Knowledge is a powerful tool in meeting the current challenges posed by climate change, resource management and the need for sustainable economic development.
We live on the Earth and we live from the Earth – it is essential to our lives and to the lives of the generations to come that we understand the structure of the Earth and how it works. This is geoscience. This multi-disciplinary subject combines the study of geology, geography, chemistry, physics and biology to develop a complete understanding of how the Earth works.
It includes the analysis of the changing climate, the discovery of supplies of energy sources and raw materials, maintenance of clean air and water, and it measures the motion of the Earth’s crust and oceans. In addition, a major component of site investigation and preliminary geotechnical design is informed by a geological assessment of the terrain and topography.
In this country, Geoscience Ireland, a business development cluster of geoscience-sector companies brought together in response to the economic crisis of 2008, is responsible for harnessing this crucial information and translating it to practical applications and economic development.
The geological, geophysical, geochemical and environmental services provided by GI-member companies are critical to engineering decisions – and the deeper the foundation, the more complex the underlying engineering solution.
Sean Finlay, director of Geoscience Ireland, a programme of Geological Survey Ireland, Ireland’s earth science knowledge centre, and a division of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, explains its background and importance.
“Geological Survey Ireland, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, initially met with a range of participants from the Irish geoscience sector including large and small companies, research institutions, representative bodies and state agencies,” he said.
“Arising from these initial meetings, the two sponsoring bodies, Geological Survey Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, brought together a reference group of five companies in 2010, to deliver geoscience advisory services to infrastructure and extractive industries in an effort to arrest the acute job losses in the sector.
“Leading on from the first steps, Geoscience Ireland commenced operations in 2012 and since then, the group of member companies has expanded from the original five to 42 companies as of 2021.”
In order to maintain and create valuable and skilled jobs, it soon became clear that geoscience skills developed in the Irish market needed to be sold more effectively into international markets.
Since 2012, GI member companies have created 1,346 new jobs. The creation of these jobs is a direct result of the ambition of GI member companies in exporting their services to international markets.
Market trends and commercial opportunities
“Growth of overseas markets allows for greater resilience and increased scale for Irish engineering companies and contractors,” Jessica Allen, market adviser for Geoscience Ireland, said.
“It was also clear that collaboration between Irish SMEs was essential in order to achieve greater success in winning large international contracts for infrastructure development, such as those advertised by international financial institutions, including the World Bank, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
“The GI business cluster is operated by four full-time people who, in consultation with the member companies, analyse overseas market trends, routes to market, tenders and commercial opportunities, and increases company exposure to the international audience.”
The GI team participates at global trade fairs, and engages in market study visits and trade missions, which directly assist in bringing Irish companies closer to their respective target markets and clients – including Britain, the Nordic countries, France, the Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-Eat and North African countries (MENA) and the Americas.
“A primary objective of Geoscience Ireland is to foster collaboration between its members; this occurs in several ways including promoting joint bidding on commercial tenders or sharing market knowledge and opportunities.” Allen said. “GI companies have worked jointly on projects both in the Irish market and overseas and Geoscience Ireland assists its member companies with winning work in overseas markets through the provision of a range of services, including membership of the network which enhances brand recognition and opens new routes to market.
“By pooling market knowledge, sourced by GI, and leveraging ‘Team Ireland’s’ support services, companies can expand their global reach and identify opportunities which would not otherwise be visible. Joining this networked community facilitates the growth of a geoscience cluster, concentrates power, accelerates technical development, deepens the talent pool, leverages research and promotes innovation.”
Geoscience Ireland also offers full-time tender tracking, market intelligence and support for joint bid activity through its ‘Geoscience Ireland Procurement Hub’, a bespoke online platform designed for member company procurement needs. And it actively promotes member companies in a wide range of international exhibitions, conferences, trade shows, industry fairs and through business networking.
Beyond the services offered to members, Geoscience Ireland is also closely involved with capacity building, both for its member companies and on a European level, through its involvement with pan-European projects focused on the export of services to markets beyond the continent.
Business development manager Andrew Gaynor says there are both challenges and opportunities on the horizon for Irish business and how it accesses the exports economy.
“Both Brexit and the impacts felt by Covid-19 bear witness to sluggish economies, delayed decision-making and project financing, and restricted physical access to new markets,” he said.
“However, Irish companies, and indeed those comprising the Geoscience Ireland business cluster, have demonstrated resilience and maintain a cautiously optimistic outlook. Through its in-house market research and its relationship with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and Enterprise Ireland, GI remains appraised of prevailing overseas market conditions as the consular network of the Department of Foreign Affairs keeps GI updated on broader geopolitical movements and market access issues.”
Gaynor says GI has developed a strong relationship with the European cluster community through its registration with the European Cluster Collaboration Platform which has led to collaboration agreements with the French Geoscience Cluster Pole Avenia and the Ethiopian Geological Survey. This work will continue as GI forms links with organisations in third country markets around the globe.
“Geological Survey Ireland, based on its experience with GI, has published two reports on the formation and maintenance of successful business clusters and works closely with other Irish clusters in the offshore renewables and marine sectors,” he said.
“This reflects the commitment to sharing its model with other sectors of the economy which might wish to collaborate together in order to succeed.”
In addition to this positive news, Dr Clare Glanville, senior geologist with Geological Survey Ireland, says Geoscience Ireland is also well positioned to take advantage of the significance of the global presence of ‘Team Ireland’.
“Since its inception eight years ago, GI has received enormous support, advice and encouragement from Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs in developing business in the UK, the Gulf Region, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa,” she said. “GI has participated in trade missions and market study visits, and inward buyer visits in these markets and has always valued the ‘Team Ireland’ approach of the various agencies involved.
“For example, Irish ambassadors to Canada have been keynote speakers at the Prospectors and Development Association of Canada’s annual convention, at which GI sponsors an Ireland presentation. While Ireland’s ambassadors to South Africa have hosted business networking events for GI members, as have consul generals in Canada and Scotland. Enterprise Ireland overseas offices in the UK, France, the Nordic countries, Africa and Canada have provided exceptional support and guidance to GI and its members.
Enterprise Ireland has also been a great support to the growth of the GI network. Dermot Reidy, Tonia Spollen-Behrens and Tom Kelly have been of great assistance to GI and its members since the GI was established in 2012.”
Along with working with counterparts around the world, the sector is also looking to expand in Ireland by encouraging more companies and indeed, individuals, to get on board.
Stephen Walsh, senior market adviser with Geoscience Ireland, says the recent introduction of the Geo Drilling Apprenticeship and the next phase of the Geo Energy Europe project, have been great steps forward.
“Launched in 2019 by the then Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English TD, the creation of the Geo Drilling apprenticeship was led by Geoscience Ireland,” he said. “It is the first and only formal training programme focused on the drilling sector in Ireland and was created in response to industry demand for Irish drilling companies to have certification to access the UK market.
“The programme was developed in partnership with drilling companies and the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment in Institute of Technology, Carlow, which now delivers the course. It is a great development as drilling is critically important to various sectors of the Irish economy, including quarrying, mining, groundwater research and abstraction, mineral exploration, geothermal energy development, site investigation for housing and infrastructure projects, and also for directional drilling for utilities.”
As well as this crucial new programme, in September 2020, Geoscience Ireland launched phase two of the Geo Energy Europe project which brings together nine geothermal energy-focused business development clusters from eight European countries.
“This phase of the Geo Energy Europe project builds on the success of the first phase, which ran from 2018 to 2020,” Walsh said. “The purpose of the first phase of the project was to explore third country energy markets and identify opportunities for the use of European skills and expertise in the field of deep geothermal energy. The second phase will focus on bringing the skills and expertise of European small and medium-sized companies to the target markets identified in the first phase of the project.
“It will also assist in the development of business links between European small and medium-sized enterprises and their counterparts in mature and emerging geothermal energy markets around the globe. The Geo Energy Europe project combines the European know-how, technologies and experience in geo-energy with an emphasis on the service offer of small and medium-sized companies in the field of deep geothermal energy.
“Geo Energy Europe currently represents over 600 members, including 300 small and medium-sized enterprises from 23 EU countries, and covers the entire deep geothermal value chain of services.”
Koen Verbruggen, director of Geological Survey Ireland, has praised Geoscience Ireland for the role it plays in developing the Irish geoscience sector both at home and abroad. He recently said: “The Geoscience Ireland programme in Geological Survey Ireland has not only been instrumental in winning business for Irish geoscience and engineering expertise, but has widened the range of engagements with other government and semi-state agencies in developing a Team Ireland approach to international marketing.”
As a civilisation and as a society, we face the challenges of adapting to a changing climate, managing our natural resources, working towards sustainable economic development, as well as ongoing changes in the geopolitical world. Knowledge is a powerful tool in meeting these challenges and our knowledge of the Earth, its resources, and its renewable energy potential is essential for us and our future generations.
Geoscience Ireland is finding a way through the challenges for the Irish geoscience sector and for Ireland.