Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Offshore Wind Conference in Dundalk

On November 24th I was invited as President of Engineers Ireland to chair an Offshore Wind Conference in Dundalk which had a wide national and international attendance.

I was also asked to brief the conference on the Irish Scottish Energy Links Study - ISLES Study - which had been published on the previous day in Glasgow by the Energy Ministers of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Pictured Left to Right: Scottish Acting First Minister John Swinney,
ISLES Project Director PJ Rudden, NI Energy Minister Arlene Foster,
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing and Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte.
The conference was kindly opened by the Mayor of Dundalk Cllr Marianne Butler. Cllr Butler spoke of the value of our offshore resources and the economic environmental and employment opportunities that proper exploitation of these can create. She rightly saw the job creation possibilities in the development of offshore wind in addition to the creation of a lower carbon economy.

The conclusion which I summed up at the end was that there were no technological barriers to the realisation of a significant offshore renewables industry. Also there was a greater cost benefit to connected offshore resources to a single subsea network than trying to connect individual wind farm projects to land. There were also increased interconnection possibilities with the UK. True! - the deep waters off our West Coast represents a considerable challenge in terms of ocean movement and depth and would require floating foundations which are still under development. Therefore by far the most viable offshore resources to initially connect are in the Northern and Southern Irish Sea where the waters are relatively shallow.

Speakers at the Conference were Dr Brian Motherway Chief Operating Officer SEAI, Cllr Marianne Butler Mayor of Dundalk, P J Rudden Conference Chairman and Andy Kinsella CEO Offshore at Mainstream Renewables

There is also a considerable export opportunity in addition to significant supply chain opportunities especially in our ports, harbours and marine support all of which can help our national recovery in investment and employment possibilities. The capital cost of exporting 16GW of offshore energy to the UK will be some €6billion for the subsea grid purely in the Irish Sea and North Atlantic between Ireland and Scotland.

The UK will need that additional energy by 2020 so there is a unique window of opportunity for Ireland if we can reconfigure our planning consent and regulatory regimes in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland as recommended by the ISLES Report. This report has now adopted as policy by the three Governments and sent to the EU Energy Commissioner for assessment. Hopefully it will be EU grant aided under the new 'Connecting Europe' initiative to drive towards a common energy market in Europe as a whole.

We have a challenge and an opportunity to drive this initiative forward. This is similar to what faced Thomas McLoughlin a young engineer who proposed to the then Government in 1926 that we should harness the River Shannon at Ardnacrusha for a new hydroelectric scheme which was the start of rural electrification. The project cost £5.2M in 1926 when the total state budget was £25M.

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