Delivering a new energy strategy for Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Executive has published an action plan for 2022, beginning to deliver on the ambitions set out in Northern Ireland’s new energy strategy.

This is something we welcome given the need for urgency on progress towards decarbonization.

What is the energy strategy?

The energy strategy sets a long-term vision of net-zero emissions and affordable energy for Northern Ireland. It aims to promote the highest levels of energy efficiency, helping to reduce the amount of energy the country needs, while ensuring the energy that is used comes from clean, renewable sources.

The overall strategy has three key targets for 2030:

  1. Energy efficiency: deliver energy savings of 25% from buildings and industry by 2030.
  2. Renewables: meet at least 70% of electricity consumption from a diverse mix of renewable sources by 2030.
  3. Green economy: double the size of our low carbon and renewable energy economy to a turnover of more than £2 billion by 2030.

A one stop shop approach

We particularly welcome one of the key initiatives proposed within the strategy: the establishment of a one-stop-shop approach to delivering trusted information, advice, and support to consumers through their journey to net-zero. Initially, advice will concentrate on energy efficiency, but this will widen over time to include further support, interventions, and guidance in other areas.

Actions for 2022 involve producing a detailed plan with timescales to set up such a system, assessing the scope, funding model, and format. Advice has a central role to play in boosting the market in energy efficiency, making these changes more accessible to people who might not be familiar with the technologies and approaches needed, and driving change at a faster rate than would be achieved by the market alone.

At Energy Saving Trust, we have experience applying one-stop shop-style approaches. In Scotland, we help to deliver the Scottish Government-funded Home Energy Scotland program, which is seen as a leading example. We also administrate the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) on behalf of the Utility Regulator in Northern Ireland, enabling households to benefit from a range of energy efficiency schemes. You can download a detailed list of schemes for 2021-22.

Energy efficiency retrofit scheme

Another key commitment made in the action plan is the planned pilot of a significant domestic energy efficiency retrofit scheme in 2022. This will help to inform longer-term investment and rollout of retrofit measures, including low carbon heating support.

The strategy recognizes the key role heat pumps will play in the transition to net-zero, with proposals for trials, demonstrations, and support measures. Learning what approaches will work best for different households will be important. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work in Northern Ireland, as new electricity tariffs will be required to facilitate the adoption of heat pumps, together with targeting off-gas areas that have predominantly relied on oil heating.

However, while pilots are beneficial, they need to act with urgency is paramount if targets are to be met. We know from our work across the UK that heat pumps are a proven and effective home heating solution that reduces carbon emissions and can help lower energy costs when installed alongside energy efficiency measures.

Transition to low carbon transport

As part of plans to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, there are commitments to deliver a local transport strategy, with proposals in 2022 to publish an electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure action plan informed by the establishment of an EV infrastructure task force. We hope this task force will move quickly and get the ball rolling on delivering a modern EV charging network able to support the transition to low carbon transport.

In terms of transport, Northern Ireland is highly car-dependent, with over 70% of all journeys made by car. Over one-third of the country’s population lives in rural areas, often traveling to urban areas daily for work.

Public transport in Northern Ireland has seen several positive announcements in recent weeks, with £74 million being allocated for Translink to purchase zero and low emission buses in 2021/22, and the Foyle Metro Fleet benefiting from £30 million to help purchase 38 new zero-emission battery-electric buses.

In addition, the infrastructure minister has presented a series of research papers to those preparing the energy strategy on Active Travel and Modal Shift, Development of Electric Vehicles in Northern Ireland, and Alternative fuels for vehicles and greening the Fleet. We look forward to seeing further investment in active travel and low carbon transport in line with recommendations made in these papers.

‘A catalyst for change’

Energy policy in Northern Ireland is set to embark on the most dramatic period of change in the country’s history, offering immense opportunities. The new energy strategy should be a catalyst for change, inspiring decades of delivery that will help shape a more equitable energy system and improve transport across Northern Ireland.

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