The opportunity to derive energy from the ocean is significant in Ireland, both from wave and from tidal sources. The potential is such that ocean energy represents a critical opportunity to create substantial wealth and employment on this island over the next twenty years and beyond, according to the recent white paper by the Marine Renewables Industry Association (MRIA), which represents Ireland’s marine renewables industry in the ocean energy fields of wave and tidal.
Key to this transformation of the island of Ireland into ‘Europe’s Battery’ is the achievement of the target set in the Republic by Government to have 500MW of wave and tidal capacity in operation by 2020.
The MRIA recognises that achieving the 500MW target over the next ten years will require a major co-ordinated effort across all Government departments and agencies and a focus on a small number of sea areas for developments towards 2020.
The MRIA proposes that four Initial Development Zones (IDZs) for ocean energy be prioritised by Government and that efforts to achieve the 2020 target be focused in these zones. The white paper demonstrates that this proposal is consistent with broad Government economic development policy as well as policies in energy, spatial planning and regional planning.
This white paper hails the progress made in ocean energy in Ireland to date, highlights the challenges which must be overcome and proposes measures to expedite further development.
The white paper points out that Ireland is one of the international ‘early movers’ in developing the technology required to capitalise on the ocean energy resource and Irish companies like Wavebob, Ocean Energy and Open Hydro are among the leading developers in the world of wave and tidal energy conversion technologies.
Ireland is also well represented in other key elements of the emerging ocean energy industry. The project developer community – including companies such as Vattenfall (Tonn Energy), SSE Renewables (formerly Airtricity) and ESBI, consultants such as Arup, R&D businesses like Pure Marine and supply chain firms such as Lotusworks and Techworks Marine – are all engaged with the industry and ready to scale up as it develops.
Ireland has excellent research and test facilities in place at the quarter Scale Wave Energy Test Site in Galway Bay and at facilities such as those belonging to Queen’s University in Belfast. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), with the support of a number of MRIA industry companies, is developing the new Wave Energy Test Site off Belmullet, County Mayo and the planned relocation and expansion of the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre and other facilities as part of the MERC3 project in Cork is another positive step – construction at MERC3 will commence in 2011.
The Government has set a target of 500MW of wave and tidal energy capacity to be delivered by 2020. The scale of the challenge in meeting this target is significant with the estimated cost of devices alone being in the region of at least Eur1.5 billion with significant investment required also in supporting project infrastructure. Thus, total capital investment of several billion may be required to meet the Government target, possibly creating several thousand new jobs to support this emerging industry.
MRIA believes that ocean energy technology will mature and become commoditised after 2020 as has happened in the wind energy sector over the past decade. The cost of producing electricity from wave and tidal energy sources will fall and the industry will develop an export market via interconnectors to other countries, in particular to the UK. Accordingly, it is important to create both an economic and a regulatory environment that would create more certainty for the development of ocean energy, particularly for investors. Transparency, predictability and certainty in statutory consenting processes are important considerations for investors who will take business risks of unprecedented scale with ocean energy investments.