The recent Energy Summit in Belfast has shed light on the potential for green energy in Northern Ireland. Former Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, Ian Marshall, described the event as a pivotal moment for the agriculture industry in the region. The summit showcased the report ‘A Pathway to our Renewable Future’, which was produced by the staff at Queen’s University Belfast Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE), where Marshall is currently a member. The report emphasizes the economic opportunities that can be derived from green energy and highlights the role that agriculture can play in achieving a carbon net zero position.
Marshall believes that anaerobic digestion (AD) will be a driving force behind the renewable energy sector. He notes that while electricity generation is important, the focus should be on gas production. Currently, a major issue with AD operations is the loss of heat generated during the process. However, future developments in AD will involve strategically located facilities that accept slurry and other feedstocks from local farmers. The green methane produced will then be pumped into natural gas pipelines, providing farmers with a cost-effective entry point into the energy sector. Additionally, participating farmers may have the opportunity to earn carbon credits based on the green energy they contribute to producing.
James Manley, the country manager for Ireland at Cycle0, a company that builds and operates small- to medium-scale biomethane plants in Europe, also attended the Energy Summit. Manley believes that AD has significant potential throughout Ireland and plans to invest in the development of these facilities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He emphasizes the need for advances in planning regulations to accelerate development and achieve decarbonization goals.
Professor David Rooney, director of CASE, highlights the recommendations outlined in the report. These recommendations call for a whole-of-government approach to address the challenges ahead and maximize economic benefits. Rooney stresses the importance of connected policy across national and local government departments to effectively tackle the energy challenge.
In conclusion, the Energy Summit in Belfast has highlighted the economic opportunities that green energy presents for Northern Ireland. The focus on anaerobic digestion as a key technology and the potential for farmers to participate in the energy sector through low-cost entry options and carbon credits demonstrate the potential for growth in this sector. With the support of government policies and partnerships with companies like Cycle0, Northern Ireland can make significant progress towards a renewable future.