By David White, Partner, Corporate and Commercial, Arthur Cox

It may have been long-awaited but the recent publication of a new Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland is a hugely positive development that lays the groundwork for a more sustainable and greener economy.

We can now broadly see a roadmap until 2030 on key areas such as reaching net zero, reducing carbon emissions and growing the use of renewable energy.

Those within the energy industry and other interested onlookers, will no doubt look forward to further detail on the strategy, including the particulars on how its aims will be implemented, being made available as we move into 2022.

There has been a broad welcome for one of the strategy’s headlines – a new target of 70 per cent of electricity to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2030.

This has to be considered in the context of the current target of 40 per cent (by and large being met on a consistent basis quarterly for some time now). Making the jump to the new target will of course require significant investment both in terms public spending on the required infrastructure and private expenditure on the part of operators and investors.

We expect the onshore wind and solar sectors to continue to be a dominant source of new electricity generation installations in the short term with a more diverse mix of renewable electricity technologies emerging over the decade.

However, this forms only part of the renewable energy picture and we would also expect to see significant developments in renewable heat and transport. This will be of particular importance given Northern Ireland’s continued reliance on fossil fuels for home heating with oil still used by 68 per cent of all households, according to data from the Consumer Council.

Energy efficiency will be a major area of focus and rightly so as doing more with less is not only crucial in reducing carbon emissions but also in lowering energy bills for the consumer. The strategy sets out an aim to deliver annual energy savings of 25 per cent in buildings and industry by 2030 and to establish a sustainable transport hierarchy.

Whatever the targets, there will be questions on how business and householders will be encouraged to contribute to the drive. Will new subsidy schemes be introduced, for example, to incentivise the uptake of new sustainable energy solutions?

With just eight years to meet the new targets, time is short, but swift action is what is required as we seek a net zero future that allows sustainability to go hand in hand with economic prosperity.

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