Cop26: Rathlin Island to use wind and waves to become carbon neutral by 2030

Residents of idyllic island leading the way in developing sustainable practices ahead of climate summit

Rathlin Island aims to be carbon neutral by 2030.
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Set off the north coast of the Northern Ireland in the Atlantic, scenic Rathlin Island has embraced modernity in fits and starts.

It only joined Northern Ireland's electric grid in 2007, but already the locals are hoping to wean themselves off the mainland supplies, turning to renewables and using the wild surrounding wind and waves in a push to go carbon neutral by 2030.

The 155 residents of Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island hope that green energy transformation can put them at the forefront of adaptation to climate change across the British Isles.

Inspired by its progress so far, the island is hoping to send a delegation to Cop26 in Glasgow to share its vision.

Michael Cecil, chairman of the Rathlin Development and Community Association, has been spearheading the initiative. He said the climate agenda had given new purpose to a rocky outcrop where the population dwindled to 70 two decades ago.

“We are hopefully going to Cop26 with one of our renewable partners so we can showcase what we are doing to the world,” Mr Cecil told The National.

We have a dream to do an awful lot in Rathlin
Michael Cecil, chairman of the Rathlin Development and Community Association

With thousands of pounds of backing recently granted from Northern Ireland's government, the plans for a renewables push took a big step closer to becoming a reality.

“We have a dream to do an awful lot in Rathlin,” Mr Cecil said. “Our community group has been active since the mid-70s lobbying for better services – the islanders are all very passionate and forward thinking.

“Once we were connected to the grid we started looking at wind energy, from there it showed there was a real desire in the community to protect the environment.

“With the climate crisis we wanted to look for alternative technologies to tackle our carbon emissions. If we can decarbonise our housing stock, transport and ferries we are most of the way there.

“To be carbon neutral in 10 years is not that ambitious as the technology is there and our plan is to generate our own green energy.”

Ferries are responsible for more than 50 per cent of the island's carbon emissions

A recent study on the island revealed its two diesel ferries are responsible for a substantial amount of its carbon emissions.

They are now planning to trial swapping the ferries’ diesel engines for hydrogen.

Hydrogen has already been used to fuel buses in London, England, and Aberdeen, Scotland, and the island is working with a company to adapt the technology to ferries.

Last month Norway took delivery of the world’s first fuel cell-powered ferry which is expected to reduce its annual carbon emissions by up to 95 per cent.

Mr Cecil is a skipper on one of the ferries and is eager to pioneer the initiative.

“We are going to trial hydrogen-fuelled ferries. It is already used on buses and they use the same engines as our ferries,” he said.

“We are not far away from making this a reality now. They are responsible for more than 50 per cent of the island’s carbon footprint.

“It is all about raising awareness in local government and globally so more money is pumped into this technology.”

Rathlin will trial Northern Ireland’s first electric bike and car share scheme

In the next few months, Rathlin is also set to trial Northern Ireland’s first electric bike and car share scheme.

It is not the first time the island has been leading the way in sustainability. In 2013, Kate Burns set up Islander Rathlin Kelp in a bid to use kelp production to regenerate coastal and island communities.

It is the only place in Europe which seeds, harvest and processes kelp.

“It’s our ambition to spread our knowledge throughout other coastal communities, to give other islands the chance to grow and process kelp using our techniques,” she said.

She is hoping to create a kelp network to help “to keep islands anywhere in the world, alive and thriving".

Northern Ireland’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots, visited the island to see its vision first-hand.

“I admire Rathlin’s strong ambition to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral, this is aligned to my vision for green growth and climate action and I very much welcome the Island’s efforts to realise this goal,” he said.

Working with Cork and Galway University, researchers are presently conducting a study to examine all the renewable options available to the island’s households and businesses.

“Once the report is ready we hope we will then get investment to make it happen,” Mr Cecil said.

“We are then hoping to trial wind, tidal and wave energy.”

Rathlin Island to pitch carbon neutral initiative at Cop26

“We want to tell our community story to big businesses and show them we are making a difference on the ground. We would like to become a mini global renewables hub and hopefully by telling our story at Cop26 we will attract some interest,” Mr Cecil said.

“In the community there is a strong desire to set an example to the world and show it can be done and hopefully we will inspire people in the rest of the world to follow suit.

"We believe if we can do it, so can everyone else.”

Updated: August 21, 2021, 8:48 AM