The European Commission’s strategy on offshore renewable energy came out this week. The strategy aims to increase European offshore energy capacity from 23 gigawatts to 60 gigawatts by 2030 and 300 gigawatts by 2050- an increase of 250%. Ocean and tidal energy have been identified as the primary contributor to this renewable energy revolution. Ireland is in danger of missing out on the offshore energy boom unless we act quickly. This requires modern laws for marine spatial planning, and a strong boost from Government to put in place the necessary infrastructure to create jobs in this sector. Almost forty years ago, I travelled to Denmark and saw wind turbines installed beside Copenhagen harbour. They are now world leaders in wind energy. Ireland has an opportunity to be a European leader in ocean energy. Still, it requires legislation to reconcile the conflicting demands of protecting biodiversity and fishing grounds and providing sustainable employment.
Delivery of this strategy is a sizeable task. However, if the European Union is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and we are to meet the 2030 Paris Climate Goals, it is a necessary one. The EU is currently a world leader in offshore wind energy. 44% of the global offshore capacity is based across Europe. Offshore wind energy is also a clean and green long-term approach to tackling higher energy costs, as it is more cost-effective than other fossil fuel-based resources. Good news for our pockets!
A focus on offshore renewable energy could create an estimated 62,000 jobs across the EU. Given that we are going to feel the financial effects of the Covid crisis for some time, the prospect of a jobs boost is very welcome. Expanding our renewable energy sector allows Ireland to transition jobs away from carbon-intensive industries so we can develop jobs in sustainable sectors like offshore wind farms. Employment in this sector doesn’t rely on limited resources like coal and peat and could be expanded to provide long term employment in rural areas across the country.
The damage we are facing from climate change requires radical action. Further harnessing wind energy is the right step. Ireland has a golden opportunity to join the offshore energy race and meet our own climate action goals. For Ireland, as with the other Member States, an offshore energy strategy requires complex legislation. It would combine many policy areas from biodiversity policy to fossil fuels. We have a chance under the upcoming National Marine Spatial Plan to develop a sustainable action plan. There also must be strong public engagement on this issue. The development of wind energy will require seafront infrastructure on our coasts, so meaningful public input and consultation are vital. Coastal communities and their concerns must be at the heart of our energy transition. It is essential that we get the public on board when implementing our own renewable energy strategies.
Increasing Ireland’s offshore wind potential for renewable energy brings with it huge benefits. By using clean, renewable wind energy, it will contribute to the greening of Ireland’s energy grid, meaning that Irish homes won’t have to rely on harmful fossil fuels for our energy needs. Having such an abundant renewable energy source so close to our doorstep would boost Irish energy supply security through the use of green renewables meaning we would not have to rely on energy imports which currently stand at 67%.
While Eirgrid -Ireland’s electric power transmission operator- is considered one of the more advanced operators in the EU when it comes to the energy transition, Ireland’s renewable energy sector has not developed at the same pace as our northern European neighbours. The quicker we could find ourselves to the fore of the sector globally. Ireland is already a global leader in areas like the digital and construction sector, so why not use our highly skilled workforce to expand into renewables? This would make us a leading player in both European and international discussions on the clean energy transition. With the right investment, Ireland could still prove to be a shining example of a country that is acting on its environmental promises.
The Commission’s strategy is ambitious and is taking the EU in the right direction. Other EU countries such as Germany and Denmark have had a head start in working on capitalising on offshore renewable energy. It is high time Ireland followed suit and steps up to the mark.