US group offers to meet State's wave energy targets


A US renewable energy company is proposing to meet the Government’s target of generating 500 megawatts of electricity from ocean energy systems by 2020, holding out the possibility of generating tens of thousands of jobs in Ireland

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) made the announcement last night at a reception in the US ambassador’s residence in Dublin’s Phoenix Park during the course of a two-day workshop on marine energy and “smart grids”.

According to Robert Jawitz, of Rockhouse Mountain Energy (RME), which is investing in the project, it would have the potential to create “tens of thousands of jobs” in Ireland as all the hardware required for marine turbines would be manufactured here.

The wave power systems to be installed at an undisclosed location on the west coast would be produced by OPT, a Nasdaq and AIM-listed company that specialises in wave energy using its proprietary PowerBuoy device.

“The excellent wave climate, the proactive support of the US embassy and the visionary policies and plans of the Irish Government ... will allow for an OPT wave farm with a total capacity of 500mw to be installed off the Irish coast by 2020,” Mr Jawitz said.

He explained that OPT had been “quietly working in the water” since 1997, when it installed its first buoy off the coast of New Jersey. The next two were installed in Hawaii at a US naval base, where security meant that the development fell “under the radar”.

The two 40-kilowatt buoys were each 30 metres tall – “like a small ship” – and stood in 50 metres of water, tethered to the seabed.

“After four continuous years of testing, they’ve survived two hurricanes already,” Mr Jawitz said.

OPT was now building a 150-kilowatt buoy in the Orkney Islands and was also carrying out further tests off the coast of Spain, while a 2-megawatt installation would be completed off the coast of Oregon by the end of this year, he said.

Working with Irish contacts, Mr Jawitz toured the west coast of Ireland looking for suitable sites and selected three based on their “connectability” to the electricity grid – but he declined to identify them because of commercial confidentiality.

He said OPT would have the capacity to install a 40-megawatt wave turbine but plans to start with a 5-megawatt wave energy device, as this could proceed without delay under the terms set by the Commission for Electricity Regulation.

He also revealed that OPT was holding talks with Irish foundries over building all of the devices it would need to meet “all” of the Government’s target of 500-megawatts for ocean power. This would involve constructing 1,000 40-megawatt buoys.

According to Mr Jawitz, “we’re talking about a $2 billion number” (€1.54 billion) in terms of investment. This would create “tens of thousands of jobs” in construction and even more indirectly, “and the real key is whether Ireland can step up to the plate”. He was referring to the need for a more streamlined approval process that would “clear all the obstacles” to such developments.

There would also be a need for OPT to find suitable partners in Ireland, such as electricity suppliers, State agencies “and even banks”.

“We’re pretty confident based on the contacts we’ve had here that this is going to happen,” Mr Jawitz said. Yesterday, it was announced that independent Irish firm Energia has signed a preliminary agreement with an American company, Ocean Energy Systems, for the installation of a prototype wave energy converter on a test site off Belmullet, Co Mayo.

Powered by 2.5 metre-high waves, the prototype device is capable of supplying 500 kilowatts of electricity to the grid, using a technology developed in the US by Dr Michael McCormick, who specialised in ocean wave energy at the US Naval Academy.

Energy workshop: generating renewable electricity

MORE THAN 150 business leaders and senior government officials from the Republic and Northern Ireland as well as representatives of US companies and research institutes are participating in a two-day energy workshop organised by the US embassy in Dublin.

The workshop, held at Farmleigh House yesterday and moving to Stormont today, is exploring new business opportunities in offshore marine electricity generating devices and use of “smart grid” management tools to integrate wave and wind power into electricity generation.

The event was opened by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan, who said the workshop “will help us tap into the potential we have for renewable energy in Ireland, particularly off our coasts” in meeting Government targets.

US ambassador Daniel Rooney, who hosted a reception for attendees last night, said the turnout indicates “the vast potential for future collaboration by companies and research institutions on both sides of the Atlantic” in renewable energy.

The event is supported by Mr Ryan’s department, the North’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, IDA Ireland, Invest Northern Ireland, the Ibec-CBI Joint Business Council, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

General electric:renewable energy proposal

IRELAND IS seen by US giant General Electric (GE) as a “great test market” for developing a smart grid system to accommodate the Government’s “very large targets” for renewable energy.

Bob Gilligan, vice-president for digital energy services, said yesterday that the company was already supporting a similar initiative in Hawaii, helping increase the use of wind and solar power on islands with no domestic source of fossil fuels.

“The island of Ireland is seen by many as the perfect place to test and develop marine renewable energy. It has extensive offshore marine territory and the island’s coastline is among the best in the world for offshore wind, wave and tidal resources,” he said.

A smart grid would be needed to accommodate electricity generated from these resources, he explained. This would involve moving away from an energy system based on central generation, transmission and distribution, as it had been for the past 100 years.

Mr Gilligan defined a smart grid as “a marriage of information technology and process technology to optimise the use of existing systems and squeeze more time out of them” as well as involving electricity consumers more directly than at present.

“We’re working on that in Hawaii today, integrating renewables with energy storage and consumer response,” he said.

“The same can be done here on a larger scale, with the opportunity to develop a significant cutting-edge industry by the end of the next decade,” he added.

Describing GE as a “big broad player in the energy industry”, he said it was “committed to helping shrink the carbon footprint” of electricity generation worldwide while at the same time “increasing the energy capacity and reliability that countries need to thrive.”

With nearly 85,000 employees worldwide and revenues of $37 billion (€29 billion) last year, GE Energy describes itself as “one of the world’s leading suppliers of power generation and energy delivery technologies”.