Marine technologies – wave, tidal, wind, and energy from biomass, including seaweed ‐ can provide an important component of a low carbon energy system. Average wind farm has increased in size dramatically, from 79.6 MW in 2007 to 493 MW in 2017. The energy harnessed from the sea and its resources if complemented with energy storage systems and smart grids can provide energy as, and where, required. Northern Ireland has a long and established expertise in marine energy, energy storage systems, and is leading the market in research on seaweed for biomass, having the largest seaweed energy farm in the UK in Strangford Lough. However, the use of coastal and marine areas for energy production may be at odds with other uses of the sea for recreation, fishing, boating, sightseeing, biodiversity protection, etc. Having contrasting interests, different stakeholders and government agencies often clash and limit the potential to harness marine energy for a sustainable energy future.

This project aims to maximize the energy potential of UK marine areas and overcome the conflicts in marine spatial governance in Northern Ireland by creating a network with researchers from sociology, planning, economics, marine biology, marine energy, industry, together with stakeholders and government agencies. The project is led by Dr Karen Mooney, a marine biologist who is leading the research on using seaweed for energy production in the UK. Through monthly workshops, this project will explore a way forward to improve the potential of marine and coastal areas towards a sustainable energy future.

Marine areas are a potential vast source of renewable energy. There is much scope for increasing energy production from the sea and its resources, through technological advances and overcoming competing stakeholders’ interests. Finding a path in Northern Ireland for marine energy futures would contribute to the wider energy research community in the UK and Europe. Given the complexities and uncertainties of Brexit, especially in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to establish a network of users, practitioners, stakeholders, industry and policymakers to disentangle and overcome the barriers to and create the incentives for an efficient use of our marine and coastal areas to contribute to a low carbon society and energy security.

Given that Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for more than one year and there are little signs of removing the political deadlock, it is important that civil servants, researchers, NGOs, industry, society, and other stakeholders build a long lasting network able to provide concrete solutions to compelling energy problems to contribute to the decarbonisation of energy.