‘Opportunities in wave energy endless for Ireland’ – SmartBay

27 Jul 2016

On the back of a new €11m international research project, Galway-based SmartBay claims Irish opportunities are endless when it comes to ocean energy.

Calling Ireland a “huge resource” given its position beside the Atlantic Ocean, SmartBay general manager John Breslin thinks the current European project FORESEA could hold the key to future wave energy.

FORESEA (Funding Ocean Renewable Energy through Strategic European Action) was launched earlier this month to help enterprises develop low-carbon energy technologies in real sea environments.

Future Human

SmartBay FORESEA wave energy

Current events

While tidal energy is already “a number of years ahead”, as yet nobody has managed to build a product that can extract sufficient energy from ocean waves.

SmartBay, alongside EMEC, SEM-REV and Tidal Testing Centre, is looking to change that with the help of significant funding over the next few years.

“Ireland has a huge resource,” said Breslin, who name-checked Scotland as another ideal location, too. “The opportunity from an Irish perspective is to be developing the technology at an early stage.”

Breslin’s company runs a quarter-scale facility off Galway Bay, which provides enterprises with the opportunity to test sensor devices at 25pc the strength of the Atlantic’s actual wave-power.

The foursome involved in FORESEA provide services at different stages of prototype evolution, meaning UK, Dutch, French and Irish collaborators between them provide a wide-ranging testbed for early-stage wave energy research.

Black Rock in Galway Bay, near SmartBay's hub

Blackrock in Galway Bay, near SmartBay’s hub. Image via Shutterstock

Irish eyes

With Limerick company Seapower using SmartBay’s one-quarter test site this month, and Cork’s Ocean Energy doing a fine job off the Munster coast, Breslin knows first-hand just how much potential there is.

“Tidal energy is a number of years ahead. In the wave energy space, nobody has developed that yet,” said Breslin, who claimed the development of technical and supply chain support, the backbone for building devices to garner energy from waves, is the holy grail.

“There’s the possibility that we could be exporting the electricity into Ireland or mainland Europe, straight from the sea.”

FORESEA allows SmartBay and its colleagues invite companies to test their devices in the wild. Any costs associated with access fees or with deploying a device for six to 12 months on the four sites are almost entirely covered by the funding for the research project.

Open for business

The first of three industry calls was announced today, with €1.3m in funding heading SmartBay’s way should it achieve occupancy goals in the coming three years.

“Europe is currently leading the world in ocean energy development,” said Oliver Wragg, commercial director at EMEC, upon the launch of the project.

“The FORESEA programme will help cement this lead by stimulating a critical mass of technology development activity, bridging the gap between ocean renewables R&D and the marketplace.”

Orkney-based EMEC offers wave and tidal support, while SemRev deals with floating wind and wave in France. The Dutch Tidal Testing Centre provides tidal stream testing at intermediate scale, offering testing in a ducted channel, open water tow tests with a barge and future plans for a  dedicated offshore floating site.

Under the sea

The name SmartBay might ring a bell as, only last month, its subsea observatory off the Galway coast kicked into gear.

Supported by the Marine Institute, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, it will be used to collect valuable data from the ocean and will be a critical component of a world-class maritime infrastructure in Ireland.

Companies with technologies ready for deployment by 2017 are encouraged to apply to FORESEA by 21 September.

Main wave image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic