Renewable energy surge called for
More than 70% of Ireland's electricity could be produced from renewable resources by 2030, a new report out has claimed.
The research commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Northern Ireland said the availability of energy from wind, wave and sustainable biomass was significantly larger than the projected demand for the next 18 years.
Geoff Nuttall, head of WWF, said: "We hope this is a contribution to tackling the big challenges we have on the island of Ireland in relation to energy. We do have an urgent issue in relation to our energy. We are importing 99% of our primary energy needs from fossil fuels."
It is estimated that the current oil supply to Ireland will only last for another 54 years while gas could run out in 63 years' time.
Malachy Campbell, a policy officer with WWF, called for governments on both sides of the Irish border to make development of a low carbon economy a political and economic priority.
"There are many reasons why we need to decarbonise," he told a conference at the MAC theatre in Belfast. "Firstly, the situation we are currently in is unsustainable. The almost ridiculous reliance (99%) on fossil fuels costs £2.3 million a year in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is only marginally better.
"The potential for renewable for energy is enormous - up to 60 times the projected demand."
It was claimed that Ireland should follow countries like Denmark, which aims to be fossil fuel free by 2050.
Mr Campbell said Scotland was also blazing a trail by setting ambitious targets that could save £325 million a year by reducing energy levels by 12% by 2020. "We can save money by doing this," he added. "Why are we not doing it?"
Delegates at the conference were told that previous research by the Carbon Trust suggested that investment in renewable energy could create more than 30,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland in a sector that could be worth almost £1 billion.