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Strong wind forecast for six counties

Northern Ireland is keen to build on its reputation in the renewable energy sector

Harland and Wolff has diversified into the renewable energy sector. PA: Paul Faith

Harland and Wolff has diversified into the renewable energy sector. PA: Paul Faith


The Belfast skyline will be transformed from next year when one of the North’s oldest companies begins work on a multi-million pound contract to supply steel structures over 65ft tall and weighing more than 845 tonnes.

Harland and Wolff will manufacture these steel “jacket” structures for a new £2.5 billion offshore wind farm that will be constructed in the North Sea.

Not only will these new structures vie for attention against the shipyard’s famous yellow Samson and Goliath cranes but they will also serve as a large physical example of how the 150-year-old company has successfully diversified into the renewable energy sector.

Northern Ireland is keen to build on its reputation in the offshore wind and renewables sector, where it is combining its manufacturing legacy with pioneering technology and a willingness to embrace a challenge.

The North is in a naturally advantageous location to provide developers with a good point of access to the many offshore wind farms that are currently under construction or operating in the Irish Sea and the west coast of Scotland and England.

This is one of the reasons that Belfast was home to the first purpose-built offshore wind installations and pre-assembly harbour in the UK, built at a cost of £50 million by Belfast Harbour.

DONG Energy, the Danish leader in offshore wind power, signed a lease for the terminal which was initially used to support the construction of the West of Duddon Sands Wind farm in the Irish Sea.

Belfast Harbour believes rising energy costs and pro-green government energy policies will continue to create opportunities in the offshore wind and renewables sector for both the harbour itself and indigenous businesses, particularly those involved in the supply chain.

But it is not just local industry that is benefitting from new opportunities within the sector as the North’s universities enjoy a key role in developing new marine energy technology.

Northern Ireland was also chosen as the location for the world’s first commercial tidal turbine back in 2008.

The SeaGen tidal energy convertor, which was installed in Strangford Lough, successfully generated electricity until it was decommissioned earlier this year.

It is not just the offshore wind, tidal and wave sector where the North is charting a new course.

Onshore wind and other renewable energy sources such as solar and biomass are also attracting new investors and helping to deliver a lift for the local economy.

According to the Northern Ireland Renewable Industry Group (NIRIG), more than 20 per cent of the North’s electricity requirements are currently met from renewable sources.

Renewable sources

But the Northern Ireland Executive wants 40 per cent of all local electricity needs to come from renewables sources by 2020.

NIRIG has previously estimated that a typical wind farm in the North will invest in the region of £1.18 million per MW 3 over its development.

Its latest industry research shows that by 2014 the onshore wind sector had contributed £31.7 million in gross value added (GVA) in the Northern Ireland.

NIRIG expects that the contribution the sector makes to the local economy will increase as the North moves closer to its 2020 target of 40 per cent electricity from renewable energy sources.

It estimates that this could deliver a potential benefit to the Northern Ireland economy over the period 2011-20 in the region of £100 million.

In-tandem investment in windfarm projects in the North by companies like Dublin based NTR plc, which acquired a Co Antrim 18MW wind farm earlier this year, has picked up speed.

NTR acquired Altaveedan Wind Farm near Loughguile, which is expected to go into operation early next year.

Altaveedan is NTR’s third wind project investment in the North over a period of 18 months.

According to NTR’s chief investment officer Manus O’Donnell, in total it will have invested more than £60 million of capital into NTR wind projects locally, which, he believes will “provide enough clean energy to sustain an estimated 40,000 homes in Northern Ireland”.

Also on the radar for investors is the North’s growing biomass industry.

Earlier this year, venture capital fund the British Growth Fund invested £10 million in the waste management company RiverRidge Recycling, which is the primary developer of the Full Circle Generation Energy from Waste facility in Belfast.

The fund’s chief executive Stephen Welton says he is interested in exploring opportunities like this in the North.