RenewableNI’s annual Smart Energy Conference took place on Thursday 19 October to a packed-out venue.

The conference theme ‘Powering the Revolution’ focused on how industry and policy makers can come together to accelerate renewables in Northern Ireland.

Keynote speaker Naomi Long MLA, Alliance Party NI leader, delivered a keynote address ‘How do we ensure our energy generation and supporting infrastructure is fit for purpose for the future?’  She said:

“We need to tackle to complex and interconnected issues of energy security, climate change and the drive to net zero eradicating energy poverty and delivering more sustainable growth her in NI. As set out in the Alliance Green New Deal policy tackling climate emergency is not exclusively a matter of environmental policy but is intrinsically linked to economic and social justice.”

She spoke about the Alliance Party commitments to address the extended planning timelines, including to how they responded to a recent public consultation.  She highlighted how a lack of recent market support has resulted in less than 1 per cent growth in some years.  Addressing the charging for grid connection, she said it was “creating a significant issue in terms of the rollout of renewables and a disincentive to investment in green energy in NI.

Naomi Long call for a return of the NI Assembly and her party’s desire for a new Executive Minister for Energy and Climate Change was popular with the audience.

Opening the conference, Garth McGimpsey Chair of RenewableNI said: “We are competing for investment, not just on the island of Ireland and the UK, but globally.  NI is being left behind because of a lack of support scheme combined with longer timescales for planning and grid in comparison to the other jurisdictions.

“Everyone needs to recognise that while renewables remain a really good opportunity for NI, there is a window for that opportunity.  Renewable energy investors want to invest here but we need to remove the barriers that are discouraging investment and we need to do it quickly.”

The session included a panel discussion on Twin Crises of Climate and Biodiversity bringing together SSE Renewables – industry leaders in developing renewable sites that promote biodiversity, RSPB, and those from policy.

The afternoon panel discussion focused on building NI’s offshore wind industry, which will create 1,500 jobs, see £1.9bn spent on NI suppliers resulting in £2.4bn for NI economy by 2032 in addition to powering 1.6 million homes.

Speaking after the conference, RenewableNI Director Steven Agnew said:

“Smart Energy 2023 was our most successful with 250 registered, we have doubled attendance each year.  This shows there is significant interest in Northern Ireland renewable energy right now.  Everyone knows the decisions made over the next year will determine success or failure.

“The KPMG report, Accelerating Renewables in NI, was mentioned by many of the speakers at the conference.

“The report highlighted that business as usual will result in failure to meet the 80 per cent by 2030 obligation.  However, with the right policy interventions, the target can be achieved.

“Policy makers, investors and developers at Smart Energy have shown the passion and commitment to making the vital changes we need to

“At RenewableNI we will ensure the renewable electricity industry is heard through independent reports, political engagement and stimulating debate at our events.  Together we will have a net zero electricity system by 2035.”

You can read the report Accelerating Renewables in NI on the Policy Page.

Full details of all the Smart Energy speakers are available on the agenda page.