Wave Energy

With all the present day concerns about the environment there is a demand to find alternative, renewable and less environmently damaging ways of producing energy and power .Natural resources such as coal and boglands are fast depleting, yet there are natural renewable sources such as waves, wind and sun which can be harnessed. So why aren't these being put to more use, and is technology developed enough to support our communities using alternative energies?

Concerning wave power, Ireland's coastline is ideally suited - with prevailing south-west winds, and wind from the Atlantic Ocean, our coastline has one of the most vigorous wave climates in the world, particularly the west coast from Malin Head to Cape Clear.

There is also the public demand; Ireland's bogland is under threat, yet is a source of natural beauty, a rare and valuable wildlife habitat, as well as being a great attraction for the thousands of tourists to the country.There is also concern over the affect on the atmosphere of the burning of fossil fuels. Another present-day option is nuclear power - yet public opinion falls heavily against this, especially after incidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale (now Sellafield). The safety of this supposedly more economical source of power is seriously under doubt, and is not so inexpensive as made out, with around $1 billion spent globally each year on research which, as yet, has failed to produce a commercially viable, safe method of nuclear fusion.

In comparison, the research costs for wave energy are low. Small groups of scientists work with computer models which optimise efficiency and reduce time and costs. Research in Ireland was initiated at Queen's University, Belfast in 1975, and at University College, Cork in 1979. In 1985, Queen's developed a prototype siutable for island communities. Its construction was completed at the Isle of Islay, Scotland in 1988, and connected to the island grid in 1991. A cut in UK government funding in 1994, however, has slowed research, and although small-scale wave energy production is possible, larger scale production is probably not possible for another 10 years without this money.

In fact the support of funding bodies seems to be the major factor affecting research at the moment. There is limited support from the Irish Government, despite an ESB policy to "utilise renewable energy sources, where economic. We will also encourage the development of new renewable energy sources."

Worldwide advances are being made in countries such as Japan, Portugal and Britain, and the EU has helped fund research in Ireland. However, surely it is the responsibility of the government to fund further research into developments in energy technology, as well as into the effects of wave energy convertors on the environment e.g. on coastal erosion, migratory species such as salmon, on algal growth, wave patterns and sedimentation rates, and on feeding and spawning grounds. Supporting wave power would also mean supporting many coastal communities, providing long-term employment in areas of decline due to, for example, emigration and the industrialisation of the fisheries.

So wave energy is a real possibility of alternative power, but as is the problem with so many projects dependent on funding, the government's lack of support is slowing down important changes which make sense in the long term; financially, economically and socially. Which would you rather support; the destruction of the fast depleting boglands, or the development of renewable, natural resources?

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