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NIE Networks lighting the spark for green recovery

Paul Stapleton


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Preventing the loss of energy by supporting energy efficiency, for example through modernisation of building regulations, is also a key focus

Preventing the loss of energy by supporting energy efficiency, for example through modernisation of building regulations, is also a key focus

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Preventing the loss of energy by supporting energy efficiency, for example through modernisation of building regulations, is also a key focus

As year end draws near, there can be no doubting 2020 has been a year like no other.

Thankfully, the rollout of a vaccine means there is a growing chink of light on the horizon and we can hopefully look forward with cautious positivity.

That positivity spreads to society, to the economy and indeed to the environment.

The green agenda has remained a constant and will take on new resonance in our economic recovery in the coming months and years. The Executive's medium-term recovery strategy - Rebuilding A Stronger Economy - recognises that there is a substantial economic recovery opportunity in decarbonising energy as part of growing the green economy across Northern Ireland and has highlighted clean energy as one of the potential areas for growth.

NIE Networks can play a key role in realising those clean energy ambitions.

We can support a green economic recovery within the context of a new energy strategy for NI and will play our part in creating a sustainable future which works in the interest of all.

NIE Networks has identified eight areas of opportunity to quickly support the economy by unlocking investment in low carbon infrastructure and fast-tracking decarbonisation of heat and transport.

Joining up policy and regulation to encourage investment is possibly one of the most important, as it would allow NIE Networks to broaden the mandate for capital investment so that it can consider the need for decarbonisation and economic development.

Additionally, accelerating investment in renewables would also help drive a green recovery, particularly if formal targets can be introduced quickly as well as a route to market for new renewable generation. Many renewable technologies no longer need substantial subsidies but they do need a mechanism to provide some certainty around market access and income streams to enable the investments to be bankable.

Meanwhile, bringing forward electricity network infrastructure investment could mean that NIE Networks could scale up to deliver an additional £50m of work annually.

This would enable further adoption of renewable and low carbon technologies, as well as stimulating economic activity and supporting a significant local supply chain.

Accelerating low carbon transport with an initial emphasis on the delivery of EV charging infrastructure is another area which can be transformative.

Not just for the environment, but for the economy, creating jobs and helping revitalise areas which have suffered from poor transport infrastructure.

Similarly, digitalisation of the energy system is a central tenant of the journey to net zero carbon with the data generated key to supporting climate change ambitions.

Preventing the loss of energy by supporting energy efficiency, for example through modernisation of building regulations, is also a key focus.

Significant gains in this area can be made by aligning our building regulations with those in Great Britain and the Republic, where progress is already being made towards zero carbon buildings.

And finally we need to optimise innovation around low carbon technologies such as heat pumps, hybrid heating systems, intelligent metering and electrolysis to produce green hydrogen from renewable electricity.

NIE Networks believes that addressing these eight areas is crucial to reviving our economy and progressing on the road to net zero.

There is an opportunity to build on the progress made under the Strategic Energy Framework, which was introduced over a decade ago and had set a target of achieving 40% of electricity here from renewable sources by 2020.

Coincidently, it is also 10 years since NIE Networks was acquired by ESB, the main electricity utility in the Republic. NIE Networks has continued to operate as an independent company within the ESB Group with its own board, management and employees all located locally.

But the support of ESB has enabled NIE Networks to invest £1.3bn in our electricity infrastructure over the past decade, including connecting 1.7GW of renewable energy to the network, which has seen the target of 40% renewables exceeded with now close to 50% of electricity coming from renewable sources.

The opportunity ahead is to increase that to at least 70% by 2030 and to use that clean electricity to replace fossil fuels in heating and transport.

As well as progressing our climate action objectives and the goal of net zero by 2050, this will also help to drive the economy as we move from a dependency on imported fossil fuels to relying more on our own indigenous renewable energy, and helping to create jobs here.

That is the 'green recovery' opportunity and NIE Networks looks forward to playing its part in helping to achieve it.

Paul Stapleton is managing director at NIE Networks

Belfast Telegraph


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