Wave energy could provide the country with double its electricity needs, but the sector requires long-term support, funding and policy measures, write Carrie Anne BarryHafiz Ahsan Said and John RingwoodMaynooth University

Ireland will fall far short of its 2030 climate targets, achieving a 29% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions rather than the 51% goal. Ireland's Climate Action Plan sets out a framework hopefully leading to 80% of electricity coming from renewable sources, through a mix of onshore wind, offshore wind and solar.

Amount of electricity produced

But the problem lies in the amount of electricity produced versus the timing of electricity production. Wind and solar energy are weather dependent, meaning that we need a back-up on those days when the wind doesn't blow.

For example, the cold snap last December was a period of high pressure and low winds and we were able to generate a mere 2% of our electricity at certain times that week from wind.

To address this, the government launched the National Hydrogen Strategy. The idea is to store excess offshore wind energy by converting it to electricity, which is subsequently converted to hydrogen, which can be used directly as fuel, or converted back to electricity for consumers.

This is costly and inefficient, with about 70% of energy lost during the electricity-hydrogen-electricity process, suggesting that hydrogen might be better deployed in industry or transport, than in supporting electricity supply. 

From Eco Eye, Dr Lara Dungan looks at wave energy and what it could mean for Ireland's future.

However, there is a possible solution and it is staring us in the face all around the country. Ireland boasts one of the richest wave resources on the planet. Indeed, the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan identified that we have enough wave energy to provide double Ireland’s electricity needs.

Wave energy off the west coast is generated by wind in the mid-Atlantic, so does not depend on local coastal wind, providing energy when local wind conditions are calm.

Most wave energy devices are invisible from the shore

Additionally, wave energy exhibits seasonal complementarity to electricity consumption, with the highest amount of wave energy available at times of highest demand. Coastal dwellers will be happy to hear that most wave energy devices are invisible from the shore.

From SEAI, a look at Ireland's three ocean energy test sites – the LiR national ocean test facility in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork; the marine and renewable energy test site in Galway Bay and the Atlantic marine energy test site off the coast of Belmullet, Co Mayo.

But wave energy has not yet reached commercial viability. Yes, it is expensive, but new technologies typically are and costs decrease as more devices are deployed. There is also a lack of common infrastructure design, with devices varying dramatically from two-metre-tall buoys, to two-storey-high cubes.

Wave energy technology developers in Ireland have struggled to get their designs tested at full scale at sea, which is off-putting for investors. This is due to a slow planning process, which can potentially last up to 10 years.

Test facilities in Ireland for full-scale devices have been closed for a number of recent years, due to planning objections, although there is hope that this will be addressed by Ireland's new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority.

Click here. From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Dr Paul Leahy from UCC on the launch of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority.

Ireland ranked in top three for research in this area

Ireland has an opportunity to become a world leader in wave energy technology development, but needs support to reach commercial viability. There are 200-plus researchers in Ireland currently working in the area of wave energy and the EU Commission's Ocean Energy Status Report 2022 ranked Ireland in the top three for research in this area.

We should look to Denmark’s success with wind energy for pointers in this regard. From the 1980s onwards, Denmark took advantage of its first-to-market position with an emergent technology, and backed it with long-term supportive policies, and public financial support.

In 2022, Denmark, a country with a similar population to Ireland, supplied €8.9bn of wind energy technology, about a 40% share of the global market. Ireland could do the same with wave energy; we need a government willing to champion technology development, with long-term supportive funding and policy measures.

Authors: Carrie Anne Barry is Centre Manager and Researcher at the Centre for Ocean Energy Research at Maynooth UniversityHafiz Ahsan Said is a MaREI-funded Researcher at the Centre for Ocean Energy Research at Maynooth UniversityProf John Ringwood is Professor of Electronic Engineering and Director of the Centre for Ocean Energy Research at Maynooth University. The Centre for Ocean Energy Research is an affiliated centre of MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine research. This article first appeared in RTÉ's Brainstorm.