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Ireland: Demonstration project to kick-start Irish Offshore Energy Revolution

€8bn green energy industry to emerge from the Irish Sea

Oriel Windfarm Ltd. and Gaelectric Holdings plc have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to co-develop a significant offshore wind farm in the north Irish Sea. The North Irish Sea Array (NISA) has the potential to produce up to 870 MW of wind energy from the Irish Sea and will commence with the development of a 15 MW demonstration project entailing an investment of €80million in a new research and development hub for offshore wind energy.

Up to 150 jobs could be created during the construction of the project, with 30 new long term jobs for the North East Region. The North Irish Sea Array will be the first major offshore renewable energy project to be developed in the Irish Sea since the construction of the Arklow Bank Wind Farm by GE Electricity in 2001.

Both Oriel and Gaelectric have been involved in representations to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to extend the feed-in tariff for wave and tidal energy, announced at the Irish Renewable Energy Summit 2015, to offshore wind R&D projects to be capped at 30 MW. The promoters see this as a vital step in incentivising and re-invigorating an industry that has remained stagnant for the last 14 years.

Ireland has one of the largest offshore wind resources in the world. The Government’s Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan, published in 2014, indicated the potential to generate up to 10,000 MW of renewable energy from offshore wind energy. Internationally, offshore wind is the most rapidly growing source of renewable energy. In 2014, 1,500MW of offshore power was deployed around Europe. Manufacturers are focussed on developing new and more powerful turbines that can create more power at lower costs to consumers. The latest generation of wind turbines currently being tested can produce 7 MW of power, nearly twice the amount created by the turbines at Arklow Bank. Oriel Windfarm Ltd. and Gaelectric Holdings have between them over 12 years of exploratory investigation and site assessment work in the Irish Sea, including two commissioned surveys and a completed geotechnical campaign in 2014.

The 15 MW NISA Demonstration Project, with an initial investment of €80million, will be a key first step towards the realisation of the much larger NISA development. It will provide the necessary catalyst for further projects as proposed in ISLES II[1] and, in so doing, strengthen Ireland’s indigenous renewable sector providing sustainable jobs and help meet critical climate change targets. The NISA Offshore Demonstration Project will see international companies use the Irish Sea as a testing ground for new innovations in offshore wind energy technology. Demonstration projects play a vital role in the development of new technology, with the opportunity to test turbines, cables and foundations under full operating conditions.

Commenting, Brian Britton, Managing Director of Oriel Windfarm Ltd, said: “This project represents the biggest step forward for the Irish offshore wind energy sector in the last ten years. NISA will commence with a significant demonstration project which, by their nature, draw investment and attract collaborations with local universities and provide opportunities for local businesses. Demonstration projects in the UK, Germany and Denmark have led to the development of full scale projects, leading to the creation of many thousands of jobs in those countries.”

Commenting, Brendan McGrath, CEO of Gaelectric Holdings plc, said: “Offshore wind speeds, relatively shallow water depth and favourable sea bed conditions, make the Irish Sea an ideal location for offshore wind projects and as a testing ground for offshore wind technologies. The presence of a number of established ports on the east coast of Ireland is also a factor which will help attract investment to Ireland. We are confident that the project will attract leading industry players to the offshore Irish market and will be an important step towards realising the vast potential for renewable generation from the Irish Sea.”


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