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Hi, I’m Caitríona and I work as an electrical engineer. I lived in London for six years and moved back to Ireland in 2017. I began my sustainability journey when I came home and this was partially influenced by my new role at EirGrid, the state-owned electric power transmission operator.
At EirGrid we develop and operate the national electrical grid. I work primarily in the plan and development aspect of the EirGrid business and help to organise planned grid outages that allow maintenance of the existing grid and connection of new projects.
A lot of people do not realise that Ireland is a world leader when it comes to the percentage of renewable energy sources powering our grid. We can accommodate up to 65% renewable electricity on the grid at any one time, predominantly derived from renewable wind sources. In the first two months of 2020, wind accounted for 49% of electricity demand. The Irish electricity grid is quite unique as we are a small island and have only a couple of international energy connections. (There are underwater electrical cables that connect Ireland to Wales and Scotland at present, with a connector to France in the planning stages.) So, this amount of wind energy on the national grid is quite a feat!
At EirGrid there is a significant emphasis on being sustainable in the workplace, as well as working toward EU and Irish energy targets. There is a company Green Team which look at new initiatives and information to how the company can be more sustainable. One small change is the use of reusable coffee cups in the canteen. These are sold in the canteen and a discount is applied for each coffee purchased (or hot chocolate in my case!). Bigger changes are the installation of electric vehicle chargers in the carpark and upgrading the lighting to LED to reduce energy consumption in the building.
After starting at the company in 2017, I started to reflect on how I could change my actions outside of work to be more sustainable. I felt it is important to take that sustainability message home at the end of the workday!
One action I have taken to reduce my personal carbon footprint is to reduce the amount I drive. I commute by train to Dublin and make any trips I can by bus or train. I am also researching electric vehicles at the moment. For air travel, I offset my carbon using Vita, which is an Irish NGO that partners with communities to develop sustainable livelihoods in East Africa.
This year I am taking the ‘No New Clothes’ challenge, where I won’t purchase any new clothes for a year. The current Covid-19 restrictions and not being able to go out shopping is helping this challenge now!
The main area I have had to concentre on is my household items and food. One change I have made is to buy wood cat litter, as clay litter is not biodegradable. It can be quite a challenge to find genuine sustainable products in the shops or online. Some products are ‘greenwashed’ where the product is promoted as ‘sustainable’ but in reality, it absolutely isn’t!
I’ve spent a lot of time researching different sustainable choices and sustainable swaps, but there are actually a lot of (Irish!) websites that do the hard work for you! This includes Green Outlook, which has a wide range of plastic free products which is continuously expanding. There are plenty of Irish sustainable products too, which is great to help support Irish businesses and the Irish economy.