More renewable energy produced on NI farms and targeted application of nutrients to land are all part of a draft green growth strategy to be published ahead of the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow at the start of November.

Outlining his vision at Stormont last Thursday, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said the aim was to move NI from a high to a low carbon emissions society.

“We have the potential for a green revolution right here, right now, in NI,” he told MLAs.

To help encourage change, the Minister said his officials have been working on a request for funding from the Stormont Executive, which currently stands at £600m for those areas under DAERA responsibility.

“It could go up over the next five years. It will involve hundreds of millions of pounds of investment from the public and private sector,” he acknowledged.

Crucial to the vision is increased production of renewable energy from wind, solar and anaerobic digestion (AD) on farms.

Currently NI produces 45% of energy from renewable sources, but should be able to increase this to 70%, with the remainder then coming from offshore renewable technologies.


Part of the issue with wind in particular is that energy generated at night is not all used. Minister Poots’ vision is that this energy could be utilised to produce hydrogen, which then powers heavy vehicles such as buses, lorries, tractors, etc.

In terms of the local AD sector, he said that by processing animal waste, it currently has the capacity to potentially provide sufficient biomethane to heat around 62% of homes in NI.

Expanding the sector could heat all homes, but to deliver this will require further investment in the gas grid, and the cleaning of the biomethane before it is injected into that grid.

“That is an area where I would like to see investment happen. Rather than methane going into the atmosphere, it is being put into the gas network. We can use the problem that we have in agri-food with methane production, and turn that into a solution for homes right across NI,” he said.


Minister Poots also suggested that the digestate remaining after the AD process could be processed, and ultimately reduce our reliance on chemical fertiliser.

This would involve separating out the material, with the solid fraction dried down into a pellet form. This phosphate-rich product could then be spread on land as dictated by soil analysis, with any excess sold outside of NI.

The liquid fraction contains nitrogen and could be sprayed on land using GPS-enabled equipment. “That is where we need to get to in terms of getting solutions,” he said.


However, among the barriers to change is the difficulty small-scale renewable energy providers have in getting connected to the NI electricity grid. In particular, Minister Poots was critical of the current setup, where NIE Networks operates distribution across NI.

“The single provider isn’t responding quickly enough. I believe the costs they are charging people is exorbitant. I would call on the electricity regulator to open that market up and open that market up quickly,” he said.

He maintained that renewable energy is a major opportunity for the west, and if issues around grid connection could be sorted, it has the potential to attract companies and jobs to that part of the world.

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