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Minister Eamon Ryan TD: The energy transition
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CAP23 ups the ante for renewable energy
9th October 2023

Headwinds and tailwinds on the journey to 80 per cent by 2030

Significant reform is required if Northern Ireland is to meet the target set for renewable electricity consumption by 2030, writes Carson McDowell’s Neasa Quigley.

The renewables sector in Northern Ireland is facing serious headwinds. That is not news to anyone working in the sector over the past six years or so. It is striking though that only 30MW of additional renewables capacity was added last year, compared to up to 400MW annually in the period of peak development to 2016.

A recent report commissioned by Renewable NI, the industry body, and produced by KPMG, confirms that Northern Ireland will struggle to meet the target set for renewable electricity generation without significant reform.

The factors contributing to those headwinds are grid capacity for both new and existing assets, the absence of a support scheme for new projects and the planning system, notably timelines in progressing applications and inconsistencies in decision-making across councils. Again, these factors are well known to the industry and should be well known to policymakers.

The report concludes that, based on our current regime, it will simply not be possible to achieve the target, set by the Northern Ireland Executive just before it collapsed in 2022, of 80 per cent renewable electricity consumption by 2030. It makes a variety of recommendations garnered from consulting with stakeholders about how the deployment of renewables might be accelerated, including:


  • anticipatory investment in grid network so that capacity is available for new projects ahead of time could significantly decrease overall deployment times;
  • closer collaboration between NIE and industry to enable considered planning for future demand in terms of project location and scale;
  • incentivising the development of generation close to areas of high demand would facilitate reduced costs and facilitate more rapid development of the network; and
  • empowering the Utility Regulator to consider environmental and climate priorities would support necessary grid development.


  • introduce clearly defined realistic timelines for planning decisions and response times from statutory consultees;
  • introduce an oversight function to measure performance by local councils and Department for Infrastructure of KPIs set against statutory targets; and
  • increase resource at local council and Department for Infrastructure levels to cope with expected increased demand for applications and create a central pool of resource to be deployed to areas of high demand.

Route to market

  • publish timeline for implementation of support scheme;
  • no mandatory participation in any new support scheme so that investors/generators have flexibility around investment models; and
  • fast tracking of new renewables projects through planning and grid to allow participation of new projects in initial auctions.

The sector rose to the previous challenge set by government achieving the 40 per cent target ahead of the 2020 deadline. Let us hope that a functioning Executive resumes and acts as the tailwind to facilitate successful achievement of the 2030 targets.

If you have any queries relating to any this article or for more information on Carson McDowell’s renewable energy team and experience, please contact Neasa Quigley, Head of the Energy and Renewables team.