The global energy system is undergoing rapid changes, with renewable energy comprising an ever-increasing share of the electricity grid.
One of the key technologies leading the charge is offshore wind, with the UK leading the global market in 2021. The UK's ambitious 2030 offshore wind generation targets mark it out as an international leader, with many countries, including Ireland, following its lead with their own progressive 2030 targets.
Globally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently reported a 19pc annual growth rate in offshore wind - faster than any other industry.
In response, Enterprise Ireland established an offshore wind cluster to identify and work with the key Irish companies with the capability to support the industry's growth.
Launched in early 2019, the cluster now numbers more than 50 companies. Its members have made substantial progress securing contracts with the UK offshore wind industry, tackling the sector's most urgent technology challenges and identifying collaboration and innovation opportunities with fellow cluster members.
Cluster and Irish Capability
The cluster was formally launched during the inaugural Enterprise Ireland Offshore Wind Forum in March 2019, which brought together more than 120 Irish and UK industry delegates. The forum followed the completion of supply chain mapping exercises undertaken by Enterprise Ireland's cluster leaders Darragh Cotter and Liam Curran in which over 80 Irish companies with the potential to supply the offshore wind industry were identified.
Key Irish strengths stand out in the areas of IoT, big data, robotics and wireless communications with Ireland's strong track record in engineering consultancy - particularly marine, geotechnical and electrical engineering - also identified as a key supply chain offering. The scoping exercises also unearthed Irish companies with the ability to pivot into offshore wind from areas such as onshore wind and vessel services.
"Irish companies offer highly skilled and specialised services to the offshore wind industry," says Darragh Cotter, senior market adviser in EI's London office. "We have to lean into our strengths and box clever. We have a clear understanding of where Irish companies add value. By focusing on existing national skills, we can make strong inroads into the offshore wind industry."
While the industry cluster promotes Irish capability to the global industry, the cluster also facilitates collaboration among Irish companies.
"Companies get to know each other and their respective strengths, they identify areas where they can work together and supplement each other's offers. Fostering collaboration is vital to the ongoing success of the cluster," said Liam Curran, senior technologist with Enterprise Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland hopes to hold its next Offshore Wind Forum at the end of 2021 to showcase Irish SME capability to a range of international and domestic stakeholders.
Key to the success of the cluster is a collective understanding of how the industry operates, its procurement practices, key technological trends and cost reduction drivers. Enterprise Ireland has enacted initiatives to increase awareness among Irish SMEs. Activities have included:
• Offshore wind insights programme - this mentorship programme, run from Enterprise Ireland's London office, links Irish companies with UK industry experts. The mentors work one-to-one with companies to provide strategic direction;
• Market study visits - visits to key UK offshore wind hubs to increase members' industry knowledge and to build important supply chain connections;
• Industry exhibitions - in October 2020, Enterprise Ireland and eight Irish companies virtually exhibited at Global Offshore Wind, which gathered over 400 speakers and exhibitors from across the industry.
Offshore wind cluster companies support more than 4,000 jobs in Ireland. Export opportunities, combined with the development of Irish offshore wind, create a strong regional employment opportunity. "We have seen coastal communities internationally pivot their local marine experience to the operations and maintenance phase of a project and Irish coastal communities can do likewise. SSE, for example, has designated Arklow as its O&M base for its Arklow Bank project and anticipate employing 70 people locally," said Curran.
For now, the immediate focus for the cluster are the established export opportunities in markets like the UK. "Irish companies are increasingly successful internationally. This experience will be crucial to the success of Irish offshore wind and increasing Irish jobs in the sector over the coming decade," added Cotter.