Northern Ireland pins its future energy hopes on hydrogen

21 Dec 2021

Image: © malp/Stock.adobe.com

Northern Ireland’s plans include the creation of a hydrogen centre of excellence in research and innovation.

Northern Ireland has launched an ambitious new energy strategy that includes plans to place hydrogen as a key energy source for the future.

The Path to Net Zero Energy strategy, published last week, has set long-term sustainability targets for the region’s energy sector, including plans to fully decarbonise by 2050. Cost is also a key focus in the plan in order to increase the affordability of low-carbon forms of energy.

Other targets include the delivery of energy savings of 25pc from buildings and industry by 2030, as well as doubling the size of Northern Ireland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy to a turnover of more than £2bn by 2030.

The plan aims to meet at least 70pc of the region’s electricity consumption from a diverse mix of renewable sources by 2030.

The strategy will be followed by an annual energy plan to be published in early 2022 and progress against targets will be subject to five-year reports. The delivery of the plan will be overseen by a new Northern Ireland Executive programme board.

Launching the strategy last week, economy minister Gordon Lyons said that while the strategy would lead to “significant changes”, it would also lead to “a healthier economy and society”. Energy currently accounts for almost 60pc of all the region’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Northern Ireland can “become world leaders in the new hydrogen economy” by playing to its strengths, Lyons added. “Our world-leading engineering sector will be at the centre of this.”

Hydrogen research

As part of the plan to place greater focus on hydrogen as a renewable energy source, a centre of excellence dedicated to research and innovation in hydrogen will be established.

The strategy said that this will bring together key players in the hydrogen sector, from industry to academia, and attract investment in the local economy.

The lead of an international renewable hydrogen project partly based in Northern Ireland has welcomed the new strategy. Paul McCormack is programme manager of GenComm, a project that began in 2017 led by Belfast Met, focusing on a green energy transition.

“I welcome that the strategy sets out how we will work towards phasing out fossil fuels and the emphasis on a green energy future with hydrogen as a key energy vector,” McCormack said.

“The strategy maintains we have projects already in development giving momentum in terms of building expertise across the private sector, energy industry and academia.”

GenComm partners NUI Galway, Dublin City University and Hy Energy recently published a report into the opportunities presented by hydrogen in Northern Ireland’s green energy transition. The report was funded by the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy to “contribute to the evidence base” for the development of the energy strategy, McCormack said.

“The research team presented the results of case studies for green hydrogen, hydrogen produced by electrolysis powered by renewable electricity and deployment in Northern Ireland in 2030. The results demonstrated the technical, environmental and economic feasibility of hydrogen production and use at scale in Northern Ireland. Now with the strategy published we have a cohesive roadmap to achieve net zero,” he concluded.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com