The future is not only bright, but it is also green for the next generational blue economy. The ambitious and political commitment to move to greener, cleaner fuels and energy sources will help create new industries within the blue economy. What is interesting for Ireland in particular, is the opportunities that renewable energies can provide in terms of sustainable employment along the rugged West coast of Ireland. What Irish natives have cursed for years turns out to be our greatest assets, the weather. The West coast of Ireland is so attractive from an investment perspective because it has the highest and most sustained wind speeds in Europe, providing an attractive return on investment. Ireland’s geographical position provides vast deep-water sites along the south and west coast, which coupled with our wind resources provides the key components necessary for Ireland to become a global leader in the production of renewable energy from floating offshore wind technology. This is a unique opportunity for Ireland to capitalise on its natural marine resources and to create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the domestic supply chain in the areas of manufacturing, staging and installation and operations and maintenance. Although technology and infrastructure, both onshore and offshore in Ireland require significant investment, this once in a generation opportunity allows Ireland to become the epicentre of Europe for Renewable Energies.
5GW target for offshore renewable electricity by 2030
Figure 1: Floating Wind Turbine.
Climate disruption is already having diverse and wide-ranging impacts on Ireland’s environment, society, economic and natural resources. The Governments Climate Action Plan sets out an ambitious course of action over the coming years to address this issue. The ambitious target is outlined in the government Climate Action Plan to generate 5GM from offshore renewable electricity by 2030. As a result, Irish companies are developing new devices and supporting technologies to effectively harness power from offshore wind, wave and tidal resources which would have global export potential
To date, Irish efforts at delivering renewable electricity have focused largely on onshore wind farms. However, in order to achieve our current ambitious targets, it is clear that a fundamental transformation of our energy system is required, and onshore wind alone will not achieve this transition. This position is acknowledged in the Programme for Government, which commits to producing a long term plan which will set out how Ireland can take advantage of a potential of at least 30GW of offshore floating wind power in our deeper waters in the Atlantic and sets a target of achieving 5GW capacity in offshore wind by 2030 off Ireland’s Eastern and Southern coasts.
Advantages of Floating Offshore Wind Turbines
Floating offshore wind farms can play an important role in the harnessing of our offshore wind resources. Traditional offshore wind turbines are mounted on a fixed foundation, which penetrates and is affixed to the seabed (“fixed-bottom turbines”). However, shallow water sites are an essential requirement for fixed-bottom offshore wind projects in order to facilitate the construction of turbine foundations, as waters deeper than 60 metres are generally not feasible for such turbines based on current technology. Even where shallow waters are available for the construction of fixed-bottom turbines, the condition of the seabed may not be suitable for development thus eliminating development potential in such areas. Therefore, suitable sites for the construction of fixed-bottom turbines are limited.
In contrast to fixed-bottom turbines, floating offshore wind turbines work by connecting the buoyant substructure of the turbine base to the seabed using a system of anchors and mooring cables. Floating offshore wind turbines can be deployed in waters up to 1km deep and are not as dependent on the condition of the seabed as fixed-bottom turbines, thus allowing floating turbines to utilise large swathes of sea waters where the strongest and most consistent winds blow.
In addition, by erecting floating wind turbines further offshore, floating wind farms significantly reduce visual impact on the landscape from the coast and are consequently less likely to give rise to objection or resistance. The cost of installing floating offshore wind turbines can also be much lower than that associated with fixed-bottom turbines. Floating offshore wind turbines can be assembled in port obviating the need for the heavy and expensive lift vessels required to transport and assemble the fixed-bottom parts on site.
It is clear that there is huge potential for Ireland to become a global leader in the development of floating offshore wind, however, there are significant challenges to overcome in a short space of time if floating offshore wind is to contribute to achieving our 2030 and 2050 targets. It is essential that government and key industry stakeholders recognise the need to work together to realise this unique opportunity.