Driving down energy consumption in Northern Ireland

News 15 April, 2024
Author Dr Mia Ben

Introduction:

As part of the project’s launch, EDRC is holding stakeholder forum events in each of the four home nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At these events, regional stakeholders are invited to comment on the Call to action on energy demand and to help shape EDRC’s research agenda. The Northern Ireland stakeholder event took place on 28th March at Queens University Belfast.

Northern Ireland, possesses distinct infrastructure, political dynamics, and energy consumption profiles. The country’s domestic sector accounts for 39% of total energy usage and half of nationwide carbon emissions. Notably, per capita energy consumption for housing and transportation is significantly higher, exceeding that of the rest of the UK by 50%. According to our NI stakeholders, similar to the rest of the island, living patterns such as larger detached houses, expansive land areas prompting distant living, and lengthy commutes contribute to this disparity. Moreover, current market dynamics tend to incentivise consumption, exacerbating the issue.

In addressing energy demand reduction in Northern Ireland, initiatives such as those highlighted by Debbie Caldwell of the Belfast City Council stand out. Place-based interventions and behavioural change campaigns are promoted to decarbonise communities. The Belfast Retrofit Hub spearheads retrofit efforts citywide, while the Belfast Local Area Energy Plan guides the formulation of cost-effective strategies towards achieving Net Zero targets, considering social co-benefits. Priority projects include building retrofits, heat networks, and rooftop solar installations.

Political transitions pose significant challenges to the pursuit of Net Zero goals, complicating efforts to alter entrenched behaviours driving energy consumption. A comprehensive roadmap, bolstered by stability, is imperative to navigate these complexities and garner cross-departmental support for investment decisions. Renewable energy initiatives, as outlined by Dr Padraig Lyons, play a pivotal role in complementing energy demand reduction efforts. Projects like MiniStor and EnerFlex enhance flexibility, crucial for managing peak demand in the electricity system and facilitating renewable integration.

Considerations of equity are also a necessary element in the clean energy transition.  Dr Lirong Liu underscored the importance of addressing equity in the distribution of costs, and also through strategies such as incentivising energy reduction, and progressive taxation for high energy consumers. Robust metrics for assessing access, burden, poverty, vulnerability, environmental impacts, infrastructure, land use, and job creation are pivotal in ensuring equitable outcomes.

Achieving Net Zero in Northern Ireland demands concerted political will, national collaboration, and strategic infrastructure design. With advancements in technology and evolving societal norms, coupled with proactive political engagement, the journey towards Net Zero is indeed feasible.