Offshore islands could be entirely powered by wind and wave energy in the future, it was claimed today.
The Government is to fund a feasibility study to investigate whether electricity, heat and transport needs can be be supplied by renewables.
A 12-month pilot project, which is jointly commissioned by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), is to focus on Inis Mor, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr.
The initiative will also investigate how the technologies may be extended to other offshore islands.
The Aran Islands currently rely largely on the mainland for their energy supply as electricity is supplied via undersea cables. Fuels for transport and heat must be delivered by ferry.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan, who visits Inis Meain today with Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív to open a new environmentally sustainable harbour, said: “The development of an integrated wind and ocean-powered energy system could make the islands self-sufficient in terms of energy supply, would create jobs, boost tourism and could even provide models for improved use of natural resources for the whole island of Ireland.”
The Government-commissioned study will review current energy usage on the Aran Islands and estimate the accessible wind, wave and tidal resources.
It will also look at developing potential models of wind and ocean energy to produce green power at minimal cost.
The employment opportunities of each model and how they could be replicated to other offshore islands will also be studied.
“This is a huge, proactive step forward for the islands,” said Mr O Cuiv.
“This study, I believe, will be of significant interest to countries and communities across the world.
“Ireland has one of the strongest wind and ocean energy resources in Europe and we need to examine all the possible ways of making the best use of sustainable resources.
“A self-sustainable energy system would be of enormous benefit to the economy on the Aran Islands and could, indeed, provide an exemplary model for use around the country and beyond.”
Mr Ryan said Ireland’s heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels means that the state sends billions of euro out of the country unnecessarily.
“We also make ourselves more vulnerable to world events and volatile prices,” he said.
“Why send money and industry abroad when we can produce at home? Ireland and the Aran Islands are rich in the natural renewable resources of wind and ocean power.
“The islands can lead the way by producing their energy locally and securing the jobs of the future.