As we continue to take steps towards rebuilding our economy, we must focus on the small number of sectors where we can be genuinely world class. This includes clean energy.
In the most recent 12 month period nearly 47% of total electricity generated in Northern Ireland came from renewables, exceeding the target of 40%. Eighty-five percent of this came from wind. We will build on this success as we look to generate even more of our electricity from low-carbon sources.
An estimated annual average £1 billion in turnover and 5,900 full time equivalent jobs were generated directly by businesses in Northern Ireland active in the low carbon and renewable energy sector in each of the years 2016 to 2018.
These figures are evidence of the strong skills we already have in this area. I want to build on this expertise to increase the number of higher paying jobs.
Northern Ireland is well placed to lead the way in decarbonisation and developing clean energy.
This will come from developing our renewables’ offering, investing in energy efficiency, bringing forward new energy innovations and technologies, building capacity in energy solutions such as hydrogen, and pioneering new, greener forms of transport.
These opportunities can create jobs and wealth right across Northern Ireland and are being actively developed through the Energy Strategy.
There is a substantial economic recovery opportunity in decarbonising energy as part of growing our green economy and delivering significant export opportunities for homemade lower and zero-carbon solutions. Not only this, but warmer, more energy efficient homes will be healthier homes for vulnerable consumers, reduce excess winter deaths and take pressure off our health system.
In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to commit to a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This ‘net zero’ target represented a significant step-change in the commitment to addressing the climate crisis.
Energy, across power, heat and transport, is responsible for more than 60% of Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tackling emissions in these areas will therefore be central. We are working collaboratively to take a strategic approach to decarbonising these energy sectors, as policy responsibility cuts across many government departments and indeed local government too.
Young people in particular are passionate about the need to address climate change. The clean energy job opportunities that will be provided by the move to net zero emissions will provide a direct chance for them to be involved in the solution. We will work to identify the skills needs of these sectors and help to inform young people when making subject and careers’ decisions.
Interest in the hydrogen economy is also accelerating. For Northern Ireland, hydrogen could help fuel a clean, cutting edge economic recovery. We are uniquely placed to use renewable electricity to produce green hydrogen. This would make use of the wind that is available when the demand for electricity is lower.
There is real potential for NI to become a centre of excellence for the hydrogen economy, with local manufacture of electrolysers, hydrogen fuel, and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles for which there will be a rapidly growing demand world-wide.
This would potentially create many new jobs in hydrogen technology, in the aerospace and advanced materials sectors and their supply chains.
My department is exploring and supporting a range of projects that will showcase our potential to develop cutting-edge hydrogen technology here.
I am also championing the green recovery and clean energy at the Executive table and working alongside other Executive colleagues on this issue.
Responding to climate change and building a better environment for the people of Northern Ireland, as part of being good global citizens, is not optional, it is a necessity.