De-carbonisation of Europe’s economies could see big opportunities offshore Ireland the country’s energy minister has declared as he launched a major new renewables strategy.

Pat Rabbitte says Ireland could eventually become a new exporter of renewable energy to the UK by producing more green power than the country can consume.

“Given the scale of our wind resources, in the medium term we could be exporting wind energy on a scale that matches the total electricity consumption of the country,” Minister Rabbitte said. “We use 6 to 7 Gigawatts ourselves each year and I believe we could be exporting the same quantum to the UK and beyond in the coming years.”

Rabbitte, Ireland’s Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources was speaking in Dublin to launch a new Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020 document which provides a blueprint for a greener energy future for Ireland. The document contains 36 points for action to help Ireland use less CO2 for energy generation.

While oil and gas exploration continues offshore Ireland – Providence Resources is looking at developing the recent Barryroe oil discovery in the Celtic Sea off the country’s southern coastline – the Irish government is also backing green energy by publishing the new strategy document to provide a pathway towards carbon-free electricity generation.

“As the European Union moves to de-carbonise its energy systems there will be a real demand in Europe for carbon free electricity. Our coastal location gives us a real advantage in having natural resources of real scale and significance. Alongside moves to join together European energy markets, this will give us access to much bigger electricity markets in years to come,” Rabbitte said.

During June Rabbitte is due to meet UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry for “…negotiations on an intergovernmental agreement that will mean that those involved in generation of on and offshore renewable energy in Ireland will have an additional market to serve.”

The strategy document says: “The Government’s overarching strategic objective is to make renewable energy an increasingly significant component of Ireland’s energy supply by 2020.”

Strategies for achieving that have been laid out including development of a bioenergy sector, with renewable heat, transport and power generation.  Growth in research and development of renewable energy technologies is called for, “..including the preparation for market of ocean technologies,” – a clear signal to back offshore technologies. Growth in on and offshore wind power for domestic electricity consumption and export is called for.

Ireland’s new energy document also says: “Our offshore wind resource will be developed as an export opportunity to UK and North West Europe, provided this is economically beneficial to the state,” and: “In addition to exporting electricity from renewables to the UK and continental
Europe, Ireland has the opportunity to become a recognised world leader in the testing of next generation offshore renewable energy equipment.”

Opportunities are seen in wind farm construction, turbine component manufacturing, and servicing, and in related equipment supply chains.

Furthermore the document highlights the North Seas Offshore Grid Initiative, an agreement entered into by Ireland and nine other European states, along with the EU Commission, ACER, an EU regulators association, and with ENTSO-E – an association for EU regulators representatives, which aims to maximise renewable energy resources in the North Sea, the English Channel, Irish Sea and in the Atlantic. “The region covers 55% of total EU electricity demand and in time, provides an enormous market potential for renewable generators providing the appropriate market, regulatory and infrastructure aspects can be developed,” the strategy document points out.

 Elsewhere the document speaks of the intention to support and facilitate development of wave technology, through an Ocean Energy Development Unit collaborating with an Irish marine institute  and academic and commercial organisations.

This year Ireland is due to finalise and publish an Offshore Renewable Energy Development plan and new legislation providing for a new offshore licensing and permitting regime is due to be introduced.