Cork harbour could become central to Ireland’s development as an international centre for hydrogen energy technology, a new offshore wind blueprint forecasts.
Ireland has more offshore wind resource than energy demand and could be exporting bulk hydrogen, the study by the Eirwind consortium suggests.
However, it identifies a number of challenges, and calls for a Government commitment to specific incentives, marine planning legislation and “transparent” decision-making.
Eirwind is an industry-led, collaborative research project involving University College Cork (UCC) which has been working on a 30-year strategy for harnessing offshore wind energy.
It describes floating offshore wind technology as a “game changer,” and the period 2020 to 2030 as a “defining decade” for investing in green hydrogen and grid reinforcement.
The new Programme for Government has raised a target of 3.5 gigawatt (GW) energy production from offshore wind to five GW by 2030, and specifies the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea for development. It also signals that 30 GW could be derived from the Atlantic coast.
The Eirwind blueprint identifies three “production zones” - the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Atlantic Coast - and is expected to recommend master plans for ports from Rosslare, Co Wexford round to Killybegs, Co Donegal, to support offshore wind and wave development.
The blueprint explores how Cork harbour has potential for a 100 megawatt (MW) electrolysis demonstration plant, where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity generated by a 100 MW floating wind project off the Cork coast.
It says the hydrogen produced can then be supplied to large industrial users in the harbour, and supplied to domestic heating and transport sectors.
The report identifies the fishing industry as “the primary stakeholder”,and is expected to recommend that a joint forum between the fishing and offshore wind sectors be established.
This forum would focus on issues such as regulations for fishing vessels to work as guard boats, shared interests in marine conservation and best practice in compensation against loss of livelihood.
Eirwind believes the recently completed Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, along with the related Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, need to be prioritised.
The report is expected to recommend that up to 30 new staff are required over the next 12 to 18 months in agencies such as An Bord Pleanála and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
It says “technology specific” revenue support schemes will be required to encourage investment, and suggests following the British Crown Estate model of reducing seabed leasing charges in return for pre-commercial demonstration projects.
Ireland has “minimal control” over its energy destiny, with over 97% of requirements derived from imported fossil fuels in 2014.
Kinsale gas field has ceased production, Corrib gas field is on a limited life span, but onshore wind farms were providing 29% of Ireland's electricity needs by 2017 - the second highest share of electricity from wind energy in Europe.
The blueprint says that the Government has a “pivotal role to play” in “facilitating trust building” with many stakeholders and ensuring “fair and transparent decision-making” procedures.