by LORNA SIGGINS and TOM SHEIL
THE NAVAL Service is working with the European Space Agency, third-level institutions and campus companies to create “significant employment” in marine activities, according to its new chief, Cmdr Mark Mellett.
Ireland could be an “early European leader” in ocean energy, and could generate far more economic activity in the maritime sector, Cmdr Mellett forecast.
However, “civil society” should be considered an “equal partner” in government and policy-making, marketing and economic development, he said.
The new flag officer commanding the Naval Service, who chaired a keynote debate on renewable energy at the Mayo Associations worldwide convention in Westport at the weekend, believes Ireland is not taking full advantage of the fact it has one of the largest maritime-to-land ratios in northwest Europe.
Whereas Norway generates 20 per cent of gross domestic product from its maritime resource, and even Belgium generates 8 per cent, Ireland gains only 1 per cent of GDP from the marine, he said.
The Naval Service is a partner in Merc, the maritime and energy research campus and commercial cluster established with University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology.
Merc is set to develop the world’s largest ocean energy research centre at Haulbowline, Cork, which will be built beside the National Maritime College jointly run by the Naval Service and the institute of technology.
“The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has forecast over 50,000 jobs in ocean energy by 2030, and there could be up to 250 to 300 ocean energy devices located off the west coast to meet our 500MW renewable energy targets,” Cmdr Mellett said.
Ireland recently lost key investment in ocean energy to Scotland, but he said there was still an opportunity to “secure round two”. Ireland’s wave energy resource is richer than Scotland’s, and four of the top wave and tidal companies are Irish, he noted.
The Naval Service is involved in a number of other key research and development projects through Merc, he said.
Adaptation of satellite surveillance systems to pinpoint ocean pollution is the focus of collaboration with the European Space Agency, for example, with the Naval Service “ground-truthing” some of the technology’s imagery, he said. “In all of these cases, the company and the Naval Service stand to benefit from technological advances,” Cmdr Mellett said, adding that there were obvious spin-offs for employment.
Computer modelling to devise more efficient scheduling of ship refits is the focus of another project with a UCC research team, 4C. “A number of foreign direct investors are interested in the synergy between the Naval Service, UCC and CIT.”
Mayo county manager Peter Hynes echoed concerns at the convention that Ireland might be slipping behind Scotland and Portugal in its bid to become a world hub for wave and tidal energy.
The convention attracted delegates from four continents, and was opened by President Mary McAleese. Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressed the event on Saturday night.
Referring to the fact that the Marine Renewable Industry Association, the national body for tide and wave energy, had expressed concern that two major developers in wave energy were to invest in Scotland, Mr Hynes asked what Ireland needed to do to catch up.
Responding on a positive note, James Ryan, an alternative energy consultant, said enterprise agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland were beginning to realise wave energy was “a very big game”, and were beginning to come on board. “It is not necessarily an expensive process but it does need leadership,” he said.