Developing offshore renewable resources are vital to Ireland's export market in green energy, while also enhancing security of supply and ensuring growth and jobs to the economy. Can the Government's Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan deliver?
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Author: Brian Carroll, head of the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Division, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

The Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan(OREDP) was launched by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte in February at the Marine Renewables Industry Association’s (MRIA) 5th Ocean Energy Forum in Dublin. The OREDP sets out a vision of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resource contributing to our economic development and sustainable growth, generating jobs for our citizens, supported by coherent policy, planning and regulation, and managed in an integrated manner.

Ireland has a landmass of around 90,000 square kilometres, but it also has a sea area around 10 times that size at 900,000 square kilometres. With one of the best offshore renewable energy (wind, wave and tidal) resources in the world, there is very significant potential in utilising these resources to generate carbon free renewable electricity.

The development of this offshore renewable resource is central to overall energy policy in Ireland. It can enable Ireland in the future to develop an export market in green energy and enhance security of supply. Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, while growth and jobs are delivered to the economy. The OREDP is the key foundation stone in the development of offshore renewable energy in Ireland. It identifies three high level goals based on the concept of sustainable development:

  • Ireland harnesses the market opportunities presented by offshore renewable energy to achieve economic development, growth and jobs;
  • Increase awareness of the value, opportunities and societal benefits of developing offshore renewable energy;
  • Offshore renewable energy developments do not adversely impact our rich marine environment and its living and non-living resources.

The OREDP consists of two parts. Part 1 sets out the broader policy context for the development of Ireland’s offshore wind and ocean energy resources, and key principles, policy actions and enablers for delivery of Ireland’s significant potential in this area. Part 2 presents the findings of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA) processes that underpin the plan. These findings form the basis for the implementation of the OREDP and for all policy actions arising from it.

In 2012, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources published the Strategy for Renewable Energy: 2012–2020. This strategy reiterates the Government’s firm view that “the development of Ireland’s abundant indigenous renewable energy resources, both onshore and offshore, clearly stands on its own merits in terms of contribution to the economy, to the jobs and growth agenda, to environmental sustainability and to diversity of energy supply”.

OBLIGATIONS UNDER RENEWABLE ENERGY DIRECTIVE

Ireland’s offshore territory (Source: Geological Survey of Ireland – click to enlarge)

It is this position that informs Ireland’s commitment to delivering on its binding EU obligations under the Renewable Energy Directive, which assigned 2020 targets to each Member State in 2009. Under the Directive, Ireland is obliged to reach a target of 16% of all energy consumed in the State coming from renewable sources by 2020. This obligation is to be met by 40% from electricity, 12% from heat and 10% from transport. The strategy envisages that Ireland’s 2020 renewable electricity target can be met by onshore renewable generation, primarily by wind.

While the EU has a clear framework underpinning its energy and climate policies up to 2020, the debate has now begun on how this framework must evolve to achieve EU objectives for the period to 2030. This debate is taking place in the context of the commitment made by Member States at the European Council of October 2009 to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. At the request of the European Council, the European Commission published the Energy Roadmap 2050 in December 2011. The roadmap, inter alia, calls for urgent action to formulate the EU energy agenda up to 2030 so that it establishes the pathway to achieving the 2050 objective.

Following a period of consultation, the Commission published A Policy Framework for Climate and Energy in the Period from 2020 to 2030, in January 2014. This proposes a new reduction target for domestic greenhouse gas emissions of 40% compared to 1990, to be shared between the Emissions Trading System (ETS) and non-ETS sectors, as the centre piece of the EU’s energy and climate policy for 2030. The non-ETS target is to be allocated amongst Member States. It is to be accompanied by a coherent headline target at European level for renewable energy of at least 27% with flexibility for Member States to set national objectives.

Ireland, along with our partners in Europe, has embarked on the detailed analysis and negotiations required to identify the optimal policy instruments for the period to 2030, while also providing the foundations for achieving the EU’s 2050 objective in a way that is cost effective, takes full account of the specific circumstances of individual Member States, and maintains the security and competitiveness of Ireland’s and Europe’s energy supplies. Given our extensive offshore renewable energy resources, these developments represent an important opportunity to develop Ireland’s significant potential in this area.

The overall conclusion of the SEA and AA underpinning the OREDP found that it would be possible to achieve the high development scenario modelled of 4,500 MW from offshore wind and 1,500 MW from wave and tidal devices, without likely significant adverse effect on the environment. In addition, the cumulative assessment found that greater levels of development could be accommodated within the assessment areas without significant adverse effects on the environment. However, a route to market is key. In terms of offshore wind, Ireland’s resource can be developed in the future as an export opportunity to the United Kingdom and North West Europe, provided this is economically beneficial for the State.

The OREDP also proposes the introduction for Ireland from 2016 of an initial market support scheme for ocean (wave and tidal) energy, to unlock the economic growth and job creation opportunities offered by ocean energy development. While this will stimulate research, it will also ensure that developers who test ocean energy devices in Ireland work toward implementing full-scale projects in Ireland based on that research.

OCEAN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

Floating a cable to shore (Source: SEAI)

To further promote job creation and economic growth in the area of offshore renewable energy, Minister Rabbitte has increased his Department’s Multi-annual Ocean Energy Development Budget by €16.8 million in the period 2013 to 2016, bringing total cumulative funding to €26.3 million. This increased Exchequer support will allow the development of the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site off Annagh Point in County Mayo.

This site is the next stage in facilitating wave energy developers to move from the drawing board/model testing in University College Cork (UCC), through the quarter scale testing in Galway and into full scale, pre-commercial grid connected stage in County Mayo. Additional support is also provided for the Prototype Development Fund, which focuses on stimulating industry-led projects for the development and deployment of ocean energy devices and systems, and for the Integrated Maritime Energy Resource Cluster.

The latter is a partnership between UCC, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Irish Naval Service. It is developing an integrated maritime research and enterprise campus at Ringaskiddy in Cork which will specialise in marine energy; maritime security and safety; shipping logistics and transport; and marine recreation. The campus will bring three UCC research groups (the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre; the Coastal and Marine Research Centre; and the Sustainable Energy Research Group) together in a new entity, Beaufort Research.

In September 2013, UCC (in partnership CIT, Dublin Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland – Maynooth, the National University of Ireland – Galway, Queen’s University Belfast, University College Dublin, and the University of Limerick) began a Masters in Engineering Science (Marine Renewable Energy). This is a dedicated new course in ocean energy covering advanced topics in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and providing transferrable skills in innovation, finance and research. The course is supported by the MRIA.

The OREDP also specifies actions that seek to develop the supply chain for the offshore renewable energy industry in Ireland; ensure appropriate development of grid and ports infrastructure; communicate at home and abroad that Ireland is open for business in offshore renewable energy; and explore the potential for international collaboration. In terms of the environment, the OREDP supports the introduction of a new planning and consent architecture for the development in the marine area by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; and undertakes to put in place appropriate arrangements for environmental monitoring.

FUTURE JOBS POTENTIAL

Laying a cable at sea (Source: SEAI)

The ultimate prize that can be delivered by developing our offshore renewable energy resources, in terms of job creation and economic growth, is potentially very significant. The EU Blue Growth Study identifies offshore wind (size €2.4 billion and recent growth 21.7%) and ocean renewable energy (size €<0.25billion and recent positive growth) as among the most promising activities in terms of future potential. It categorises offshore wind as being in the growth stage creating new jobs right now.

Smaller companies can enter the market and prices of technologies are gradually going down. Economic analysis conducted on behalf of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) indicates three construction job years per MW of offshore wind deployed with 0.6 in ongoing operations and maintenance jobs. The Blue Growth Strategy classifies ocean renewable energy as being at the pre-development stage, presenting an opportunity to invest in the jobs of tomorrow. While inventions have been made, the most promising outputs have still to be defined.

Much research, development and demonstration is required to ensure that the possible outputs, which are clear, prove their commercial viability. In terms of potential for job and wealth creation, the Economic Study for Ocean Energy Development in Ireland published by the SEAI and Invest Northern Ireland in 2010 found that there was sound quantitative evidence that by 2030 a fully developed island of Ireland ocean energy sector, serving a home market and feeding a global market for renewable energy, could produce a total net present value of around €9 billion and many thousands of jobs to the Irish and Northern Irish economies.

Allowing for the current state of readiness of the technology, the possibilities these projections represent still remain valid over a longer time-scale looking out to 2030 and beyond. The scale of economic benefits ultimately achieved is conditional on early involvement in the sector and the putting in place of appropriate policy supports for the sector as set out in the OREDP.

Finally, it is important to recognise that the citizen must be at the heart of the transition to renewable energy. This is as essential for offshore development as it is for onshore. At the heart of the OREDP are the recommendations of the SEA and AA carried out for the OREDP. As a result, managing the impacts of offshore renewables in line with our international obligations, and best practice, is a guiding principle of the OREDP, as is the need to ensure transparent engagement with all stakeholders.

In this way, the OREDP will provide a clear framework for the sustainable development of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resource and the delivery of real economic benefits to Ireland.

The OREDP is available on the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources website.

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  Author: Brian Carroll, head of the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Division, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources The Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan(OREDP) was launched by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte in February at the Marine Renewables Industry Association’s (MRIA) 5th Ocean Energy Forum in...