23rd May

Political vision and funding the way forward says ocean energy expert

Andrew Parish has over 20 years experience in a variety of areas including energy, environment, innovation, new product development and business management. He has been a director of Tonn Energy Ltd for the past four years, and after six years as CEO of Wavebob Ltd, decided recently to step down to develop other businesses “that will serve the sector“.  He remains as an advisor to Wavebob Ltd, and provides support and advice to small business through his company Parish Consulting.

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On the final day of ICOE 2012, Inshore Ireland caught up with him for a brief ‘snapshot’ of the ocean energy sector in Ireland.

Has the ICOE conference been worthwhile?

My feelings are mixed. At one level it’s been very positive to see such a large community coming together in Dublin - 900 people all focused on wave and tidal energy. It’s positive also seeing the emergence of a supply chain, as well as utilities, technology developers, and service and component suppliers.

That’s all good, and a sign that the sector is maturing. But, there’s still no money. We’re all here with an expectation and a passion to drive a new industry; however the missing ingredient is the financial engine which would actually allow us to do real commercial business.

Why is it proving difficult to attract investment?

Traditional forms of technology finance such as the venture capital community, investment angels etc just aren’t interested in wave energy because it’s too long, too hard, and costs too much. The kind of people who would normally invest in technology would expect a return in three-to five years but ours is a five- to ten-year play.

Therefore, it really comes back to the utilities and the large engineering and OEM companies. These are also struggling with the financial crisis so their access to capital is being constrained and they are focusing on mature technology that can be rolled out.

Is Ireland keeping pace with Scotland in the race to dominate ocean energy in these islands?

Scotland is absolutely without question seen globally as the world-leading centre for ocean energy. That’s not necessarily because they’ve invested huge amounts of money however. They acted quickly and appropriately. What gives confidence to the private sector is when the public sector acts decisively, appropriately, and does so quickly.

In Ireland it’s taken us five years to figure out what we’re going to do with foreshore licensing. In the meantime, companies have come here attracted by the natural resource and by the research that’s going on in the universities, and the emergence of credible technologies such as Wavebob. But when they see how much inertia there is in the system, here they go back to Scotland.

Could the Irish government do more?

Visionary leadership is needed, and we need the confidence to say we’re going in this direction. But that’s only half the battle. Pointing the course is one thing, but making sure the boys in the engine room know how to make the machine work is another skill. The ability to work through the system - and that’s the civil service function - needs to have the same level of enthusiasm.

Despite bureaucratic turgidity, are you still optimistic?

I think so, and this is where ICOE really sets a focus and a spotlight on Ireland. It’s been positive seeing the level of political inclusion this week. We’ve had two ministers and all the civil servants here. I think they recognise this is now an industry that is growing, emerging – with real commercial and employment opportunities.

That’ll help focus the attention. I do see light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve gone through five years of rationalisation and strategic development, and we’re well poised now for the next level. But we still need the money, investment - from both the private sector and public sector - if this industry is to really move forward.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years?

We’re doing a lot of good stuff on the infrastructural level. Just look at what’s happening at the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC) and the Beaufort Laboratory in Cork. Funding the academic sector is appropriate and it gives us a solid foundation. But we really need to see progress on the availability of foreshore licensing because, at the end of the day as a technology developer, we’re developing a technology for a market.

To coin a phrase we used last year, ‘Ireland is closed for maintenance’, but the sign needs to go up now that ‘Ireland is open for business.’ Getting a foreshore licence should be a straightforward business-like process, not a four-year wait.

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