The future for green energy would seem to be bright, given the debate and discussions had on the subject at a recent conference in Belfast.

Former Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, Ian Marshall, has characterised the aforementioned Energy Summit as a step change moment for agriculture in Northern Ireland.

The event was used to profile the recently published report, ‘A Pathway to our Renewable Future’.

The publication was produced by staff at Queen’s University Belfast Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE). Marshall is currently a member of the CASE team.

Economic opportunities from green energy

The core message emanating from the event relates to the huge economic opportunity to be grasped as Northern Ireland strives to reach a carbon net zero position.

According to Marshall, green energy is the future in this context and agriculture can play a key role in making this happen.

“One of the technologies that will increasingly drive the ‘renewables engine’ is anaerobic digestion,” he said.

But gas production will be end game here, not electricity, the summit was told.

One of the big drawbacks with the current generation of anaerobic digestion (AD) operations is the fact that a large proportion of the heat generated simply escapes to the atmosphere.

Looking to the future, the development of AD will centre on strategically located facilities that accept slurry and other feed stocks from local farmers.

The green methane subsequently produced will then be pumped into an adjacent natural gas pipeline.

Such a concept provides farmers with a low-cost entry option into the energy sector. By taking this approach, there is also the possibility of drawing down carbon credits, based on the green energy they are helping to produce.

Future for green energy

James Manley, country manager for Ireland, from Cycle0, attended the event. He agrees that AD has a tremendous future throughout Ireland.

Moreover, businesses like Cycle0 – which builds, owns and operates small- to medium-scale biomethane plants in Europe – plan to invest in the development of these facilities in Ireland, both north and south.

“We are actively working towards advancing Ireland’s potential by establishing partnerships with farmers and grid operators, north and south,” Manley said.

“We are looking forward to seeing advances in planning regulations that will help speed-up development times so that we can achieve decarbonisation goals.”

Prof. David Rooney from Queen’s University Belfast, and director of CASE, said: “Our report sets out a series of recommendations.

“These include the calling for a whole-of-government approach in order to change how we do things, address the challenges ahead and maximise the economic benefits for society.

“Ambition, action and progress – these are three simple words which define our energy challenge. Connected policy across boundaries in national and local government departments is essential,” he added.