Marine energy could generate as many as 69,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, according to a report from consultants SQW Energy for Invest NI and the Republic’s Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
Opportunities are greatest, suggests the report, in the wave energy sector, where between 17,000 and 52,000 jobs could be created. Another 8,500 to 17,000 jobs could be produced by the effective harvesting of tidal energy. Tidal sources are likely to be the most productive in Northern Ireland, while the best wave energy sites are on the Atlantic coast in the Republic.
By 2030, the net value of the marine energy sector to the economy, North and South, could be worth as much as €12.75bn (£10.8bn), says the report. “Although the optimistic scenarios may seem just that (optimistic), it is worth noting that many of the factors and variables chosen are similar to those witnessed for the onshore wind industry over the past 20 years,” says the report.
A second recently published report, from the new industry association, the Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group, has concluded that greater use of renewable energy resources could generate over 1,300 jobs in the North.
According to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee at the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is necessary to strengthen cross-border co-operation in order to maximise the benefits of Ireland’s renewable energy sector. It points to the development of the Single Electricity Market and the construction of the Moyle Interconnector as recognition of the need for the two governments to work together.
However, the report – backed by MLAs from all the political parties – criticised the lack of coherence from the Northern Ireland Executive and of a failure in inter-departmental co-operation in the way the sector is promoted and supported. This, said the MLAs, is holding back expansion of the industry. In particular, they suggest, greater support is needed for the use of anaerobic digestion and for technologies to produce energy from waste.
Alban Maginness MLA, Chair of the Assembly’s DETI committee, argues that the importance of renewable energy to the Northern Ireland economy should not be underestimated. He explains: “I think the potential is very substantial. We have a plentiful supply of resources – wind, marine, tidal, wave – we have also got the agricultural ability to grow energy crops, the ability to use produce or waste from agriculture.
“All of these things put us in pole position to build a really strong, self-sustaining, energy sector. We are doing quite well with wind and there is considerable emphasis on wind. But I could see things moving now with anaerobic digestion, which gives us the potential to transform many rural communities if we develop that sector.”
Maginness adds: “We are in a recession at the moment and need to grow our economic activity. Renewable energy is, I think, a major tool in reshaping our economy – and not simply to replace fossil fuels.” Maginness believes that the existing target of generating 40% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 could be exceeded, with appropriate investment and support. But to achieve that, he argues, the structure of government needs to be rationalised at the point at which it connects with the energy sector.
“Renewable energy functions are spread over eight government departments,” he explains. “That, I believe, leads to a lack of focus in government. Although there is a strategy, there is no overall work being done by the Executive. It is down to departments. One government department should take charge on all that. And that is why we have not made the sort of progress we should have been making. So we are saying let’s go for this now.”