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Drive to net zero can transform economy

There is a “huge economic opportunity” to be grasped as Northern Ireland strives to reach net zero. That was the message at the Northern Ireland Energy Summit, attended by 400 leaders from across the energy industry.

Taking place at the ICC Belfast, the Northern Ireland Energy Summit was led by the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) – which is based at Queen’s University Belfast - in partnership with corporate law firm A&L Goodbody, NIE Networks, SONI and Transmission Investment.

During the event, Professor David Rooney from Queen’s, who is also Director of CASE (a research partnership between Queen’s, Ulster and AFBI), presented A Pathway to our Renewable Future’. This is a policy paper which aims to provide a workable and realistic pathway for Northern Ireland to hit its ambitious net zero targets.

The paper states that “in this new world we have a simple but imminent choice: learn from our innovative history and lead, or lag and fall behind.” It also outlines how Northern Ireland can deliver a more sustainable, more prosperous, more inclusive future for the generations to come through some key components:

  • A whole of government approach is essential
  • Governance, planning and regulation must be streamlined, connected, adequately resourced, agile and transparent.
  • Devolving significant elements of carbon budgets and energy targets to councils
  • Ensuring that energy infrastructure is prioritised
  • Enabling the Utility Regulator to seek to maximise benefits to the consumer
  • Attracting capital investment is vital

Delegates at the Summit also heard from a range international and local keynote speakers including Joe Kennedy III, U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland; Scott Woodard, Director of Energy Transformation at the U.S. State Department; Dr Jayne Brady, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service; Dr Xavier Garcia Casals of the International Renewable Energy Agency; Kersti Berge, Director of Energy & Climate Change at the Scottish Government and Professor David Rooney from Queen’s University.

Joe Kennedy III, U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland said he had been appointed by President Biden to “double-down on the U.S. commitment to spreading prosperity throughout Northern Ireland”.

“This is a global fight and every country and every community must do its part,” he said.  “The United States, in fact, has much to learn from Northern Ireland.  

“Over the last year, 48.5% of Northern Ireland’s electricity was renewably generated. A great deal of that power came from harnessing the wind. Other renewable sources, including solar and geo-thermal, have increased over 27% in the last five years. 

“The transition is challenging. But you are already well positioned to not just power the transition at home but to lead it abroad.  With unique access to the economies of both Europe and the United Kingdom, you have an unparalleled opportunity to innovate. 

“As the United States’ Envoy to Northern Ireland, I get to bring good news back to American investors about the opportunities here, such as net zero technologies.  High tech, financial services, medical devices, and cybersecurity are just a few where the ties are particularly strong between the U.S. and Northern Ireland.”

Jayne Brady, Head of the Civil Service said: “Northern Ireland is small, but we have the potential to be a giant player in clean energy and low carbon tech and we need to ensure the economic benefits of our future success reach every person and every place. 

“This will be a challenge but we all must step up. We have a golden chance to leverage our expertise and passion for innovation and engineering in order to deliver lasting generational transformation for people here.”

Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary of the Department for the Economy, said: “Our Energy Strategy – The Path to Net Zero – sets out a vision to deliver self-sufficiency in affordable renewable energy for Northern Ireland. Through the Strategy and associated Action Plans, we will grow the skills base for the low carbon economy, providing opportunities for our younger people to be the engine room for our growth. In turn this will help realise our 10X Economic Vision to position Northern Ireland as one of the world’s leading small economies.”

Professor David Rooney from Queen’s University Belfast and Director of CASE said: “A Pathway to Our Renewable Future’ sets out a series of recommendations, including calling for a ‘whole of government approach’ in order to change how we do things, address the challenges ahead and maximise the economic benefits for society."

He adds: “Ambition, action and progress: three simple words which define our energy challenge. Connected policy across boundaries in national and local government departments is essential. Creating policy in isolation results in missed opportunities to holistically address a larger scale problem. Joined up policy succeeds.”

A Pathway to our Renewable Future’ can be read and downloaded here.


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