Investment in maritime area wind energy projects is being held back by the lack of clarity around the time it takes to assess planning applications.
Liam Curran, senior technologist, water, wastewater and marine technologies, Enterprise Ireland, says the sector is hoping that the Maritime Area Foreshore Amendment (MAFA) Bill will progress quickly to become legislation.
At present, potential investors have no idea how long they’ll be waiting for an answer. Meanwhile, the UK is driving on with its goal to produce 30GW of maritime wind energy by 2030. The global wind turbine market is set to be worth more than €45bn by 2022.
The Our Ocean Wealth Summit at Cork City Hall on Monday and Tuesday, June 9 and 10, will look at the actions required for Ireland to harness to the huge energy potential of its surrounding waters. Fast-tracking the MAFA Bill would be a useful first step.
“We need to give potential investors some clarity and certainty around the permitting processes,” said Liam Curran. “This industry is all about reducing the risks. We hope to get the permitting issue resolved as quickly as possible. Right now, an investor has no obvious end horizon in their line of sight as to when their application will be accepted or rejected.
“Of course, the uncertainty around price is also a big issue for the sector. We also need to work on the weak grid connection along the West Coast. The East Coast grid connection is a bit better, which is good as it’s close to the biggest power users in Dublin, but the eventual export potential of West Coast offshore energy is where the really big opportunity lies.”
Ireland does have four wind energy projects in the Irish Sea, ‘nearshore’ wind turbines bolted to the sea floor. While the far bigger floating ‘offshore’ turbines are, as yet, in a development phase, the global industry is keenly aware of the ideal conditions on Ireland’s west coast.
In March, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) was given approval for a €31m pilot project deploying a floating wind turbine off the coast near Belmullet, Co Mayo. This pilot sees Ireland dipping a significant toe into a sector in which some of the world’s biggest engineering companies are racing to develop a supply chain.
Enterprise Ireland’s long-term interest in the sector is fairly clear. Creating long-term, high-quality employment along the coast would sustain rural communities for generations hence.
While aligning itself to the ultimate dream of Ireland Inc being a leading player when the world’s offshore energy sector takes off in earnest, it is also following the pragmatic policy of aligning Irish companies with the UK’s ambitions for the sector.
“There is huge interest within the UK’s industry in Irish offshore capability. We really want Irish companies to connect with the sector in the UK,” said Liam Curran.
What we have done in our London office is to set up mentoring for people to help them in meeting up with companies in the UK.
“Naturally, the potential for the sector dovetails nicely with Enterprise Ireland’s commitments to rural development, creating quality employment in rural communities.
“I was in Wick in Scotland, where the Beatrice offshore will have 90 full-time quality jobs once it’s completed. It’s a town the size of Bantry, where you’d find it hard to attract big multinationals to set up.”
The sector currently employs 11,000 people in the UK, half and half directly and indirectly. The UK also seems deeply committed to its 30GW by 2030 ambition for the sector, especially given its decision not to go ahead with planned new nuclear plants.
Another significant plus with offshore wind energy is the fact that the turbines are miles out to sea, far from view and thus at a remove from potential landowner objections. And, of course, as a totally renewable energy source, it ticks every box in terms of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
“Ireland’s development of offshore wind energy is the only realistic way that we can deliver on our climate change strategy,” said Mr Curran. “The financial case for Ireland to harness the energy potential of the sea is compelling. Unlike a conventional power plant, you don’t pay for the fuel. It really is an endless natural resource.”
Meanwhile, at the Our Ocean Wealth Summit in Cork City Hall, 22 Irish companies will showcase their wares in to a mix of nearshore and offshore industry buyers from the UK, from Norway, France and the Middle East. Among those companies will be 8 West Consulting and ARQ Assist Solutions, both of which are also featured here.