Catching slipstream of the winds of change
Gary Connolly, chairman of the Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group, explains why Northern Ireland is especially well placed to capitalise on the switch to renewable energy
Wind has been the world's fastest growing renewable energy source for the past seven years and this trend is expected to continue with falling costs of wind energy and the urgent international need to tackle CO2 emissions to prevent climate change.
In Northern Ireland alone, the sector has the potential to create more than 1,300 ‘green’ jobs and dramatically reduce the 99% dependence on imported fossil fuels.
A Northern Ireland Strategic Energy Framework has been published to drive this development. The document outlines the supporting policy infrastructure that is needed.
Realisation of the framework will require specific actions to be taken by industry, Government and others.
High-level issues ranging from planning, grid infrastructure and regulation right through to technical issues such as development on peat, the impact of the Onshore Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and environmentally acceptable development, need to be considered.
The utilisation of renewable energy also allows for significant cost efficiencies to be made. Research has indicated that using wind generation for the production of electricity in Northern Ireland will reduce the unit cost of electricity, thereby stabilising prices and reducing dependency on imported fossil fuels.
Successful implementation of the Strategic Energy Framework will require technical know-how and the ability to work across borders.
The region operates in a single electricity market with a neighbouring jurisdiction while participating in a tradable renewable support mechanism within a different geographical and financial market. Essentially its electricity market operates in multiple currencies.
In relation to this aspect Northern Ireland is leading the way in Europe. Cross-border trade in electricity and its interaction with production of renewables are challenges that remain at concept stage throughout much of the rest of the EU.
However, increasingly this is being seen as the essential next steps towards the achievement of the EU’s economic, security and energy targets.
Progress in Northern Ireland to date has been achieved with relatively limited amounts of installed wind capacity.
There are huge gains available if the targets of 40% indicated in the Strategic Energy Framework can be achieved.
Of course, renewable energy is not solely confined to wind-generated energy. The Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group (NIRIG) also represents those involved in wave and tidal energy.
Currently the cost of the associated technology in this area is often deemed prohibitive; however, we are exploring how these technologies can be guided along the same path as wind to commercialisation.
When you consider the abundant natural resources that Northern Ireland has at its disposal in terms of wind and tidal, it is clear that we are uniquely placed to be a leading European centre for the integration of renewables across markets and therefore become a significant exporter of renewable energy and expertise.
The Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group (NIRIG) represents the collective voices of Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) and RenewableUK in Northern Ireland.
Gary Connolly has worked with ESB Wind Development for more than three years, managing the development of wind projects in NI