Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Lucy Whitford

It is wind energy that will provide the lion's share of our renewable energy. Northern Ireland is gifted with an abundant wind resource and wind energy is the cheapest and most mature of all the renewable options available to us

Northern Ireland currently produces about 10% of its electricity from renewable energy - sources of energy which provide a safe, secure, affordable and low carbon form of energy production.

We need to find a way to keep our energy bills affordable without comprising our safety or our environment. The big question is, how are we going to overcome these issues?

The answer lies in increasing our use of renewable energy. Fortunately our policy makers have already recognised this and Northern Ireland is committed to sourcing 12% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2012 and 40% by 2020. Northern Ireland needs a mix of renewable energy technologies to help deliver its targets. The targets cannot be met by one technology alone and nor should it be - wave energy, tidal stream, biomass and even solar will all play their part in diversifying the energy mix. However, it is wind energy that will provide the lions share.

Why wind? Northern Ireland is gifted with an abundant wind resource and wind energy is also the cheapest and most mature of all the renewable devices on offer today - and it's today that counts. The renewable energy targets are achievable, but they are also ambitious and energy projects take time to deliver - 2020 is not that far away in the timeframe of large projects.

The Department of Environment has taken a step forward in the publication of Planning Policy Statement 18 - Renewable Energy. The PPS aims to facilitate the siting of renewable energy facilities in appropriate locations within the built and natural environments, but it doesn't stop there. Long term investment in the grid infrastructure and government support from all relevant departments will be essential.

Northern Ireland also has a big opportunity to become a leader in the renewable energy industry. Providing jobs, investment opportunities and economic growth - renewables will be one of the fastest growing industries in the world over the next decade. Northern Ireland can take advantage of the green revolution.

Lucy Whitford is head of development, Ireland for renewable energy systems

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