University of Limerick has welcomed the Government’s declaration of the vision to make Shannon Estuary Region a renewable energy powerhouse.

The Shannon Estuary has the potential to be the premier location in Ireland for offshore renewable energy as well as a transport hub for Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today as he published the Interim Report of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce.

The Taskforce’s Interim Report sets out how the region can play a leading role in the switch to renewable energy and more climate friendly ways of living and doing business. The Estuary would also become a hub for Sustainable Transport Technologies and a western ‘Digital Gateway’ to Europe.

It proposes significant investment in the ports at Foynes and Moneypoint, a new auction for floating wind generation in 2024, and identifying industrial sites for clean energy industries like hydrogen.

The Report sets out the Taskforce’s ambition to begin supplying Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy through the Estuary by 2030, with the intention to significantly accelerating it up to 2050.

There is also big potential in onshore energy generation by installing solar panels, and new anaerobic digestion facilities. The Estuary Region also has the potential to double tourist numbers by becoming a destination for outdoor sports and adventure, business and leisure events, and cruise ship arrivals.

There is strong representation from UL on the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce, which was appointed by Government to assess the strategic strengths and comparative advantages of the Shannon Estuary and to scope out potential economic opportunities for the area.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of the Bernal Institute at University of Limerick and Professor Emeritus Eamonn Murphy, who is Chair of Mid-West Regional Enterprise Plan, were appointed to the taskforce by the Tánaiste in April. UL hosted the first meeting of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce in May.

Welcoming the interim report’s publication, UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said: “The report underlines the massive need and potential for research, development and innovation and educating the required skills. UL is well prepared, strategically positioned and highly motivated to support further plan development and implementation.”

Professor Luuk van der Wielen said: “The Shannon Estuary presents an opportunity to transform Ireland’s and Europe’s sustainability and growth strategy towards a Green and Digital Economy. Based on early estimates, the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce foresees direct investments well in excess of €100 billion in offshore and onshore renewable energy, in flexible demand onshore decarbonised manufacturing and digital industries, in decarbonised transport, in residential projects towards 2050.

“R&D targets of 2.5% of GNI as outlined in the White Paper on Enterprise are a pillar under the Irish answer to the required green and digital technology innovation, of which an estimated half is still to be developed in the next few decades. The Shannon Estuary Area is an excellent development & demonstration zone for coherent integrated development of the potential for the consideration of renewable energy (wind, biomethane), circular bioeconomy (including the transport and agri-food sectors, with low carbon fuels, alternative proteins, biobased & circular materials, chemicals) and digital economy.

“Our Final Report will provide an initial underpinning quantitative analysis considering economic, environmental and social aspects, and concrete portfolio of measures.

“This will support Ireland to own an ever-growing fraction of the necessary technologies, and thereby benefitting from a growing fraction of the resulting direct, indirect and induced GDP returns in the Irish economy, to educate, develop, attract and train the highly quality human capital and skills through the Shannon Estuary as a development and demonstration zone, required to deliver, and thereby to become a Green and Digital Innovation Leader in Europe and beyond.”

The Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce was set up by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on foot of a Programme for Government commitment to develop an economic action plan for the area. This Interim Report is an important milestone, outlining a vision for the Estuary area and how to achieve it.

It follows extensive consultation with regional, national, and international stakeholders across industry, Government, Local Authorities, elected officials, and members of the public.

Commenting on the Interim Report, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “The significant potential of the Shannon Estuary area to stimulate sustainable economic growth not only for the region, but for the country, based on the abundant renewable energy resource, and the economic transformation which that can bring, is very clear.

“The publication of this Interim Report is very timely in the context of the global climate emergency, and security of energy concerns arising from the war in Ukraine.

“I look forward to the Taskforce’s final report, and I would like to thank the Taskforce for their commitment and work to date.”

The Tánaiste said: “This Report sets out big ambitions for the Shannon Region and rises to the challenge of global issues like the climate crisis and moving away from fossil fuels.

“I’m excited to see the proposals for renewable energy, industry, tourism, and logistics in this interim report. It should result in significant job growth and new business opportunities.

“The wide focus of this Report across many economic sectors will ensure that any growth is sustainable. I commend the Taskforce and its Chairman Barry O’Sullivan for its work to date, and I look forward to engaging with the Taskforce as it completes this important body of work.”

The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, and Transport, Eamon Ryan, said: “I very much welcome the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce’s Interim Report. The Shannon Estuary is an area with significant natural assets, and this report shows not only the benefits of harnessing these in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, but the urgency of doing so.

“Ireland and Europe are at a crossroads in terms of our response to the climate crisis. The Shannon Estuary has a proud history of leading innovation in energy; the Ardnacrusha Hydro-electric power station was a truly ambitious project almost 100 years ago. We now look to the Estuary for our next major energy transformation, and today’s report begins to map out the Estuary’s response.

“I was very pleased to meet the Taskforce recently, and I look forward to engaging with them again in the future as they develop their action plan.”

Taskforce Chairman, Barry O’Sullivan said: “The Interim Report marks a significant milestone in the work of the Taskforce. It outlines a clear vision for the Shannon Estuary region and signals the national and European issues that we believe the region can help solve.

 “I would like to sincerely thank the members of the Taskforce for their dedication and commitment to this work to date.

“On behalf of the Taskforce, I would like to express our gratitude to all of the stakeholders whose valuable contributions have helped shape our work. I very much look forward to engaging further with all involved as we finalise our recommendations.”