Offshore Wind is a hot topic in the energy industry, often generating heated debate among stakeholders in terms of its impact, benefit, and potential. Kieran Ivers, Chief Executive Officer at Green Rebel, explores the challenges and opportunities for offshore wind in Ireland.
Nothing we do on the ocean has zero impact. Everything from commercial fishing, transportation and shipping, to offshore wind development, leisure activity and anything else we do at sea, affects the marine environment.
That might seem like an odd opening for an advocate of offshore wind energy, yet it is an undeniable truth. At Green Rebel, our team of marine scientists and support staff is acutely aware of the impact offshore wind developments have on the ecology, commercial and amenity value of the marine environment. Collecting the best data available to help minimise that impact, while maximising the effectiveness of Ireland’s offshore wind installations, is the reason we exist.
Acknowledging the impact of offshore wind farms is important, but that does not make their development any less necessary. Offshore wind has a crucial role to play in the decarbonisation of Ireland’s energy economy and is a pivotal component of the Irish Government’s plans to combat the climate crisis and meet its sustainability energy commitments.
The Offshore Opportunity
This island’s position at the extreme north-west of Europe, perched on the edge of the North Atlantic, offers extraordinary potential to harvest wind energy. Ireland leads Europe in onshore wind capacity, and can legitimately claim to be one of the top countries worldwide in that space. Recent figures show around 38% of our electricity mix now comes from onshore wind.
When you consider Ireland has a sea area of some 490,000 square kilometres, or roughly seven times its landmass, the scale of the offshore wind opportunity becomes clear. While it is difficult to quantify, industry analysts estimate Ireland has long-term potential for up to 70 GW of ocean energy (combining wind, wave, and tidal) within 100 kilometres of its coastline. That means we have the resources to produce much more energy than we need. With the political will and vision, and intelligent investment in infrastructure and support services, Ireland could become a net exporter of energy: we could literally be the battery of Europe.
So far, however, we have been slow to replicate the success of our onshore wind energy adoption at sea. Hampered by regulatory uncertainty, and lack of investment in the onshore infrastructure and supply chain services the sector needs, the progression of offshore wind projects off the Irish coast has been frustratingly slow. We currently have just one small-scale operational offshore wind farm on the Arklow Bank, off the coast of Co. Wicklow, but that situation is changing. Over 60 larger-scale projects are currently at various stages of investigation and planning around the Irish coast, and the Government has committed to ambitious targets to develop 5GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, ramping up to a massive 35GW by 2050.
A key weapon in our battle against climate change
Marine stakeholders from various sectors are understandably uneasy about the scale and acceleration of the proposed development in offshore wind. Commercial fisheries, environmental NGOs and local coastal communities all have genuine and valid concerns about the development of offshore wind farms at scale off our coasts.
Of course, there will be challenges, and engaging with stakeholders early and frequently throughout the planning and development phases of these projects is crucial. As an industry, we have to listen, acknowledge the validity of everybody’s concerns, and work with stakeholders to find solutions and compromises that work for everyone. Offshore wind, when planned and implemented properly, will deliver beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders, and, while this might sound counterintuitive, will ultimately benefit the marine environment too. Helping people understand that, locally and nationally, is a vital part of the development process.
You can never reduce impact to zero, and there is no question the development of offshore wind at the pace and scale proposed will have a significant impact on our marine environment. However, it is important we consider that impact objectively, and in a broader context. Viewed alongside the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, both orders of magnitude more damaging to the ecology, commercial interests and amenity value of our local marine environment, the impact of offshore wind development looks much less severe.
Offshore wind is one of the most potent weapons in our arsenal as we strive to combat climate change. In an Irish context, its capacity to reduce and eventually eliminate our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels for our ongoing energy needs is unparalleled. The potential medium- to long-term benefits to commercial interests, coastal communities and marine biodiversity are huge.
Done right, offshore wind’s contribution to the decarbonisation of our energy economy will deliver benefits that far outweigh local impact to the marine environment during construction and operation.
Doing offshore wind right is all about data
While you will never reduce the impact of an offshore wind development project to zero, there is a lot you can do to minimise that impact, while maximising net benefit all round. The key to that is great data.
Precise, accurate and comprehensive geophysical, metocean and ecological data inform the most critical decision for any offshore wind project: where you put it.
Location, orientation and layout of the turbines, even down to the length and height of the turbine blades, all determine not only how effective the facility will be at harvesting wind energy but also its potential impact on local stakeholders, the marine environment and wildlife.
At Green Rebel, we are passionate about data. Our multidisciplinary team, based right here in Ireland, spans geophysical, metocean and marine ecology survey capabilities to give us an unrivalled understanding of the local marine environment. Through the application of groundbreaking survey technology, methodologies, and expertise, we gather the highest quality marine data available today, and work with offshore wind developers, regulators and other stakeholders to make sure Ireland gets offshore wind development right.
Offshore wind is not a problem-free panacea, but it offers a tremendous opportunity for Ireland to move away from a heavily carbon dependent energy economy to a more sustainable future. That ultimately benefits us all.