In another record-breaking year for renewables, investment in Northern Ireland has shot to its highest levels yet. Government deadlines and a strong pipeline of projects led to record amounts of wind and solar energy being connected to the grid. With 1430MW of clean energy connected in NI, it is now hoped that the 40% target for electricity from renewable sources, which was originally to be achieved by 2020, will be reached ahead of schedule.
In 2017 the industry completed the construction of 186MW of wind energy projects, representing £220million investment in the local economy. The majority of these were built in the West, where they are now beginning to generate significant business rates for local councils. Northern Ireland, and West of the Bann particularly, has some of the best wind resources in Europe. Technological advances are also enabling greater use of these resources, with battery storage and smart grid initiatives both undergoing rapid development to maximise clean energy.
This coming year will represent a major transition for the renewable energy industry. Stopping financial support for renewable electricity represents a significant challenge for Northern Ireland, especially as it is now the only part of the UK and Ireland with no support for new clean energy. However, this year has also seen record-breaking cost-reductions for renewables, with offshore wind in GB now delivering at lower costs than could not have been expected even twelve months ago. With the right policy framework, clean energy can deliver cheaper and more sustainable electricity, while also beginning the process of decarbonising our heat and transport systems
The renewables industry is committed to bringing forward projects to continue clean growth for the local economy, but without a long-term energy strategy from government the signals for investment are weakening.
As NIRIG Chair Rachel Anderson has noted: “Renewables deliver low-cost, reliable power the whole year round. They do so while investing both in traditional industries and new high-skilled jobs. This year, alongside record build-out of projects and significant investment, we’ve also seen good news in research as nearly €30million of European funding has been committed to academic institutions across Northern Ireland for the support of new, clean technologies.
Our members are committed to a secure, affordable and sustainable electricity sector using local energy, local skills and local investment. An energy strategy would help define these issues and give confidence that Northern Ireland wants to secure growth in this innovative industry.”