THE first wave energy farm in Europe is being planned for Irish waters and is due to begin operating in 2018.
The ESB has confirmed that its West Wave project will go ahead off Killard in Co Clare, near Doonbeg, and that five wave energy devices will initially be deployed to help "prove" that the technology can work on a commercial scale.
The project is expected to cost between €40m and €50m – and will not make any money.
However, the ESB hopes to prove that the fledgling technology is durable and can produce power on an ongoing basis, which will help drive the industry forward.
"West Wave is a critical project for the whole ocean energy business, it needs something like this," ESB's manager of emerging energy technologies, Brendan Barry, told the Irish Independent.
"This is pitched at taking a technology that is proven to work. We want to take five of those, and build an array which is essentially a farm.
"We're trying to do this project on the basis that we'll procure the best technology and deploy them. It's a bridging stage between prototypes and development."
The ambitious plans are being supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), which said it was providing €1.3m in funding to help complete feasibility studies.
Its chief executive, Dr Brian Motherway, said: "SEAI has been working closely with ESB for the past three years in relation to the development of the West Wave project, and provided initial grant funding of €175,000 for pre-consenting works in 2011.
"SEAI has now agreed the largest wave energy grant of €1.3m with ESB for further environmental and feasibility work in 2014/2015. This work is required for the further development of the project."
Five firms have been shortlisted to supply the technology, and the successful bidder will be chosen by the middle of 2016.
The successful bidder will supply five devices, which will be moored in an area of one square kilometre.
"We're only going to take devices that work. Our objective is to prove we can build a wave farm. We're not a technology developer, we're a utility," Mr Barry said.
"Nobody will do a big project if no one does a smaller one. This is also about proving to people what the environmental impacts are."
The company has secured a foreshore licence, and a number of environmental studies are currently under way that will take up to 18 months to complete. Planning permission will also have to be secured before the project goes ahead.
But Mr Barry warned it would be an "expensive" exercise.
"The project is going to be expensive, and will not be economically viable in the short-term. It will require state funding and maybe EU funding. Projects like this are a stepping stone for commercialisation. The industry will benefit as well. It will cost between €40m and €50m."
Ocean energy devices not only have to reliably produce power, they must also cope with the ravages of the Atlantic ocean, including storm surges, and be capable of withstanding corrosion.
The ESB aims to produce 26pc of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and become 'carbon neutral' by 2050.
CAPTURING the power in the ocean waves and tides is proving a considerable challenge. While there is a huge amount of power to be harnessed, a device has yet to be developed that can work on a commercial basis.