There is no doubting Ireland’s potential as a location for ocean energy generation, wave or tidal. The vision for the sector is outlined in the Government’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan: 500MW of installed wave capacity by 2020.
In its draft Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP), which is to be finalised this year, there are three development scenarios for wave and tidal current up to 2030: 75MW (low), 500 (medium) and 1,500MW (high).
The Government recently launched an integrated marine plan, which identifies offshore renewable energy as an emerging business development opportunity.
The incentive to develop marine energy is supported by the €220 per MWh REFIT price for ocean energy. Announced in 2009, it lasts 15 years.
The 2005 Ocean Energy Strategy envisages four phases for marine energy development:
1. R&D, including support for prototype construction (2006-2008);
2. Construction of a fully operational pre-commercial wave energy converter, supplying power to the network (2008-2012);
3. A pre-commercial 10MW array, involving multiple devices, successfully delivering electricity to the network for a sustained period of time; and
4. Commercial deployment, with possible supports including price, R&D and investment in third-level facilities.
Though the strategy anticipated the third phase after 2012, a timeline for any pre-commercial array remains uncertain.
Research is continuing around the country. University College Cork, for example, has a centre of excellence on ocean energy and coastal engineering. SEAI has funded 31 projects aimed at bringing designs from prototype stage to fully operational pre-commercial devices. Four of these projects continued into 2012.
In 2006, SEAI and the Marine Institute in Galway established an ocean energy test site in Galway bay for ¼-scale prototypes of wave energy devices. The energy authority also plans to build an Atlantic marine energy test site for pre-commercial wave devices, off Annagh Head off County Mayo. Public consultation on the foreshore licence application closed in May. The site is expected to be ready for the first full-scale wave energy converters in 2014 or 2015 subject to government approval and industry readiness to use a site.
For Dr Brian Ó Gallachóir, lecturer in energy engineering and member of University College Cork’s Sustainable Energy Research Group, R&D funding is adequate at present but a “stop-start approach” has meant a lack of sustained activity.
He believes that moving from the laboratory to “more energy rich environments” (i.e. the ocean) is “a good way off”. While current research is funded because it doesn’t require huge investment, “when you move to the stage of ocean testing at sufficient scale and demonstration, at pre-commercial stage, the funding required is greater and it’s still at a relatively high risk period.”
Ó Gallachóir, along with University College Cork colleagues Paul Deane and Gordon Dalton, published a paper this year on the impact 500MW of wave power would have on wholesale electricity prices, system operation costs and CO2 emissions. They concluded that wave energy would have a negligible effect on wholesale electricity prices, reduce total system cost but could increase emissions under certain carbon price assumptions. The current REFIT price is adequate.
Industry has claimed that a supply chain already exists to support marine renewables. The Marine Renewable Industry Association has called on the Government to commit through the forthcoming OREDP to a ‘one stop shop’ model for attracting foreign direct investment; new targets for the sector, including 150MW of marine energy installed by 2020; improved communications and supports; reform of the REFIT price and a leasing round. The association claims that Ireland is losing out due to quicker movement by Northern Ireland and Scotland. Along with Portugal and Scotland, Ireland is at the forefront of marine energy research.
Ó Gallachóir believes that business supports to stimulate manufacturing and innovation are needed. One possible measure is an initial 30 per cent capital grant scheme for wave energy developers.
SEAI and Invest Northern Ireland produced a report in 2010 which concluded that if the 500MW target is reached by 2020, at least 1,431 additional full-time jobs and a net present value of €0.25 billion could be generated across the island economy.