All too familiar with the current economic situations of Greece and Spain, Ireland currently finds itself in a peculiar position within the European Union. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, the nation’s economy shrank more than ten percent and weathered one of the deepest recessions in its history. Through extensive global assistance and adherence to strict austerity measures, Ireland is poised in 2013 to become the first country to leave its EU bailout on schedule. Recent economic figures have shown slow market-access growth and led to praise from the European Commission for Ireland’s adherence to its fiscal plan. But if Ireland wishes to revitalize its economy, it must capitalize on the lucrative businesses of the future and so turn to the core renewable resource that separates it from the rest of the continent: the ocean.
Dublin recently hosted one of the world’s largest conferences on marine energy to discuss Ireland’s presence in the tidal and wave energy sectors, both of which promise substantial economic growth. The northern coast is a strategic place for generating both types of energy, with tidal energy promising to create more jobs and wave energy likely to provide a constant source of energy for the Irish living in the area.
Skeptics challenge the new energy endeavors by pointing to the large costs of the infrastructure required to break into these energy markets. The estimated cost stands at one hundred million Euros per unit of wave technology and it is reasonable to believe that this money could be better spent elsewhere in a struggling economy. In evaluating these costs, Ireland continues to analyze data from places such as Spain, France, and Scotland, who have already borne the expenses of the new equipment and are awaiting the added energy output. Unlike them, however, Ireland can claim to have an ideal geographic location for energy production and therefore expect to exceed their output and efficiency of production.
Wave energy promises to aid in restoring Ireland to its 1990s status as the “Celtic Tiger.” According to Eoin Sweeney, the head of the marine department in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the question is not whether Ireland will invest in wave energy, but whether the nation will be involved in the business-aspect of the endeavor or simply leave the details to developers.
In July 2012, Prime Minister Enda Kenny launched the government plan “Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth,” which seeks to double the wealth gained from ocean technology to 6.4 billion Euros by 2030 and have the sector account for 2.4 percent of the nation’s GDP. He plans to implement a fifteen-point plan, comprising tactical marketing and international investment in biotechnology, between 2012 and 2014. The maintenance and manufacturing fields in Irish wave energy have the potential to create thousands of jobs for citizens as well— this legislation ties in to the national “Action Plan For Jobs,” which the Prime Minister has argued will be crucial to helping companies and entrepreneurs in the push for increased sales, efficiency, and innovation. The plan has broader importance in the scope of the EU’s Europe 2020 plan to revitalize the continental economy one nation at a time.
In this context, if Ireland creates enough interest in the ocean sector in the next few years and coordinates this push with EU investment in marine technology, like the “Blue Growth Strategy” and “EU Strategy for the Atlantic,” the industry could be cultivated so to account for more than 2.4 percent of GDP by 2030. How Ireland will capitalize on its untapped marine resources and emerge from its bailout remains to be seen, but it has the potential to flood the European market with innovation and become a symbol of hope, rather than desperation, to those destitute citizens surrounded by austerity, uncertainty, and bankruptcy who are marching in the streets of the continent across the water.