Oceans of energy to be tapped

Amid growing opposition to land-based wind and solar-power projects, the renewable energy industry is looking more to the sea as an alternative energy source.

Oceans of energy to be tapped

Amid growing opposition to land-based wind and solar-power projects, the renewable energy industry is looking more to the sea as an alternative energy source, writes Donal Hickey.

A few years ago, mention of providing a waste dump in an area was sure to get local objectors out in large numbers. Today, we have a similar situation regarding wind turbines, especially when houses are nearby, with communities being divided on the issue.

At the same time, the Government is under pressure from the EU and global demands to replace oil, coal and gas with renewable sources. Studies show the sea around Ireland has the potential to deliver 75% of all our electricity needs. Our marine environment, which is 10 times the size of our land mass, is Ireland’s greatest energy resource, according to UCC lecturer Val Cummins.

Writing in the latest issue of Sherkin Comment, he says this vast marine resource is gaining increasing attention. A country that was traditionally ‘sea blind’ is waking up to new opportunities, not just in energy generation but also in fishing, fish farming at sea and a range of marine technologies.

The Arklow Bank is our first off-shore windfarm and other like projects are in the pipeline for the Irish Sea. The relatively shallow waters along the east coast are suitable for turbines bedded in the sea floor.

However, floating wind turbine technology opens up possibilities of providing turbines in previously undeveloped deep waters off our south and west coasts. The world’s first floating windfarm, Hywind, opened last year off the east coast of Scotland. Evidence suggests a fully developed ocean energy sector in Ireland would be worth €9bn and would provide thousands of jobs, says Mr Cummins. Work on tidal energy is also moving ahead. Fair Head Tidal, for instance, is a 100MW operation in planning with Cork-based DP Energy and Bluepower, a Belgian company.

The Government is supporting a number of testing facilities for wave energy, including one in UCC’s Beaufort Building, in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, as well as at sites in Galway Bay and Belmullet, Co Mayo. While a number of obstacles need to be overcome, including foreshore licensing, Mr Cummins says we cannot afford to let this precious opportunity of our maritime awakening slip from our grasp.

“The opportunity to become a global leader in marine renewables is within our reach for offshore wind and tidal within the next five years, and for commercially viable wave energy by 2030,” he says.

Last May, a €17m fund was launched to support the ocean renewable energy sector. It combined a consortium of seven governments and agencies in Europe which are committed to research and development in the field.

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