Ocean energy: an Irish opportunity for economic and societal benefits
29 November 2016
The ocean is Ireland’s greatest energy resource. Despite the challenges, ocean energy remains a real opportunity to deliver economic and societal benefits for the citizens of Ireland, writes Brendan Cahill
Ocean Energy Buoy 1/4th scale wave energy convertor undergoing testing in Galway Bay (copyright Ocean Energy)
The ocean is Ireland’s greatest energy resource. Our location at the westernmost edge of Europe places us at the receiving end of a vast transmission line of energy, with waves generated across the expanses of the Atlantic Ocean converging on our shores. The energy available to be captured from this resource well exceeds our current electricity requirements – 29 TWh in 2015.
In comparison, our tidal energy resource is more modest, while still offering the potential for up to 3GW of installed capacity without causing significant environmental impacts. The economic benefits that would be derived from utilising this resource are also considerable. Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) indicates that a fully developed ocean energy sector in Ireland would deliver a total net present value of €9 billion, as well as also providing many thousands of jobs to the economy.
So, we have an abundant resource and persuasive economic arguments for harnessing it. Why, then, does ocean energy not currently play a part in our energy mix? Many readers may have been introduced to ocean energy several years ago as a highly promising, emerging technology, yet we are still waiting on the sector to deliver on its ambitious potential. What challenges are holding ocean energy back?
Challenges to developing ocean energy
First, we must recognise that wave and tidal energy projects face incredibly harsh operating environments. Their devices must be designed to withstand extreme conditions throughout their lifetimes, like the series of storms Ireland experienced last winter, and they must be able to operate reliably with minimal maintenance and intervention throughout the year. The performance and cost of ocean energy systems also need to be improved to make them economically viable in comparison to other sources of energy.
The Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) is a standard measure for assessing the competitiveness of energy technologies; the LCOE of wave and tidal devices is still considerably higher than other renewable energy options, such as solar PV and onshore and offshore wind. A third key challenge facing the sector is the high financial outlay and long lead times required to develop these technologies and to bring them to market.
The Scottish-based wave-energy developer, Pelamis, once one of the flagship devices in the sector, attracted over £90 million in private and public investment. However, even this substantial investment proved insufficient to meet the project’s requirements. The company entered administration in 2014 and is now defunct. Closer to home, the closure of Wavebob (also due to financial difficulties) and the decommissioning of the Seagen turbine in Strangford Lough only serve to illustrate the challenges that companies face in securing consistent and sustainable funding supports.
Thankfully, there are many reasons to remain optimistic about the potential of ocean energy. Internationally, there has been a redoubling of efforts to advance the sector. The year 2016 has already witnessed significant leaps forward, particularly for tidal energy. OpenHydro, based in Greenore, Co Louth, has completed the installation of two 2MW turbines at their Paimpol-Bréhat site off the coast of Brittany. The company will shortly follow this up with deployments in Canada and Japan.
Atlantis Resources is currently in the process of deploying four turbines totalling 6MW at their Meygen project in the Pentland Firth in Scotland, the first phase of what will be the world’s first tidal farm which could eventually reach a total capacity of 400 MW. These are tangible signs of the birth of an industry. While wave energy still lags behind tidal, new initiatives such as the Wave Energy Scotland programme and the US Wave Energy Prize are encouraging the development of breakthrough technologies to create a step change in LCOE.
Ireland’s world-class suite of ocean energy test facilities
Ireland continues to be a leader in ocean energy. We are developing a world-class suite of test facilities for proving that these technologies can meet the ocean’s myriad challenges. The Lir National Ocean Test Facility at University College Cork’s new Beaufort Building houses wave tanks, a flow flume and mechanical and electrical test rigs for component development. The Galway Bay Marine and Renewable Energy Test Site, operated by SmartBay Ireland and the Marine Institute, presents a unique wave climate that represents offshore conditions at approximately one quarter scale.
Galway Bay allows companies to take their first steps in the ocean and gaining real sea operating experience, while simultaneously avoiding the huge cost of building a full-scale device. The site has received a significant upgrade in its infrastructure with the installation of a subsea cable which will provide power to devices being tested and data transfer back to shore.
Finally, the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS) off the coast of Belmullet, Co Mayo, is currently being developed by SEAI and, when complete, it will provide wave energy devices and supporting components to be tested in some of the harshest seas experienced anywhere in the world.
Irish companies continue to develop innovative new devices and components. SEAI’s Ocean Energy Prototype Development Fund, which provides support for industry-led R&D, has supported 42 projects over the past two years. These projects include early stage proof of concept work, including numerical modelling and laboratory tests but, increasingly, we are seeing progress to more substantial demonstrations.
This is a particularly exciting period as Sea Power, a small Irish company, prepares to deploy their ¼ scale Power Platform wave energy device in Galway Bay. The device, constructed in Foynes, is the result of eight years of design, testing and iteration. 2017 will see the deployment of a full scale OE Buoy device, being developed by Cobh-based Ocean Energy at the US Navy’s wave energy test site in Hawaii. This project is receiving funding support from both SEAI and the US Department of Energy.
As with Sea Power, Galway Bay was a critical proving ground for the OE Buoy. Meanwhile, ESB are continuing to develop the WestWave Project near Killard, Co Clare, a 5MW wave energy array that will be the largest of its type in the world once it is operational.
The ocean energy sector has gone through its share of peaks and troughs, but while the waves continue to break on our shores and the tides continue to flow, it will always present an enticing opportunity to be harnessed. Ireland is truly open for business in this space, with encouraging steps being taken in advancing devices and supporting technologies, test site development and international collaboration, and all the while these are underpinned by coherent policies.
Irish companies continue to innovate and achieve success in this field, as embodied by the Sea Power project. Despite the challenges, ocean energy remains a real opportunity to deliver economic and societal benefits for the citizens of Ireland.
Dr. Brendan Cahill is the Ocean Energy Programme Manager at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Follow him on twitter @bgcahill. For more information on ocean energy in Ireland visit www.oceanenergyireland.comhttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/11/29/ocean-energy-ireland/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Ocean-Energy-Buoy-10-1024x548.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Ocean-Energy-Buoy-10-300x300.jpgElecenergy,Galway,OpenHydro,renewables,SEAI,tidal,wave