Ocean energy is an emerging technology which must overcome tough engineering challenges arising from its ‘home’ environment, the sea, before it can become a pervasive source of electricity. However, there is a remarkable convergence of opinion about the prospects for ocean energy and about its potential economic impact which serve to underpin the case for the Irish State’s support for the sector. Ocean energy is not a niche opportunity. It could one day stand alongside or even surpass offshore wind as an energy source. Most important of all, it is a sector from which Ireland can benefit significantly in jobs and income terms: we have perhaps the best wave resource in the world, outstanding R&D facilities and a wide range of industrial competences suited to ocean energy development. A key obstacle on the pathway to this prize, however, is pre-commercial technology finance, particularly funding to support device and component developers in the middle ground from the key TRL 3 and upwards stages (to cTRL6) in the evolution of their projects.
Ocean energy has had an unusual financial journey so far. Although an emerging technology (and despite its overall economic promise), it has received relatively little State support globally compared to other forms of energy such as nuclear and solar. Indeed, policy instruments drove early ocean energy pioneers, although arguably not in Ireland, into the commercial financial sphere at a uniquely early stage with almost predictable adverse consequences. An important finding of this Paper is that the financial sector in Ireland is informed about energy, including ocean energy, but that there is little prospect of significant commercial financial support at this stage of tidal and, particularly, wave development.
Ocean energy policy in Ireland has developed well in recent years (exception: out of date laws governing consenting - ‘planning permission’ - of projects) with a fit-for-purpose policy framework (the ‘OREDP’) and funding increases ensuring that the industry and the supporting infrastructure continue to progress. However, a critical ‘funding gap’ has been identified and this Paper suggests how it might be filled (Pre Commercial Development Fund) within existing or proposed budget envelopes and it also outlines a way forward to meet future, probably post 2020, needs to fund early commercial ocean energy arrays.