The drive towards net zero carbon and affordable energy will provide opportunities to create jobs and encourage investment.

That was the key message as Economy Minister Diane Dodds launched a public consultation on a new Northern Ireland Energy Strategy.

The Minister said: Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing society and we are also dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic.  Whilst these are undoubtedly challenges for us, we must look for the unique opportunities to shape our future.

“We have seen the success that Northern Ireland has had in meeting almost 50% of our electricity consumption from renewable sources.  In order to eliminate carbon emissions from energy, our business and domestic consumers will need to make cleaner, leaner energy choices which will include moving away from fossil fuels by switching to renewable technologies and doing more with less. 

“These changes will offer numerous opportunities including the creation of new jobs, developing skills and encouraging local investment.  The new Energy Strategy will help Northern Ireland rebuild stronger as a greener economy, as well as providing healthier lifestyle choices for us, our communities, and our environment.”

The wide-ranging consultation document outlines the intention to support domestic and business consumers through the energy transition, providing incentives and establishing a ‘one stop shop’ offering impartial support and advice for consumers to make informed and affordable clean energy choices.

The consultation is based on five principles which will shape the energy transition.  Energy users are of central importance to the future strategy, and “placing you at the heart of our energy future” is the fundamental cross-cutting principle, which aims to enable and protect energy consumers.

Other principles include, “grow a green economy” to provide economic opportunities; “do more with less” to drive improvements in energy efficiency; “replace fossil fuels with indigenous renewables” to decarbonise power, heat and transport; and “create a flexible and integrated energy system” to provide value for consumers and enhance energy security.

The consultation seeks views on potential options for achieving net zero carbon and affordable energy.  It concentrates on the vital role that both domestic and business consumers alongside the energy industry will have to play on this journey.

It invites views from all energy consumers on draft policy options that will support how we adapt to necessary changes within our day-to-day lifestyles – in the home, the workplace and in how we choose to travel.

The options consultation includes access to an innovative online interactive simulation, called the NI regional energy transition model.  This provides a representation of the major energy sectors and sub sectors which allows users – who could be anyone from industry to businesses to researchers to the public – to explore future changes to the energy system and to assess their impacts on current and future regional energy demand and associated CO2 emissions.

The consultation has been welcomed by leading figures in the sector.

Alan Campbell, Managing Director of SONI (electricity transmission system operator for Northern Ireland) said: “This is a pivotal time for the energy industry.  We must seek to combat climate change and deliver an increasingly clean electricity supply, but must always have the consumer and the economy at the heart of our actions.  Strong and ambitious energy policy is needed to ensure Northern Ireland can meet its climate obligations in a way which is affordable and does not compromise the secure and reliable electricity that consumers have come to expect.

“I welcome the publication of the energy strategy options paper by the Minister for the Economy and the public consultation in support of it.  This is your energy, your economy, your environment and your future, so I would encourage everyone to have their say by taking part in this critically important phase of policy development.”

Chief Executive of NI Water, Sara Venning also welcomed the consultation document. She said: “We all have a collective responsibility to tackle the climate crisis.  I welcome the launch of the energy strategy consultation and look forward to advocating the pivotal role NI Water can play in revolutionising how we use energy in Northern Ireland.

“The Oxygen and Hydrogen Demonstrator Project currently underway at Kinnegar Wastewater Treatment Works is a great example of public sector partnership teamed with private sector enterprise already working together to kick start the hydrogen narrative in Northern Ireland.  This strategy consultation will enable us to examine how NI Water’s range of climate initiatives can support the overall Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland.”

And Managing Director of Northern Ireland Electricity, Paul Stapleton said: “As owner of the electricity networks in Northern Ireland, we understand the role clean energy has in reducing our carbon footprint and supporting economic recovery.  This ambitious paper shines a light on our path to delivering a sustainable and affordable energy system, and ultimately achieving net zero carbon.  I would encourage everyone to take part in the consultation.”

The Minister concluded: “I urge everyone to get involved in our consultation today, and together we can help shape an energy future that places your needs at the heart of Northern Ireland’s energy strategy.”

The consultation will be open from 31 March 2021 to 30 June 2021.

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