Northern Ireland is a region which has 'charged ahead' in the global race to deliver marine and tidal energy projects, a major international conference in Belfast has heard.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, was speaking at the organisation's 11th annual Wave and Tidal conference and exhibition, the largest event of its kind in the world, which has come to Northern Ireland for the first time.
Hundreds of delegates at the Waterfront heard Ms McCaffery said she was hoping for co-operation from the four politicians in attendance who represented the different regions of the UK.
"I hope this is a sign of UK cross-party commitment to ensure these sectors are successful," she said.
Ms McCaffery is calling for an economic and political framework for the sector to help provide "a maximum return on the huge investments already being made."
While our most high profile installation is the SeaGen 1.2MW tidal energy converter, installed in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland in 2008, statistics from the Global Maritime Alliance in 2012 showed that globally, one in four full-scale prototypes for marine energy devices had been tested, manufactured, deployed or consulted on in Northern Ireland.
The event also attracted a number of trade exhibitors from as far away as Denmark, Sweden and Canada.
Among the speakers on the first day of the conference was Scottish minister for energy, enterprise and tourism Fergus Ewing, who praised the work of Northern Ireland firms like Harland & Wolff and McLaughlin & Harvey for their work on global marine and tidal projects.
During the event he revealed that a project on which McLaughlin & Harvey has worked just off the Mull of Kintyre has won a slice of £5m of European funding to proceed.
McLaughlin & Harvey has already worked on the Orkney Tidal Energy Device for OpenHydro and Adam Holland from the company is due to address the conference today.
In Harland & Wolff and at Belfast Harbour, the east of the city is becoming a hub for the offshore renewable energy sector with companies like Siemens and DONG Energy installing operations.
While Northern Ireland's Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster was due to be a keynote speaker at the event, she was called to other business and her speech was delivered by DETI assistant private secretary Alastair Ross MLA.
He said that Northern Ireland's history of innovation and engineering excellence is helping us stay ahead of the pack in delivering new projects.
"We have around 230 companies currently active in this sector – all with different products and services. Invest Northern Ireland has been particularly active working with industry to identify those areas that will be the best fit for our talents."
One in four full-scale prototypes for marine energy devices had been tested, manufactured, deployed or consulted on in Northern Ireland.
The most high profile installation is the SeaGen 1.2MW tidal energy converter, installed in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland in 2008. Bigger commercial tidal energy sites are being planned by DP Energy at Fair Head and by Open Hydro a short distance away at Torr Head. They have the potential to produce electricity to power 50,000 and 75,000 homes and businesses respectively.