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The rise and fall of fossil fuels: What is Northern Ireland doing to make its energy supply more sustainable?

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The rise and fall of fossil fuels: What is Northern Ireland doing to make its energy supply more sustainable?

The energy sector is currently the largest contributor to both global and national greenhouse gas emissions [1]. Studies conducted by the European Climate Foundation suggest that energy demand will continue to increase globally, alongside population and economic growth [2]. 
 

So how do we reduce our carbon emissions if energy demand is likely to increase in the future? 
 

In the UK, the current energy system remains reliant on coal, oil and gas to provide us with our energy needs.  However, fossil fuels are finite resources and have become increasingly vulnerable, due to increased demand, leaving natural reserves in a state of depletion [2]. For the UK to comply with the targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, and achieve at least an 80% reduction below 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, they must enter into a fundamental transition towards more sustainable renewable energy sources [3]. Ultimately, by shifting our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and anaerobic digestion, the UK can achieve the dual goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whilst also ensuring affordability and security of supply for consumers.

An increased amount of renewable energy technologies can facilitate increased energy security and contribute towards a more resilient energy system. To date, there has been notable progress in diversifying our energy mix throughout the UK. However, fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy supply and accounted for 79.4% of energy supply in 2018 while low-carbon sources increased to a record 19%. However, there has been an increased level of investment in renewable energy technologies, which exceeded the amount of investment being made in fossil fuel-based generation in 2017. The demand for fossil fuels has also been steadily declining over the last 20 years, as oil demand decreased by 39%, coal 20% and gas 22% . Whilst there has been significant progress in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, there is still a long way to go in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. In 18 years, electricity production from renewable energy sources has increased from 2.6% in 2000 to 33% in 2018  a third of the electricity generated in the UK.
 

What is Northern Ireland doing to make its energy supply more sustainable? 

The positive movement from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources can also be seen closer to home. The Department for the Economy estimates that in the annual period of April 2018 - March 2019, 38.6% of Northern Ireland’s total electricity consumption was generated from renewable energy technologies located within Northern Ireland.

Table 1: Renewable Electricity Generation by Type of Generation (April 2018 – March 2019) in Northern Ireland.

Technology

Electricity generation

Wind

83.0%

Landfill Gas

2.2%

Biogas

6.2%

Biomass

Other

4.2%

4.3%

The table above illustrates that wind energy now accounts for most of the renewable electricity generated within Northern Ireland (83%). However, non-wind generation sources have also increased in recent years, with 512.9GWh of electricity being generated from non-wind sources in Northern Ireland between April 2018 and March 2019. It is evident that Northern Ireland is also making a substantial effort to diversify its energy mix, to ensure that energy supply is more secure and sustainable in the future. However, there are other ways that we as consumers can make our energy use more sustainable. 
 

The Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme

Most recently, funding has been available for several energy efficiency schemes for domestic and business customers from April 2019 - March 2020. The schemes available range from improving heating and insulation measures to lighting and technology improvements and provide financial support and encourage individuals to install energy-saving measures in their home or business. The Northern Ireland Utility Regulator provides a full list of energy efficiency schemes and details on how to apply. 

 

Future Policy? 
 

Northern Ireland has historically struggled with the balance between the security of supply, affordability and sustainability and continues to face these challenges. Therefore, it is important that our energy policy addresses these challenges and enables renewable energy to thrive.  As discussed in our Proposal for a Renewable Future document, the latest renewable energy target date is fast approaching (2020) and there is no clear vision or target in the pipeline for renewable energy within Northern Ireland. This is largely due to lack of political support and our proposal has set out the need to fulfil this policy vacuum and presents recommendations for increasing the sustainability of our energy mix within Northern Ireland.

Click here to read the full proposal document presented by Action Renewables Energy Association (AREA). 



Sources
[1] Bruckner,T. et al, 'Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change' [2014] Cambridge University Press. 

[2] Ellabban, O. et al, 'Renewable energy resources: Current status, future prospects and their enabling technology' [2014] Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 39, 748, 764.

[3] Bolton, R. and Foxton, T.J. A socio-technical perspective on low carbon investment challenges - insights for UK energy policy. Environmental and Societal Transitions. (2015) 165, 181. 

 




 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Jordan Gaw

Jordan Gaw
Project Manager

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