co Mayo, Ovagen now plans to add 65 jobs over the next five years and hopes to see its revenue reach €42m by the end of 2027.

Irish biotech start-up Ovagen has raised €1.1m in an oversubscribed funding round led by the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN) for its germ-free egg production business.

Ovagen, based in Ballina, Co Mayo, is a biotech company that has developed a process of producing germ-free chicken eggs intended for use in the pharmaceutical industry for products such as vaccines.

According to Ovagen, up to 20pc – or one in five – egg-based vaccine batches are destroyed because of contamination.

Overall, more than 1bn eggs are used every year as ‘bio reactors’ to develop vaccines. Viruses are injected into the eggs to propagate the virus, which vaccine manufacturers can then use to develop vaccines for diseases including the flu, yellow fever, mumps and measles.

Dr Catherine Caulfield, CEO and co-founder of Ovagen, said that current vaccines are developed using specific pathogen free eggs, which are free of many bacteria and viruses, but they are not germ-free and a significant portion become contaminated.

“Our funders have been instrumental in supporting us on our long journey to make a concept a reality,” she said.

“At critical stages in our development, our angel investors have not only provided us with their financial backing, but they have also introduced us to other potential investors, as well as their highly influential industry contacts.”

Ovagen now aims to go to market with the “world’s first germ-free egg” in what is potentially a multimillion euro industry.

“The global potential of the company’s technology is vast and that is why this is the second time HBAN syndicates have backed Ovagen,” said Declan MacFadden, an HBAN spokesperson.

“Ovagen is now in prime position to launch its product and we are excited to see the impact that this ground-breaking development has in a highly lucrative global market.”

Following the latest investment, in which the Western Development Commission and an existing shareholder also participated, the company expects to add 65 jobs (it currently has 12 staff) over the next five years, with revenues reaching €42m by the end of 2027.

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Republicans grill ex-Twitter executives over handling of Hunter Biden story | House of Representatives




US lawmakers held a combative hearing on Wednesday with former senior staffers at Twitter over the social media platform’s handling of reporting on Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

The proceedings set the stage for the agenda of a newly Republican-controlled House, underscoring its intention to hone in on longstanding and unsubstantiated allegations that big tech platforms have an anti-conservative bias.

The House oversight committee called for questioning recently departed Twitter employees including Vijaya Gadde, the social network’s former chief legal officer, former deputy general counsel James Baker, former head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth and former safety leader Anika Collier Navaroli.

The hearing centered on a question that has long dogged Republicans – why Twitter decided to temporarily restrict the sharing of a story about Hunter Biden in the New York Post, released in October 2020, the month before the US presidential election. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle used the opportunity to interrogate moderation practices at Twitter and other tech firms.

“The government doesn’t have any role in suppressing speech,” said Republican committee chairman James Comer, hammering the former employees for censoring the Post story.

people sit at table in congressional chamber
James Baker, former deputy general counsel at Twitter; Vijaya Gadde; former chief legal officer at Twitter; Yoel Roth, former global head of trust and safety; and the former employee Anika Collier Navaroli attend the hearing. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

In that report, the Post said it received a copy of a laptop hard drive from Donald Trump’s then-personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved. Twitter initially blocked people from sharing links to the article for several days, citing concerns over misinformation and spreading a report containing potentially hacked materials.

In opening statements on Wednesday, the former Twitter staffers described the process by which the story was blocked. While the company explicitly allowed “reporting on a hack, or sharing press coverage of hacking”, it blocked stories that shared “personal and private information – like email addresses and phone numbers” – which the Post story appeared to include. The platform amended these rules following the Biden controversy, and the then CEO, Jack Dorsey, later called the company’s communications about the Post article “not great”.

Roth, the former head of safety and integrity, said on Wednesday that Twitter acknowledged that censoring the story was a mistake.

“Defending free expression and maintaining the health of the platform required difficult judgment calls,” he said. “There is no easy way to run a global communications platform that satisfies business and revenue goals, individual customer expectations, local laws and cultural norms and get it right every time.”

men in congressional chamber
Yoel Roth prepares to testify. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Elon Musk, who purchased the company last year, has since shared a series of internal records, known as the Twitter Files, showing how the company initially stopped the story being shared, citing concerns from the Biden campaign, among other factors.

Republican theories that Democrats are colluding with big tech to suppress conservative speech have become a hot button issue in Washington, with congress members using various tech hearings to grill executives. But experts say claims of anti-conservative bias have been disproven by independent researchers.

“What we’ve seen time and again is that companies are de-platforming people who are spreading racism and conspiracy theories in violation of the company’s rule,” said Jessica J González, co-chief executive officer of the civil rights group Free Press.

“The fact that those people are disproportionately Republicans has nothing to do with it,” she added. “This is about right or wrong, not left or right.”

Musk’s decision to release information about the laptop story comes after he allowed the return of high-profile figures banned for spreading misinformation and engaging in hate speech, including the former president. The executive has shared and engaged with conspiracy theories on his personal account.

Republican lawmakers seem to have found an ally in Musk, and repeatedly praised him during Wednesday’s proceedings. The rightwing congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene used her time on the floor to personally attack the former Twitter employees and complain about her own account, which was suspended for violating the platform’s policies on coronavirus misinformation.

“I’m so glad you’ve lost your jobs,” she said. “I am so glad Elon Musk bought Twitter.”

man in front of image of new york post with headline 'biden secret emails'
The oversight committee chairman, James Comer, a Republican, makes opening remarks. Photograph: Jemal Countess/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

But Democrats on Wednesday used their time in the House to explore how the Trump administration engaged with Twitter, revealing that the former president himself tried to interfere with content decisions.

In response to questioning from the new representative Maxwell Frost of Florida, the former Twitter content moderation executive Navaroli confirmed that in 2019 Trump tried to have an insulting tweet from internet personality Chrissy Teigen removed from the platform. In the tweet, which was read for the record, Teigen referred to Trump as a “pussy ass bitch”. Twitter denied the White House’s request, and it remains online today.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez further sought to disprove bias against conservative speech on Twitter when she asked about an instance in 2019, when a tweet from Trump including hate speech was kept online despite violating platform policies.

The former president told Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their countries, a clear violation of Twitter’s policies regarding abuse against immigrants, but was not penalized, Navaroli confirmed, and the rules were changed.

“So Twitter changed their own policy after Trump violated it to accommodate his tweets?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So much for bias against the rightwing on Twitter.”

The White House has sought to discredit the Republican investigation into Hunter Biden, calling them “divorced-from-reality political stunts”. Nonetheless, Republicans now hold subpoena power in the House, giving them the authority to compel testimony and conduct an aggressive investigation.

In opening statements at Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland expressed frustration that the first tech-focused panel of the session is focused on the Hunter Biden story, which he called a “faux scandal”. He said private companies under the first amendment are free to decide what is allowed on their platforms.

“Silly does not even begin to capture this obsession,” he said of the laptop story. “What’s more, Twitter’s editorial decision has been analyzed and debated ad nauseam. Some people think it was the right decision. Some people think it was the wrong decision. But the key point here is that it was Twitter’s decision.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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