Putting our faith in renewable energy

Min Sean Sherlock,  Professor Tony Lewis, Georgina Foley and Professor Mark Ferguson, Datthe launch of the Marine Renewable Energy Ireland SFI Research Centre today at University College Cork

In a week that saw the end of our international bailout and a return to the international markets, there was more good news yesterday with the announcement of a new energy research centre for Cork.

The €29 million research centre, which will work on developing cutting-edge energy technology, is a major investment and, just like exiting the bailout, a signal to international investors that Ireland is a good place to do business.

If successful, it could have huge economic benefits for future generations and could place Ireland to the forefront of the marine renewable energy research sector worldwide.

Up to 77 highly skilled jobs will be supported at the SFI Research Centre, Marine Renewable Energy Ireland at University College Cork.

It is being funded by €19m from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland with a further €10.5m from 45 industry partners.

One of seven scientific research centres being set up by Science Foundation Ireland, it aims to use Ireland’s maritime links to help develop new methods of drawing renewable energy from the sea. It will study the use of robotics and materials which can endure ocean conditions, as well as wave and marine energy devices.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of developing renewable energy in Ireland. Not only will it save us billions on imported oil and other fossil fuels, but, because our domestic energy needs are relatively small, it could do for the country in the future what the pharmaceutical industry has done in the past.

Marine energy is a particularly exciting area of research. The world’s oceans contain vast quantities of untapped renewable energy and, according to Sustainable Energy Ireland, we — as an island nation — are ideally placed to harness these resources and ultimately benefit from the considerable potential for economic growth and job creation.

Renewable energy has the capacity to play a key role in shaping not only Ireland’s but Europe’s energy future, by ‘greening’ our electricity generation, using our own natural resources and reducing our dependence on imported fuel from volatile regions.

It is not that long ago that our schoolchildren were taught that Ireland had no natural resources. That changed when we began to drill wells and harness natural gas off our coasts. Now, our geographical location may prove us to have the most enviable resources of all.

Our location on the edge of the continent’s western border and facing the wild Atlantic means we have one of the best wind and wave energy resources in the world that are significantly higher than those in many other countries.

As Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte explained at a conference on renewable energy, “a wind turbine located on a good site in the West of Ireland can generate on a yearly basis almost twice the amount of electricity the same turbine would yield if it were built in Northern Germany”.

As we move from today’s stand-alone energy system to a more interconnected single European energy market, we have a real opportunity to go beyond providing for our own needs.

The good news is that we have the right location to become a major renewable energy exporter. The better news is that we have the expertise to do so, but the best news of all is that, finally, we have the political will to make it happen.


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