Northern Ireland is squandering its position as a global leader in renewable energy, writes Patrick Keatley, lecturer in Energy Policy and Infrastructure at Ulster University. Hindsight is wonderful. It makes it easy to mock predictions which seemed believable when they were made, but which appear ludicrous after time and events have done their confounding work. The long list of examples from the energy sphere includes the Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Agency’s claim in 1954 that nuclear energy would be “too cheap to meter”; or the sceptical senior BP executive who said, “I’ll drink all the oil in the North Sea”, when the company began exploratory drilling in the late 1960s. While policy here has been successful in connecting a supply of renewable energy, it has failed to address the other side of the equation; creating the incentives for flexible demand to complement it. The consequence is that massive amounts of wind energy are currently being wasted. In the first six months of 2020, 17 per cent of Northern Ireland’s available wind energy was dumped because there was no flexible demand available for it. In terms of retail value, this represents over £50 million worth of clean electricity that was thrown away. We are currently on track to dump around £100 million worth of clean electricity this year. In an economy which has suffered from being among the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK and Europe, that is shockingly wasteful. Instead of exploiting our advantages, obsolete policy is locking us in to dependence on fossil infrastructure which consumers will have to finance for decades to come. A green Covid recovery like that just announced by the Scottish Government, linking clean energy with a properly funded campaign to bring our draughty, poorly insulated housing stock up to 21st Century standards, could rapidly create jobs and reduce fuel poverty. But by continuing to support the construction of outdated, polluting technology in the vague hope that we can clean it up later, Stormont may well be leading us down the same path that led to the RHI disaster.
Agenda NI 16th Sept 2020 read more »