Firm ground for platform advancing offshore renewable energy
Wind, wave, tidal - there is plenty of energy to harvest at sea, and plenty of room for innovation to tap this potential for greater sustainability contributing to a key sector in the European Commission's Green Deal. Test sites from several countries have joined forces to strengthen Europe's position at the forefront of this area of R&D. An EU-funded project has taken their cooperation a step further.
© Lir NOTF, 2019
The EU-funded MARINERG-i project marked a new stage in the development of a network dedicated to the testing of proposed offshore renewable energy technologies. Europe is a leader in marine renewable energy at the moment, says project coordinator Jimmy Murphy of University College Cork, Ireland. A coordinated network of test sites can help to preserve its edge, he adds. The MARINERG-i project enabled the partners to detail and document the key aspects of their cooperation going forward. Matters as varied as science plans, business models and legal issues were addressed as part of their preparations to apply for recognition as a distributed research infrastructure and thereby formalise their collaboration.
More specifically, the network is seeking inclusion in the roadmap of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a distinction that would place it among a number of infrastructures whose further development is considered of strategic importance. If the application due in September 2020 is successful, the partners intend to set up a dedicated coordinating entity known as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC).
According to Murphy, this development would establish the network as a permanent structure, with membership fees ensuring the continuity of core activities and reducing the collaborations reliance on intermittent rounds of funding. The partners are already delivering a joint service through a single point of access as part of the EU-funded project MARINET2, which will run until June 2021.
The aim is to provide a more solid and sustainable platform for the interaction between the individual infrastructures that make up the combined, distributed infrastructure, he explains. We see the ESFRI roadmap as our pathway to this goal. ERICs are formed by countries rather than by the entities that operate the sites composing the distributed infrastructure. As of December 2019, with MARINERG-i just ended, six EU Member States have agreed to sign up, Murphy says.
A common course
By operating as a single research infrastructure, we can plan on a more European basis rather than on a national basis, says Murphy. Investments in existing or new sites can be targeted more effectively, reducing the risk of similar projects being taken forward in several countries while obvious gaps in the combined testing capacity are not addressed, he explains.
For example, its likely that we will need a new infrastructure for tank testing that would be a lot bigger than anything we have in Europe at the moment, Murphy notes. The ERIC could help to work out what this facility would be, where it could be located, who would fund it and how it should be operated, he adds.
Its about best value for money down the line, says Murphy. It is also an opportunity to harmonise methodologies and processes in order to facilitate research performed across different sites and maintain outstanding levels of quality. While the interaction in MARINET2 and in the prospective ERIC only covers a share of participating sites capacity, activities across the board stand to benefit.
Sink or swim
Taking their combined infrastructure forward would therefore place the partners in a better position to support and accelerate innovation harnessing offshore renewable energy. A lot of technologies remain stuck at the initial stages of their development, Murphy explains.
Skilful testing can help to bring them out of limbo. A more streamlined, higher-quality service will enable newer technologies either to fail and disappear or to progress towards commercialisation, Murphy concludes.
This initiative is an example of EU-funded projects aiming to respond to global challenges, in particular within the framework of the Commissions Green Deal policies.