A new energy ambition to meet our net zero goal

Tomorrow marks Global Wind Day, a worldwide event that occurs annually on 15 June. It is a day for discovering wind energy, its power and the possibilities it holds to reshape our energy systems, decarbonise our economies, and boost jobs and growth.

It also marks the end of the UK-wide Onshore Wind Week, which celebrates the contribution onshore wind generation makes to our low carbon energy needs.

Both calendar events provide an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the difference onshore wind farms make to our economy, including highly-skilled jobs and millions of pounds of investment to rural communities across the country. Saying nothing of the role onshore wind energy plays in helping to tackle climate change.

Fittingly, this week saw data published which demonstrated once again the immense contribution renewable energy is making to Northern Ireland. According to a new report from the Department for the Economy, we are on target to meet our 40% green energy target by 2020, a target set by the Northern Ireland Executive back in 2010. In the last year alone, 38.6% of all electricity consumed here was from locally-sourced power across the region. Of that green generation, 83% was from onshore wind turbines – including turbines at wind farms owned and operated by my own company, SSE Renewables. 

Getting close to hitting our 40% target is a stunning achievement considering that a decade ago, just 7% of all electricity in Northern Ireland was generated from renewable sources. And it means we have taken huge strides in the years since towards ending our dependence on imported fossil fuels for most of our energy needs.

So, we’ve a lot to celebrate then? Well, yes and no. Yes, we should applaud our achievement at meeting our 2020 targets through the development and operation of clean generation sites across Northern Ireland. But no, we should not think our work here is done. 

No new targets have been set for renewable energy or greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland beyond next year. As a result, there is no clear pathway into the future for our economy to continue to play its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And the ambition to reduce greenhouse gases has never been greater.

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation, and the climate crisis is demanding bold and decisive action from everyone. Just last month the UK parliament became the first in the world to declare a “climate emergency”. Shortly after, the country’s independent Committee on Climate Change took a significant step in calling for net-zero emissions to be achieved by 2050.

The momentum of support behind this step-change in reducing our emissions has been widespread. This week the UK Government adopted one of the world’s most ambitious targets to tackle climate change – legislating for net zero by 2050.

At SSE Renewables, we’re supporting this bold but necessary move and we’re calling on Northern Irish policymakers to do the same if we truly want to combat climate change before it’s too late.

Meeting net zero by 2050 will require new ambition for increased renewable energy production across the UK, including here in Northern Ireland. Companies like ours stand ready to play our part in meeting the new ambition we need. That's why we’re continuing to advance the potential for new wind energy generation here – including our plans for a £150 million wind farm at Doraville in Co. Tyrone, which could generate another 139MW of green electricity with the potential to power over 120,000 homes each year. Our Doraville project can bridge the final stretch to meeting our near-term 40% target and crucially, once operational, can offset over 125,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually – making further strides on behalf of Northern Ireland towards our long term net zero goal.

The creation of a new robust, future-facing energy strategy for Northern Ireland that sets out the pathway we need to follow is crucial if we are to play our part in meeting net zero by 2050. Without such a strategy, the green energy success of the past decade is unlikely to be repeated.

So, as we celebrate Global Wind Day tomorrow, let’s all of us – whether the energy industry player or the policymaker – electrify our efforts to deliver an ambitious energy strategy that will guide all of us in Northern Ireland towards a 2050 net zero goal.

About the author

Paul Cooley Director of Renewables, SSE plc

Paul Cooley is Director of Renewables Development for SSE plc and is responsible for the development and construction of all of SSE’s renewable energy projects across Great Britain and Ireland. He was formerly General Manager for Ireland of SSE Renewables. Paul joined SSE and the energy industry from the chemicals and manufacturing sector where he held various senior management positions including operational, regulatory and engineering management roles at DuPont and the Quinn Group. He has an Honours degree in Electrical Engineering from Queens University, Belfast.

Read more articles by Paul Cooley