SONI, the Electricity Transmission System Operator for Northern Ireland, operates and plans the transmission grid. This includes interconnection with neighbouring grids and the operation of the wholesale electricity market. SONI fulfils an essential role to consumers, the economy and to the environment.
Between 2015 and 2020, Northern Ireland met the challenge of providing 40% of our electricity needs from renewable sources. SONI along with their colleagues at Northern Ireland Electricity Networks were central to this success. Achieving this meant the connection and integration of 1,600 megawatts of energy from renewable sources being accommodated on the system. The next decade will result in even greater change in order to support the journey to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.
To reach Northern Ireland’s Net Zero commitments the power system must be transformed. What happens over the next decade will be critical. It is because of this, that SONI has launched a public consultation on ways to deliver a clean electricity grid for Northern Ireland by 2030.
The grid operator is seeking feedback on Shaping Our Electricity Future; a new report that details four innovative approaches to fundamentally change the grid in order to achieve Northern Ireland’s clean energy ambitions while maintaining an affordable and secure supply for consumers.
"The amount of renewable generation connected to the transmission grid will need to double in a decade and so the grid itself requires unprecedented change"
SONI Managing Director Alan Campbell is asking every one interested in Northern Ireland’s energy future to consider the approaches, provide feedback through the public consultation and be part of this decade of change:
“SONI has a central role to play in the transition to cleaner electricity. The Economy Minister has stated an ambition for Northern Ireland of at least 70% electricity from renewable sources by 2030. While future energy policy is being developed, the change needed to the electricity system must begin today.
“It is important to reflect on what has been achieved to date, latest figures from the Department of the Economy show almost 50% of the electricity used last year came from renewable sources; we have been proud to play our part in this success, but we have much to do.
“The amount of renewable generation connected to the transmission grid will need to double in a decade and so the grid itself requires unprecedented change. It must be made stronger and more flexible in order to carry increasing amounts of clean energy like wind and solar. This will mean more connections and while we will make every effort to utilise the existing grid, inevitably we will need more infrastructure; overhead lines, underground cables, pylons and substations.
The change will affect every one of us and will sometimes be difficult. It is because of this that we are hosting a public consultation to find an agreed approach. Every one of us should have a say.”
SONI’s four approaches for transforming the grid could result in up to twenty significant grid development projects. These would transfer renewable electricity from the north and west to the east, including to the Greater Belfast area where there is most demand.
SONI points out that this is only one approach and details the potential use of new technologies to limit the number of projects needed. SONI is also suggesting that offshore wind and policies to influence the location of generators and future large energy users such as big industry and data centres, could impact the scale of change to the grid.
"Our approaches aren’t set in stone and we need collaboration and co-operation from a range of bodies"
The four approaches in Shaping Our Electricity Future will focus on delivery of renewable targets, but will also look to managing the projected increase in demand for clean electricity from the heat and transport sectors. The approaches are:
Each of the four approaches requires investments in grid development projects throughout Northern Ireland, with costs ranging from £113 million to £535 million. Further details on each of the approaches are available at consult.soni.ltd.uk.
According to Alan Campbell, “whole system change is required”. The SONI MD says the roadmap produced as a result of the Shaping Our Electricity Future public consultation will help individuals and organisations to navigate it:
“Shaping Our Electricity Future final report, which we intend to launch in autumn, will be the roadmap to decarbonising the power system. It will support Northern Ireland’s renewable energy commitments over the next 10 years and out to 2050. It will feed into the Economy Minister’s development of a new energy policy and will ultimately deliver NI’s future clean energy targets.
“Our approaches aren’t set in stone and we need collaboration and co-operation from a range of bodies including government, the regulator, business and industry, consumers and communities. The public consultation and the final report are about finding the optimum solutions in the face of climate change. That benefit speaks for itself but this work will also support the green recovery from the pandemic and deliver a more regionally balanced economy.”
From 08 March, over a fourteen week period, SONI will hold a series of workshops, meetings and forums to inform people and gather feedback that will directly influence the final roadmap. Find out more about the public consultation and how to have your say in Shaping Northern Ireland’s Electricity Future by visiting consult.soni.ltd.uk. You can also participate by emailing email@example.com or via post to Shaping Our Electricity Future, SONI, 12 Manse Road, Belfast, BT6 9RT.