Challenge on to find replacement for fossil fuels
The future for the renewable energy sector is one of tremendous opportunity.
The enormous challenge is to create a security of energy supply that as an island we do not have and to avoid our reliance on imported fossil fuels given the recent and likely continued price fluctuations in oil prices.
The drive to generate renewable energy sources is assisted by government incentivisation through the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) which effectively provides subsidies to investors and developers, although there is pressure to widen this to facilitate greater investment in technologies other than large scale wind electricity generation.
Up until now it is through this sector that most contribution has emerged.
Challenging targets have been set by DETI to achieve 40% of the electricity required from renewable sources.
Windfarms have been the main driver and will continue to be so over the next decade.
At present investor interest in anerobic digestion plants is suddenly a major focus given the enhanced incentivisation for AD installations from April.
In simple terms there is an enhanced return associated with this type of technology and there is evidence of much activity to take advantage.
Marine and tidal sources, energy from waste, biomass, geothermal and offshore wind are all to varying degrees being developed and technologies tested to make significant contributions to the renewable energy production line.
There is a longer term view that Northern Ireland should be working towards a future of being an exporter of electricity, reversing its reliance on importing. The level of activity across the wider sector shows there is a real passion to drive towards that scenario - it needs to be assisted by much simpler and connected inter-governmental working to ease delivery.
Much more needs to be done to enhance understanding of societal alternatives relating to energy supply, to enable people to fully understand the issues and the associated costs involved in the options. That will require considerable leadership from government if we are to match the targets and messages in the present strategic energy framework with delivery on the ground.