Ireland urgently needs a new vision for offshore wind energy

With a clear plan, we can realise the opportunity that the offshore industry holds for the future of Ireland

The tragic and continuing war in Ukraine serves as another reminder of how fragile our dependence is in the area of essential energy supplies. Ireland now has an urgent responsibility and compelling opportunity to create a whole new inter-linked national industrial strategy for the accelerated growth of renewable energy, while supporting regional development with thousands of jobs, and significantly contributing to our climate action targets.

The Irish energy transition has been slow in parts and the current situation too often pits industry against Government and communities against energy projects. The energy debate is regularly characterised by focus on process, allocation of blame, mistrust, finger-pointing and inefficiency.

We are at a crossroads and there is a better way to realise the opportunity and overcome the challenges we face. We need to see an approach based on vision, shared purpose and collaboration.

There should be an understanding that the Government needs the industry, the industry needs the Government and the people of Ireland deserve a clean energy future with the related environmental and economic benefits.

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After almost 10 years working in the UK offshore industry for a leading Danish offshore wind company, I have an understanding of its underlying infrastructure and how the United Kingdom has gained a head start in building its capabilities to compete on a global level. The main lesson I’ve learned from my experience across the Irish Sea is this: it is vital to establish an alignment between public bodies, private enterprise and the related stakeholders connected to offshore wind. It needs to start with sharing an open conversation, common principles and a clear way forward.

The UK set its parameters and approach back in the spring of 2019, when the government along with industry stakeholders published its offshore wind sector deal (OWSC). This was a critical milestone, setting a foundation upon which all sides could build and also establishing guideposts that allowed the parties to “course correct” when navigating the way forward.

We in Ireland must come together in the same way to create a clear vision and ambition for the future of our offshore sector and draft a blueprint for how we will deliver on our ambitions.

Key components of this blueprint would include:

1: A joint entity across government, industry and public society to agree a course forward for how we deliver offshore wind in Ireland with informed and participatory decision-making through a Citizens’ Assembly-style stakeholder forum.

2: A modern public-private partnership model that takes the best lessons from the pandemic response and combines the merits of each side in terms of expertise, capabilities, funding and resources.

3: A clear vision and ambition for offshore wind, what it should deliver and how we maximise the tangible long-term benefits to local communities and the country as a whole through a targeted campaign to rally industry, attract investment and build public support.

4: A roadmap towards creating a robust and growing Irish supply chain for offshore wind. This will not only drive progress but support countless local Irish businesses and help reinvigorate ports and key coastal communities around the island of Ireland. The recent process and results of the Scottish auction for seabed rights to develop offshore projects demonstrated the demand for supply chain development statements, committing developers to wider investment in this new green and sustainable industrial sector.

5: A plan to drive infrastructure investment and the development of a grid that supports the emergence of an ambitious, world-leading offshore wind industry.

6: Investment and design of specific education and training programmes to provide the necessary skills development for sustained growth of the sector.

7: Centres of excellence for R&D through public and private funding to help solve some of the challenges related to the rollout of renewables in Ireland and support alternative options such as hydrogen.

8: A clear emphasis on nurturing homegrown talent, expertise and sustainable jobs. There is huge potential to create an entirely new platform for substantial employment growth and rewarding career paths in and around the offshore wind sector. Irish coastal communities are in line to benefit most from such initiatives.

9: Plans to deliver inclusive growth and tangible benefits to local communities. Industry investment, along with further State funding, can create sustainable development of local services and community schemes. This will also involve commitments for increased resources, connectivity and capacity for the harbours and ports along our coasts.

10: A commitment to deliver for the environment. Ultimately, our energy transition must deliver on net zero, and we all must leave our future generations in a better place. In the same vein, any development must be protective of the marine environment by working towards the delivery of a net positive biodiversity impact from offshore wind projects.

Important steps have already been made with the setting up of a Ports Coordination Group and Offshore Wind Delivery Taskforce within Government and the recent establishment by Enterprise Ireland of the Gael Offshore Network. With a clear vision and plan, we can realise the opportunity that the offshore industry holds for the future of Ireland.

Vanessa O’Connell is head of Inis Offshore Wind, which is backed by the Temporis Aurora LP (“Aurora”), whose investors include the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. She was part of a Wind Energy Ireland delegation that recently appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Trade, Enterprise and Employment