Embracing innovation for good
Suzanne Campion, Head of Business Development
“We have a headstart when it comes to innovation,” explains Suzanne Campion, Head of Business Development and Chair of the Innovation Working Group with Inland Fisheries Ireland, “because it’s in our culture: for us, it’s always been important to us to stay fresh and work in new ways, because not only does it mean we provide a better service, but we have evidence of how it makes us more sustainable – and cost effective.”
Innovation for broad benefit
As a public sector organisation, Inland Fisheries Ireland is in the enviable position of being able to directly impact fish and habitats, and also a broad range of stakeholders, from the 327,000 anglers in Ireland, commercial fishermen, fisheries owners, politicians and councillors, to the general public. Because its impact is so important and so wide-ranging, the organisation places particular focus on innovation, with the Innovation Working Group bringing people together on projects from across the organisation, at times also collaborating with other bodies.
Inland Fisheries Ireland is developing its innovation strategy, with input from staff right across the state agency. As part of this, it has opened up an Ideas Bank, encouraging staff to submit or ‘deposit’ their ideas. “When we put a call out internally for ideas, we will have submissions back almost immediately which is a great sign,” remarks Suzanne. “Some ideas from staff are submitted as part of a competition and these are reviewed and could be put forward for external funding or internal piloting.”
The projects that follow are just two that showcase Inland Fisheries Ireland’s innovative outlook and delivery.
Project: Reducing Energy, Carbon and Costs
Thomas McGrory, Energy Officer
Thomas McGrory, Energy Officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland, explains the background to a hugely innovative project that started delivering real benefits from the ‘go-live’ date. “We take the part we have to play in the government’s Climate Action Plan very seriously, which gives Ireland’s public services a target of achieving a year-on-year 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.”
This 2030 carbon reduction target is a collective target, to reduce CO2eq. (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 51% and improve energy efficiency by 50% by 2030. The ultimate goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. With Inland Fisheries Ireland buildings dispersed around the country using gas, electricity and kerosene, and meter readings having to be taken manually, there was no easy way for the organisation to track progress against this target.
“We decided to turn this gap in our knowledge into a huge opportunity,” Thomas enthuses, “and partnered with Energy Elephant, a company which that an intelligent energy management platform for us. We put in the legwork to gather a considerable amount of historical energy usage data, so that we had a baseline from which we can measure progress. With great support and a grant of €36,400 from the Public Service Innovation Fund, that contributed to the hardware, software and maintenance costs of our new platform, we now have a live dashboard that shows us in real time how much energy we are using, and on which sites.”
The platform immediately made it clear where the energy blackspots were: sites with old boilers, single-glazed windows and poor insulation, for example. “Armed with the data, we could then put forward a business case for remedial action on these sites. We have carried out many upgrades, and the platform has a ‘register of opportunity’ on which managers can indicate the upgrades that would benefit their site and track progress on these.”
The platform displays the improvements in real time and the figures speak for themselves. “For example, one of our properties used 18,473 kWh in 2017, however following energy-saving improvements its energy usage is now some 60% lower,” observes Thomas.
“And not only are we fixing underlying structural issues, but we have solar (Photo Voltaic) panels and batteries in place too; across 12 sites we have generated almost 240,000 kWh of solar energy to date. A further seven sites will be completed in the short-term.
“The payback is fantastic: we are cutting down our energy use, our carbon footprint and our costs. It is motivating and empowering local teams to make important changes and see immediate benefits.”
Enhancing data transfer and increasing staff safety
The use of radio telemetry stations to survey fish movements on the Owenriff and Erriff river systems was causing challenges: replacing their heavy 30kg batteries every few weeks was a struggle for staff who had to carry out this task in remote locations, at times in poor weather.
A solution was found in the shape of the installation of a solar PV panel at each station to provide a constant supply of power to the battery. Staff no longer need to travel to replace the batteries regularly, which eliminates this travel time and reduces their carbon footprint, and also avoids them having to carry heavy weights across sometimes challenging terrain. The stations were meanwhile enhanced with SIM cards fitted to the data loggers, giving researchers remote access to information.
Looking to the future
Inland Fisheries Ireland has already adapted their ways of working and will continue to build on these, from their fleet of 45 electric vehicles to their use of unmanned drones, e-bikes and also kayaks to better patrol and survey habitats.
“We’re still at the tip of the innovation iceberg, so there’s lots more to come,” says Suzanne. “I’m excited about the potential of the Bradán (salmon) project that will digitise salmon licences and logbooks to make it easier for anglers to access them and for us to record and administer them. A big data project is also under discussion, to gather centrally and analyse the ongoing data we log on water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, weather and the records from our data buoy on Lough Sheelin.”
While acknowledging the regulatory constraints in Inland Fisheries Ireland’s arena, the workforce of Inland Fisheries Ireland has the inspiration, skills and pedigree to continue to help the work in innovative ways to help them manage, protect and conserve Ireland’s fish and habitats.