Although Northern Ireland's geographic location on the periphery of Europe has lent itself to a traditional dependency on fuel imports to meet our energy needs, the landscape is changing as we diversify away from fossil fuel based generation – both literally and figuratively.
We benefit from a strong renewable resource and over the past years the roll out of renewable generation onshore has increased at a pace. Indicators show that electricity consumption from renewable sources stood at an average of 12% during 2011, with some months achieving as high as 18%.
Although this is certainly encouraging, the push to meet the ambitious target of 40% renewable energy in the overall mix by 2020 continues. Given this challenge, it is unsurprising that the vast opportunities available from harnessing the power of the wind and waves in the offshore region for the generation of energy would be eventually developed. Such developments are hoped to increase our electricity security and diversity as well as reducing our carbon output and exposure to fossil fuel price volatility.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), which has devolved powers in relation to energy policy in Northern Ireland, published an overarching Strategic Energy Framework (SEF) in 2010. This set out a vision for a sustainable system where energy is used as efficiently as possible; where most of Northern Ireland's energy is from renewable sources; and where Northern Ireland ensures that all generation is as competitively priced as possible. The SEF also identified the four key goals of competitiveness, security of supply, sustainability and creating a robust and flexible energy infrastructure.
In delivering these objectives, onshore wind is expected to continue as the principal source of renewable electricity generation in the short to medium term, although how the energy mix will look in 2020 will depend on market and investor decisions. However, it is clear that offshore wind and wave facilities will form a part of this mix.
Northern Ireland Offshore Leasing Round
Significant steps forward have been taken in making the development of offshore generation in Northern Ireland territorial waters a reality. The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed out to the 12 nautical mile limit around the United Kingdom, announced its plans to offer development rights, following a tender process, over specific areas of Northern Ireland territorial waters in March 2011.