Powerful potential if conditions were right to harness it

The burgeoning wave and tidal energy industry is awash with government money for research. However, many enthusiastic proponents believe it is being spent in all the wrong places

We used to be considered the edge of the world. A scary place. Now our position on the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean is a status symbol. At every scientist's cocktail party you go to these days, one is bored to death by conversations about the energy production opportunities our location on the Atlantic – with all those gale force winds – affords us Gaels. Now it's simply a question of grabbing that energy by the proverbials and, by extension, sending Shell, Statoil and every other fossil fuel peddler back to the 20th century. Isn't it?

According to the Marine Renewables Industry Association (MRIA), the wave energy resources available to Ireland could potentially meet 75 per cent of our electricity requirements. Sounds optimistic but someone must believe them. In 2013, then minister for energy, communications and the marine, Pat Rabbitte, announced that over the following three years a budget of €26.3 million would be made available through the Ocean Renewable Energy Development Plan. A further €19 million would be granted to Marine Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) to employ 135 researchers. He even threw €30 million into a prototype development fund.

So there’s plenty of money floating around. However, at this point many feel real progress has been exceptionally slow with no actual full-scale prototypes anywhere to be seen off the Irish coast. Given the cost of research into this area, it’s a gamble to use taxpayers’ money for building full-scale wave and tidal energy production models only to find they are not going to work.

No guarantee

But it doesn’t matter how many model systems are successful in the lab. Even testing quarter- or half-scale models successfully at sea is not enough of a guarantee to give the go-ahead for a full-scale commercial build. They have to be tested for real, something many other countries have copped onto. In Australia they have CETO,



has Seabased, the Finns have Wello. Even in the Orkney Islands off


they have 14 devices deployed.

"It is all moving very slowly here," says Dr Patrick Walsh from the department of mechanical and automobile engineering in Limerick IT and member of the Irish Wave Energy Developer's Association (IWEDA), a group of 11 small enterprises – each with its own wave and tidal energy research models ready to be tested – with one thing in common: no access to any of the money floating around. "There's no shortage of Government money available in the exploration of ocean energy, but most of it is being spent on infrastructure, test sites, and academic research," says Conor Haughey, chairman of IWEDA.


Earlier this year the


Westwave Project was granted €23 million from the EU to bring in a five megawatt wave farm by 2018. Now it needs to find a model it believe is most likely to deliver a return. “They have shortlisted it down to four or five candidates, none of whom are Irish,” says Dr

Jimmy Murphy

, senior researcher at the Hydraulics and Maritime

Research Institute

in Cork. “It’s not surprising though,” he adds. “Ireland has only had two companies that could have come close – Wavebob, the most advanced in the country but who recently went bankrupt, and OE Buoy who still lack the funding to offer a full-scale model.”

It’s one of those industries where upscaling is not an incremental process. You go from small fry to the big time or not at all. Of course the big time is only made possible through massive amounts of capital investment. There’s no shortage of enthusiasm among Irish wave and tidal energy innovators, but at this point, none has been given the capital needed to take it to the next level.

Walsh’s company, Limerick Wave, is using a mechanical system to harness wave power, rather than the hydraulic, pneumatic, or linear motor systems usually tested. “We have taken the up and down motion of the waves, and directed it one way,” he says. “In other words, we’ve got both clockwise and anti-clockwise working together. Once it’s going in one direction it’s ideal for turning a generator.”

In this aqua-field, there’s a series of technology readiness levels. “Our device is at Level 4,” says Walsh. “Ultimately we need to be at Level 9.”

This year they aim to move to Level 7 and put a quarter-scale unit in Galway Bay. If that worked they would have the confidence to go full scale. But they need money to do it. "We have approached Enterprise Ireland but they aren't really in a position to help, as we're too far from the market at this time. SEAI has helped us with our grant and the Ballyhoura Leader Board have also been very helpful as well. But a lot more is needed. The generator we've developed to work on the wave has myriad of other applications. If you give us movement, well give you energy."