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Action Renewables Energy Association presents: Renewable Transport - Addressing NI's Challenges and Opportunities

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Action Renewables Energy Association presents: Renewable Transport - Addressing NI's Challenges and Opportunities

There is huge potential for Northern Ireland to decarbonise its transportation sector. Geographically speaking, the country is not a big place. The population is less than 2 million and its two main cities, Belfast and Londonderry, are only a 70 mile drive apart.

From the outset, NI looks like an ideal place to make a success of decarbonising transport. However, as a region, we are poorly supplied to meet the current demands. In terms of public transport, NI’s railway service covers only certain areas, with bus services in rural areas either insufficient or non-existent. Additionally, there is no direct motorway link between Belfast and Londonderry, and the motorway that does exist is located entirely to the east. Transitioning from our current transport situation, to where we need to be in order to tackle the climate crisis, is an extremely complex and challenging task.

On the 13th of November, Action Renewables Energy Association was pleased to present: Renewable Transport – Addressing NI’s challenges and opportunities. Held in Lagan Valley Island, the event brought together individuals from private and public sectors to address the opportunities and challenges that exist in NI, in transitioning towards a renewable transport future.

“Improvements are happening, but Northern Ireland is at the back of the queue”

Peter Morrow, Associate Director at AECOM, Belfast and NI Rep for the Transport Planning Society opened the event. He began by stating that despite NI being somewhat of a public transport success story, having set a new record of 84.5m journeys by public transport in 2018, the region has the highest rate of car ownership per person in the UK and the transport sector remains the largest source of NI’s emissions. Turning to focus on behavioural change, Peter noted that one of the main challenges for NI is not so much about addressing transport infrastructure as it is about addressing individual choice;

“Our choice to become individually and travel dependant has left us extremely carbon dependant”

Acknowledging that individual choices can collectively make a difference – both good and bad, Peter introduced some of AECOM’s projects, which have created scalable solutions to transport issues. FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) is one such project. A voluntary accreditation scheme, FORS is aimed at transforming road fleet activity by helping operators to improve the safety, efficiency and environmental impact of their fleets through measuring performance and introducing methods of best practice. With many customers now expecting fleet operators to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, FORS allows operators to do this.

Looking at opportunities and challenges, Peter concluded that from a planning perspective, NI tends to be late to the party. To see real change, NI needs to undertake projects that will generate facts and numbers, which will ultimately help people see the true reality of what sustainable and renewable transport can create.

“In NI, there is a significant number of logistics companies interested in CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), which presents itself as a huge opportunity for the country to get into gear”

Mark Holohan, CNG Manager at Virginia Logistics, began by introducing the family-owned, Co. Cavan business. With a fleet operating over 120 trucks and 400 trailers, the company is covering over 12 million km per annum, racking up a bill of €4.5 million per year on diesel. As a result, the company has focussed on reducing its emissions since 2012, investing in dual-fuel vehicles and taking the step in 2018 to make the switch to CNG.

Since doing so, the company has become the first haulier in Ireland to complete a zero-carbon Heavy Goods Vehicle’s (HGV) delivery to Europe. Using certified renewable gas, the company travelled from Cavan to Caen in Northern France, a trip totalling 1,121km. Looking forward, Mark announced that the company aims to have 30 low carbon CNG trucks in its fleet by December 2019. Additionally, it aims to build a new CNG station at its headquarters in Virginia, one that will also be open to the public to avail of. Working with Agility USA, the company plans to add additional storage to the underbelly of its trucks, with the aim of running trucks from places like Ireland to Portugal, without having to stop. If achieved, this will reduce the risks associated with stopping during the transit of expensive goods.

“As we introduce more renewables, we have to introduce more methods in which to use them”

Ian Williamson, Founder and Managing Director of HyEnergy discussed the opportunity hydrogen presents in NI’s marketplace. Practised in uniting hydrogen and energy communities, Ian emphasised that to fully utilise hydrogen, attention must first be directed at scale. Acknowledging the various hydrogen projects currently scattered across Europe; to prove to the masses that hydrogen really works, especially in terms of transport – connecting these projects together will play a crucial role. Noting the technologies that have already been created locally and the GenComm project, which has galvanised a much-needed discussion about furthering Hydrogen in Ireland; companies such as Toyota and Hyundai are now looking to do business and showcase technologies for the first time. With EU funding being directed to island and rural energy communities, Ian concluded that Northern Ireland now has the opportunity, albeit a time-limited one takes the lead with hydrogen. Securing a spot on the “hydrogen map” as a go-to country for hydrogen technologies will ultimately come down to who wants it bad enough.

 “Northern Ireland is currently lagging behind. This is where GRIDSERVE could step in and help”

Sebastian Street, Development Manager at GRIDSERVE, a company developing hybrid solar and electric forecourts across the UK, closed the event. Aiming to simplify and modernise EV (electric vehicle) charging, Sebastian acknowledged that the company’s innovative courts operate under three main pillars; charging, battery storage and the retail building itself, whereby customers can make good use of their time onsite.

Introducing a fourth pillar, the company is also aiming to develop a solar farm directly adjacent to the forecourts, allowing the power produced to be utilised where possible. Sebastian noted that the broad revenue stack generated from the four pillars will enable the company to offer charging prices more akin to domestic/at-home charging. Concluding that GRIDSERVE aims to make EV charging as easy as petrol refuelling, by creating a national network of forecourts, the company is hopeful that with the public becoming more aware of the economic and environmental benefits of EVs, this is something they can help develop in Northern Ireland.

Where does NI go from here?

Inadequate infrastructure, the absence of political direction, cost concerns and ultimately, disagreement over what a low carbon transition should look like means that revolutionising transport remains an inherently challenging process. Despite the challenges, the learned consensus from the event is that collaboration between industries, integrating plans and policy and challenging government priority will help to shape NI’s renewable future and allow the region to reach its full potential.

To find out more, take a look at our ‘Proposal for a Renewable Future’ booklet which focusses on the opportunities presently available to NI in moving towards a renewable future.

Proposal for a Renewable Future
Dearbhla Boyle

Dearbhla Boyle
Marketing Executive


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