Monday, March 07, 2016

By Tom MacSweeney

The view of Cork Harbour from the conference room of the MaREI building in Ringaskiddy is stunning. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide a magnificent panorama.
I was there to interview a Corkman being honoured by scientists from all over the world, a man they described as “the father of ocean energy.” MaREI is the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, in the Beaufort Research Centre, alongside the National Maritime College, all on the same campus in Ringaskiddy. It is a marine and energy research, development and innovation hub combining expertise in a wide range of research groups and industry partners developing marine energy.

New UCC Beaufort Builiding, Ringaskiddy, home of the headquarters of the MaREI (Marine Renewable Energy Ireland) Centre and the LIR National Ocean Test Facility.

New UCC Beaufort Builiding, Ringaskiddy, home of the headquarters of the MaREI (Marine Renewable Energy Ireland) Centre and the LIR National Ocean Test Facility.

It was my first time in the building. The three marine institutions on this campus are the embodiment of what I have hoped to see in awareness of the value of our marine resources, both physically in our island setting on the edge of the Atlantic and through the people who work in the maritime sphere.
The man I interviewed is Professor Tony Lewis who, over ten decades, has dedicated his career to the development of marine renewable energy.
“It’s nice and a bit flattering to be called the father of ocean energy,” Tony told me.
“What I have been doing is evangelising about it, trying to create awareness. Progress has been slow, but creating a new technology takes time. There have been ups-and-downs. However, in the last few years it has become accepted.”
“It is viable and is part of Government policy. Things have come together. More people are aware and the Government is committed. We will make huge progress in the next five years.”
Leaders in marine renewable energy from around the world travelled to Ringaskiddy for a two-day conference which was an amazing tribute to Tony Lewis. His achievements at University College where he has worked have been recognised by the awarding to him of Professor Emeritus status.
Does the public understand and accept that there will be tangible benefits from ocean energy I asked him?

Professor Tony Lewis.

Professor Tony Lewis.

“I don’t think the public is very aware of what we are trying to do,” Tony said. He is realistic about this. “At the beach and during storms this winter, people can see the power of waves coming ashore, but I don’t think they are aware of how we are trying harness this energy. We are creating an industry to build the equipment to harness this power and reduce our energy input costs, our energy bills. I feel we haven’t engaged well enough with the public to tell them what is happening and how positive this is. That is a job to be done and the MaREI Centre will be doing it, with funding from the Science Foundation Ireland, through an Outreach information programme.” Tony Lewis is also involved with Ocean Energy an Irish company developing technology. His enthusiasm and determination remain as steadfast as ever, after 40 years.
As I emerged onto the Rinagskiddy Road from that positive, encouraging ambience, I hit a discordant note. Across the road from the magnificent marine campus, is the proposed site of the Indaver toxic waste incinerator. To locate that, contrasting with the future across the road, I thought, is a contradictory challenge to good planning and maritime progress.
You can hear Professor Tony Lewis on my THIS ISLAND NATION programme on: march-2016/ 
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