From Science to Showbusiness

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but changed from one form to another. It’s the same with knowledge. The story of renewable gas in Ireland, currently residing in academic journal articles and reports, was brought to life by ERI researchers and friends on a sunny Saturday morning in August. PhD candidate Aoife Long, of the Biofuels and Bioenergy Research Group, produced, directed and starred in a video to Dance her PhD.


The video is an entry for the International Science Magazine Dance your PhD competition. This competition encourages researchers to explain their research through dance, with the aim to delight and inform the public. The winner will be decided by a judging panel who will consider scientific merit, artistic merit, and the creative combination of both.


The Biofuels and Bioenergy Research Group, led by Professor Jerry Murphy, has pioneered the research on the potential sources of renewable gas in Ireland. The group is now looking at how this potential can be realised, along with future technologies such as Power to Gas.

What Happens if the Wind Doesn’t Blow: A Short Story on Gas and Electricity Interactions in Europe


By Paul Deane


After the sweltering heat in Europe this summer, the cold snap of January 2017 seems a long time ago. However a 2 week period in January serves as an important reminder of why it is important to consider multiple elements of the energy system when planning for the future. Here I look at the interactions between the electricity and gas systems and what happens if things don’t quite go to plan….

It was a cold one. Atmospheric conditions in Europe in early January were dominated by blocking conditions bringing warm air towards north-western Europe and cold air into southern Europe. This contributed to low wind and solar generation in most of mainland Europe. Wind power generation was down by 15-20% across central Europe compared to the previous year and solar generation was insignificant. Europe was still recovering from a dry end to 2016 which continued into the first quarter of 2017. This pushed hydro reserve levels to several year lows and coupled with freezing conditions limited hydro’s generation potential. The European power system was coming under pressure…however this was only the start of the challenge.

France was struggling with ongoing safety tests at nuclear facilities while limited nuclear capacity was also an issue in Germany. The 2GW IFA electricity interconnector between France and the UK was damaged during the winter Storm Angus and was now working only at limited capacity. For large parts of Eastern Europe the second week in January was the most extreme of the winter. Russia experienced the coldest Orthodox Christmas in 120 years, and temperatures dropped to almost -30°C in Romania. People needed heat, significantly increasing the demand for electricity and gas.

Low availability of nuclear and low availability of renewables meant that conventional gas and coal fired generation filled the gap. Natural gas consumption in power generation in the EU reached the highest level in the last seven years in January 2017 (65TWh of electricity from gas). Coupled with increased gas demand for residential heating, gas storage facilities in central Europe saw big withdrawals of gas even as pipeline imports from Russia and Algeria increased. Equally coal imports from Russia and Columbia were up on previous years to meet extra demand from power generation.

Thankfully, the cold snap resided towards the end of the month and the power system got through the crisis. Major electricity supply disruptions did not occur during the cold spell although several countries imposed export bans. Bulgaria imposed a 27 day long electricity export ban. Retail electricity prices for household customers in central Europe went up by 1.8%. Some regions like Ireland, UK and Nordic Europe were relatively spared from the cold weather and wholesale prices remained at moderate levels in January. In short, it was a close call.

Our Research in UCC is looking at these issues. We are trying to understand these challenges across Europe as we transition to power systems with more weather dependant generation and fossil fuel imports from abroad. We use the PLEXOS Integrated Energy Model to understand how future gas and electricity interactions in Europe might impact market prices, security of supply and emissions. Our Existing analysis shows how supply interruptions of gas, gas storage and LNG availability can impact electricity prices. Our EU integrated gas and electricity models are freely available from Energy Exemplar who also provide PLEXOS for academic and commercial users. In the future we hope to add water interactions to these models.

If you’re interested in this area of research or would like collaborate or use our models, please feel free to get in touch.

Thanks to Conor Hickey for edits

‘For wave and tidal potential, geography is definitely on our side’

The below article was published in The Irish Times by Lorna Siggins. See here for the original article.


When one of the world’s largest energy companies identifies solar, wind and nuclear as targets for diversified investment, advocates of ocean energy might just feel despondent.

Similarly, when former US vice-president and Nobel prize-winning politician Al Gore places so much faith in solar power during his sequel documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel, one might expect a note of disappointment in Prof Tony Lewis’s voice.

However, Lewis is optimism undimmed when it comes wave and tidal potential. The fact that Saudi Arabia’s Aramco would identify sun and wind as priorities for diversification into renewables is as much about geography as the fact that solar and wind costs are falling.

“Of course, money is going into solar in the short term, as the Chinese have filled the market with cheap solar cells,” Prof Lewis says. “And there has been significant increase in interest in solar farms in Ireland.”

“But by 2050, we are going to need everything we have got to reach Paris climate agreement targets, and that has to include wave and tidal energy, solar, wind and biomass,” he says. “For wave and tidal potential, geography is definitely on our side.”

Dubbed Ireland’s “ocean energy daddy” and with a penchant for bow ties, Prof Lewis is emeritus Beaufort professor at University College Cork, and principal investigator at the State’s Marine Renewable Energy Ireland centre (MaREI) .

He is also host of next week’s European Wave and Tidal Energy conference in Cork – regarded as one of the world’s leading forums for this sector.

“When the first of these conferences was held in Greece, about 60 people attended. Ireland hosted the fifth of these in 2003, and there were about 160 registered,” he recalls. “We have over 450 registered for this one, and more people inquiring every day.”

Marine resources

The EU has set a target of 100 gigawatts of energy from marine resources by 2050. Some of the 366 papers and 78 parallel sessions listed for the conference in University College Cork, Cork City Hall and MaREI in Ringaskiddy will be debating how this can come about.

To put the European target in context, Ireland’s total annual generation capacity of energy from all sources is 10 gigawatts, and more than 85 per cent of that is imported.

“We need to develop our indigenous energy so that we have security of supply, but also to exploit the incredible market opportunity presented by the 100 Gigawatt target,”he says. “If you think of it, nearly two gigowatts of that 10 is from onshore wind, and the ocean could produce the balancing seven gigowatts if the entire west coast of Ireland was developed for same.”

Six years ago, an SQW Energy study for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland forecast that the island of Ireland ocean energy sector could be producing a net present value of €9 billion, creating “several thousand jobs”, by 2030. German engineering major Siemens estimated that this island’s offshore and onshore wind, wave and tidal resource accounted for one-third of all such potential in western Europe.

There’s a danger in overly ambitious targets and false optimism, however, as several early pioneers in the sector discovered to their cost. Prof Lewis acknowledges that there are still technical challenges, from anchoring to storage of excess power. An interim review of the State’s offshore renewable energy development plan is due this year.


At the same time, there have been many advances, with wind and solar costs below those of fossil fuel electricity in some parts of the world, and developments in biogas to create a liquid fuel from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, Prof Lewis notes.

“So we are going to have a combination of different ways of using energy, with batteries for storage making more sense in small communities – like Pacific islands, which may become niche developers of ocean energy,” he says.

“Smartgrids which combine wave energy and storage and different types of production, allowing for exporting excess, will also suit smaller communities,” he says. “Electronics allow this to happen.”

He points to the progress in tidal energy made by OpenHydro, founded in 2004 and employing some 120 people in Dublin and Carlingford, Co Louth.

“It is now selling tidal energy turbines in France and Canada, and building a factory in northern France,” Prof Lewis says. “Tidal stream energy offers less opportunities as a resource here, but the technology is simpler, so you could see large arrays of these turbines deployed very soon.”

“Similarly, Cork company Ocean Energy has been testing a 500kw device at the US Navy test site in Hawaii, with funding from the US and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland,” he says.

Next step

The Cobh company had initially tried its smaller scale technology at the Marine Institute’s test site in Galway Bay, and this 500kw device is the next step. It may then be deployed at the ESB International West Wave project off the Clare coast, he says.

“Both Ocean Energy and Sea Power are hoping to overcome the challenges of developing proper anchoring/mooring systems, working with other Irish companies,” he says.

The progress, or otherwise, of adequate planning legislation is another one of those loose ends. A Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill has been listed as a “priority” for several Dáíl terms. The legislation is driven by the EU’s “blue growth” strategy, and gives new powers to Bord Pleanála and coastal local authorities.

“I guess it has to be fit for purpose, and that includes communities,” Prof Lewis acknowledges. “It is a matter of balancing use of the marine environment for energy, fishing, aquaculture and tourism – to everybody’s satisfaction.”

Stop, Collaborate and Listen for better Ocean Science – Part 1

In July, MaREI researcher Abigail Cronin set sail from Dublin port on the RV Celtic Explorer as part of a scientific crew of nine. The team consisted of three Marine Institute (MI) personnel, two Training Through Research Survey scheme (TTRS scheme) participants, one BEAMS participant, three scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and the full Celtic Explorer crew. The sixteen day cruise aimed to map a portion of the seabed within Irish waters, approximately 80 nautical miles south of Cork, as part of the INFOMAR project.



While on the cruise, Abi wrote some Marine Institute blogs describing why she was on the cruise and what it consisted of.

Learning on The Job

So, think about it, there you are standing on Dublin port looking up at Ireland’s largest research vessel, the Celtic Explorer. You shuffle up the gangway with your bag slung over your shoulder after a friendly Donegal accent points you in the direction of the dry lab. As you walk into the room, colourful animations and flashing buttons jump out of the dozen or so monitors lining the walls. You hear the buzz of excited marine scientists from around the globe double checking their devices are in working order, as the smell of Tony and Gavin’s freshly made apple pie wafts up the stairs. You are one of two people given the opportunity to learn the skills of seabed mapping from the national experts. But how?

Figure 1 – Left: Oisin McManus from the INFOMAR team in the dry lab. Right: Tony and Gavin – the chefs onboard the Celtic Explorer.


Two applicants, John Skehan and Abi Cronin, were chosen to take part on the INFOMAR survey from July 21st to August 6th 2017 as part of the Training Through Research Surveys (TTRS) scheme. This initiative, collaboratively organised by the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) and the Marine Institute (MI), acts as a national capacity building exercise to raise the level of marine science in Ireland, while giving early career researchers the opportunity to network with and learn from experienced marine scientists. Participants gain valuable marine data collection and observation experience on dedicated research surveys with leading Irish and European marine scientists. This programme is designed to provide mentored training for emerging marine scientists on surveys taking place off the western seaboard of Ireland and ranging as far as Newfoundland.


Figure 2 – Abi & John in the dry lab onboard the RV Celtic Explorer


John and Abi come from very different backgrounds with John’s initial degree being in IT. He recently completed an MSc in Geographical Information Systems & Remote Sensing at Maynooth University, and is currently working in the Surveying and Remote Sensing unit at Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI). Abi has an MSc in Coastal and Marine Management from University College Cork, and works in the Earth Observation Group of the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI). Both participants have a strong interest in mapping the seabed, however before this cruise they had very little experience actually collecting the data. This voyage allows them to throw themselves in the deep end and learn on the job.


Figure 3 – Abi & John keeping in contact with the bridge and deck crew


Onboard, Abi and John have undertaken quite an array of tasks, the most obvious being coordination of the three multibeam echosoudners: EM1002, EM302, and EM2040. While in charge of these devices, the scientists must know how to create new transect lines; look out for any anomalies in the data; activate lines for the ship’s autopilot; contact the bridge to inform the skipper of any line turns or change of plan; input Moving Vessel Profiler cast (MVP) data; as well as ensure the multibeam, backscatter and water column data is being stored appropriately.


Figure 4 – John & Abi in the dry lab onboard the Celtic Explorer


The scientists also took charge of communications and logistics for CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor) casts and sediment grab stations, ensuring all data was collected safely and efficiently. To keep the data organised, we log each MVP, multibeam line, grab and CTD both in digital and paper format. This includes keeping a logbook up to date, and working with different navigation and metadata software: QINSY and Multilogger. For more information on INFOMAR’s toolbox you can read the most recent blog here.


Figure 5 – Left: A CTD device coming out of the water. Right: Abi keeping in contact with the bridge and deck crew


The TTRS scheme increases the national marine science research capacity through coordinated use of national infrastructure and facilities. This opportunity has allowed John and Abi to develop their skills, add to their existing seagoing experience, and network with established professionals in seabed mapping and oceanography.


A message from the author:

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to SMART Sea School for making this all possible through the TTRS scheme. This was a fantastic chance to work with the INFOMAR team Oisin, Kevin & Slava, as well as the scientists from the University of New Hampshire and College of Charleston. It’s been a pleasure learning from people who are enthusiastic about their research. Last, but most certainly not least, a massive thank you to the crew for making this such an enjoyable experience. Always open to questions and happy to share your stories, you took us in and made us feel welcome. All in all, an enjoyable learning experience. I hope to work with you all again in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be putting the knowledge we’ve gained to good use in MaREI.


Figure 6 – Blue skies on the RV Celtic Explorer in July 2017


Anything else you want to know? You can catch me on twitter at: @Abi_Cronin

EWTEC Conference A Huge Success


With over 500 delegates in attendance and over 100 papers presented, the EWTEC Conference hosted by MaREI was a massive success. Congratulations to all involved. Take a look at some of the highlights here.