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Galway Bay – playing a big role in harnessing Ireland’s ocean energy

15/07/2016 by Declan   Meally

SeaFest Galway

It’s extraordinary that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about 70% of the surface of the world i.e. the seabed. That was one of many new things that I learned at SeaFest, a four day maritime conference and festival held at the start of July in Galway.

SeaFest, now in its third year, is a collaboration by numerous organisations that support the marine sectors in Ireland and this was its first time to be staged in Galway. The record 60,000 attendance across the open events and the various conferences demonstrates the interest in all things marine. It was an ideal host location, particularly since the test facility in Galway Bay is a key component in Ireland’s ocean energy programme. 

In 2012 An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and then Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney launched a report called ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’ which advocated that Ireland stop turning its back to the seas and start using the sea area under its control. Our ocean territory is ten times that of our land mass, often presented as the real map of Ireland. This area of ocean has the potential to provide more energy for Ireland than we would ever require. The challenge is harnessing this very powerful resource. A marine engineer recently told me “the sea breaks everything”. We have all witnessed the extraordinary power from the ocean over the past winters, most recently as a backdrop to viral phenomenon newscast from Teresa Mannion on the Galway seafront. 

What is needed to overcome these challenges is a world class testing infrastructure, to test concepts and devices at every step of the way. SEAI, in partnership with the Marine Institute, has developed the Galway Bay ocean energy test site for one quarter scale devices. It complements the one fortieth scale test tank facilities in Cork. This will soon be joined by the full scale Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS) at Belmullet, Co Mayo, currently the subject of planning application.

For the past ten years the Galway site has provided some wonderful successes, in particular the longest successful wave energy sea trials with the Ocean Energy Ltd Wave Buoy (OE Buoy Ltd) surviving two years in the test site. This company is now moving to full scale testing supported by SEAI in partnership with the US Department of Energy. Later this summer another Irish wave energy company, Seapower, will launch the next quarter scale wave energy device for testing in Galway. Hopefully, in time, Seapower will follow in the wake of the successful OE Buoy and move to full scale tests. Time and the ocean will tell. Those companies, like many others began their life in the test tanks in Cork and will ideally test in the future in AMETS Belmullet in the full force of the Atlantic.

As a sort of marine anomaly, Galway Bay is an excellent incubator for early stage ocean energy devices. The reason for this is that the Aran Islands act as a natural damper at the mouth of the Bay, reducing the waves in the Bay to approximately one quarter the size of the main Atlantic. It is a perfect setting in which to test smaller scale ocean energy devices before moving into the full vigour of the high seas. In parallel to developing the wave energy test site, SEAI, the Marine Institute and Science Foundation Ireland have developed an advanced underwater observatory which is located on the seabed to monitor acoustic and environmental data that is now streaming live from the site to a PC near you. Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Denis Naughten was on hand at the SeaFest conference to witness this key part of national marine test infrastructure going live. Students and researchers in colleges including NUIG and GMIT, in partnership with blue chip technology companies like IBM and Intel, are using the data gathered to help build a new marine ICT sector and leverage the digital expertise currently in Ireland.

There is a world of ocean waiting for us to harness. I am confident that the current momentum in the research and development community, coupled with the consolidation of our test infrastructure is paving the way for the birth of new devices, sensors and an exciting smart ocean industry right here in Ireland.

Craig N. McLean of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided an eye-opening footnote towards the end of the Seafest conference ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’. One of his slides showed how much (or how little) ocean and fresh water there is in the world. We must learn as much as we can about it as and as it will be a critical source of food and energy for the future.

Declan Meally

Head of Emerging Sectors

 
 

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