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Bord Gáis Energy, Ireland’s main supplier of natural gas, has just invested $1.3 million in OpenHydro, which manufactures tidal energy systems.

Tidal power converts the energy of the tides into electricity using turbines attached to the ocean floor. OpenHydro and Bord Gáis Energy have also formed a joint venture to build a utility-scale tidal farm, with a generation capacity of around 100 megawatts (MW), off the coast of Ireland. A further $1.3 million will be invested upon the completion of certain milestones in the tidal farm development. OpenHydro is already developing a 200MW tidal farm in the Pentland Firth, off the northern coast of Scotland.

Tidal power projects have been in operation since the 1960s but tidal power has been traditionally been considered high cost in comparison with other forms of renewable energy. Additionally, the number of sites with sufficient tide velocities is limited. Wave power, which converts the motion of waves into electricity, is also not widely deployed. PG&E is currently testing new wave energy designs off California’s coast.

This isn’t Bord Gáis’s first foray into renewables. In 2008 the company set up an alternative energy research and development fund of $13 million. In 2009, Bord Gáis acquired the wind generation assets of SWS Natural Resources, comprising 179 megawatts (MW) of operating wind farms and 450MW of development projects to be built over the next five years.

Ireland has been investing heavily in renewable energy, mainly wind power, in recent years. One report estimates that the Irish wave energy resource could generate more than 6,000 megawatts of power, the equivalent of the nation’s peak electricity demand. The tidal energy resource is considerably smaller but could still supply 6 percent of the nation’s energy, based on 2010 consumption figures. The Irish government has a target to bring 500 MW of ocean power (wave and tidal) online by 2020.

Irish companies like Wavebob, Ocean Energy and Open Hydro are among the world’s leading developers of wave and tidal technology. Wavebob recently received a grant of $2.4 million from the US Department of Energy to prepare for a commercial-scale wave energy demonstration project planned for US waters in 2013.

OpenHydro is based in Dublin, has 50 employees and $85 million in funding.

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