The coast of Co Donegal is the location for the first feasibility study of tidal energy capacity, with the American company behind the scheme hopeful of eventually supplying electricity to the national energy grid.
Ocean Renewable Power Company is already generating electricity at sites in Maine and Alaska in the United States and is now undertaking a feasibility study near Killybegs.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has awarded funding for the study, which is likely to take six months to complete.
In that first phase the company hopes to identify a site off the coast where it can place one of its hydrokinetic turbines. The machinery used is similar to the rotating parts of a combine harvester and typically measure 30m in width and 2m in height, although this can vary.
It will be the first time such a study has been carried out in Ireland, and a spokesman for Ocean Renewable said every effort would be made to engage with the community.
James Donnegan also said that similar projects in Maine and Alaska had been carefully monitored to ensure they were not adversely affecting fish and other marine life.
He said the size of any turbine is “completely site- dependent” and that initially just one turbine would be used, with the possibility of more being added if the first phases of the project are a success.
He said studies of existing US turbine use had shown there was “no detrimental effect on marine life”and that fish simply swam around the turbine. He said the coastline was rich in potential as the height and speed of the tides can be accurately forecast, boosting efficiency.
Offshore turbines in the US have been laid in clusters of five to 10, typically one 1km from the coast, while river turbines are placed in smaller clusters of two or three. All turbines are anchored to the seabed or riverbed.
The authority’s CEO Brian Motherway said the feasibility study, carried out in collaboration with Donegal County Council, could prove a critical first step in realising the potential for tidal energy.
“Co Donegal has been identified as a region of high potential for tidal energy in Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan,” he said.
As part of its Cobscook Bay project in Maine, Ocean Renewable plans to install additional power systems over three years to increase energy capacity to 3MW.
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