Transforming the power system for future generations.
We are SONI – the electricity System Operator for Northern Ireland. Our 2020 - 25 strategy is shaped by climate change and the transition of the electricity sector to low-carbon, renewable energy.
We have a unique role to play in leading the radical transformation that is required. Our strategy sums up our response to these challenges. It consists of a set of key goals, underpinned by our purpose:
Transform the power system for future generations
Electricity from renewable sources will play a vital role in the response to the climate crisis. Demand for power will grow as heating and transport switch to electricity.
This change cannot happen unless the power system is transformed. From one based on burning fossil fuels, to one able to perform reliably with close to 100% renewable energy on the grid.
SONI has a unique set of roles. Our central role is to plan and operate the electricity system in Northern Ireland. In addition, we are part of a group that operates the Single Electricity Market throughout Northern Ireland and Ireland. We also manage power flows on interconnectors with our neighbours.
This gives SONI the deep expertise needed to deliver a low-carbon, cost-effective power system. That is why we are making a commitment to take real responsibility for many elements of this energy transition.
In the UK, the government is pursuing net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In Ireland, the Climate Action Plan 2019 states that 70% of electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2030.
While Northern Ireland has not yet set a target, the move to clean energy generation is well underway. We can currently operate the grid with up to 65% of renewable power. By 2030, this must increase to 95%.
To do this we must:
Interconnection makes the system more resilient and efficient by connecting to neighbouring grids. This added strength will become increasingly important as renewable forms of generation grow.
System interconnection is a key part of this primary goal. For example the proposed new North South, Celtic and Greenlink Interconnectors.
We cannot achieve this goal without public, political and regulatory support.
It is essential that we:
Our primary role is to operate, develop and enhance the Northern Ireland grid. All electricity users can be confident it is constant, reliable and competitive.
The pace and scale of the transition to clean, renewable energy has the potential to test our promise of reliability. That is why our new strategy includes a restatement of this promise which we will meet by:
The single electricity market that operates throughout Northern Ireland and Ireland is key to this. In 2018, we integrated this market more closely with European markets. This created a more liberalised market that can trade in real time. This means greater competition and downward pressure on prices.
The UK and Irish Governments, and the EU have stated their commitment to maintaining the all-island Single Electricity Market. So, although Brexit creates a potential for uncertainty, we have planned for the next five years on the basis that it will not materially impact our work.
In the next five years, we will ensure the Single Electricity Market is:
We will plan for a system that can take advantage of future interconnectors. These are key to managing larger amounts of renewable generation. They will also enhance energy security.
We will continue to prepare the grid infrastructure for the future by:
Any new infrastructure developments will need comprehensive and best-practice consultation. This is to gain the acceptance needed from local communities and landowners. We need to further expand our engagement to make a successful transition to a clean electricity system.
In Northern Ireland, we will be guided by UK climate change policies, which have always been at the forefront of global best practice.
Northern Ireland has the ability to set its own energy policy, as this is a devolved power. The Department for the Economy is developing a new Strategic Energy Framework for Northern Ireland. We will continue to work alongside key stakeholders to support this process and will be guided by its outcome.
We have always recognised the need for successful partnerships. Now that our strategy is evolving to respond to the climate crisis, we need these partnerships more than ever. Together, we will deliver the most significant change to the energy system since rural electrification.
We will achieve this by having a common purpose, common goals and a common view on what success looks like.
Every day we work with NIE Networks, who own and build grid transmission assets. They also operate the electricity distribution system in Northern Ireland.
We recognise the need for a major collaborative programme with NIE Networks. This will be essential to deal with the switch to electric vehicles and electric heating in the home.
We also partner with:
Technology will play a key role in this energy system transformation. We expect to develop new strategic partnerships with global players to help with this change. We will seek partners who can assist us in delivering the best and most cost-effective solutions on the power system.
Government and regulatory policy are key in enabling the energy transition. We will provide the data and analysis required to help assist and inform policy in Northern Ireland.
Development of new grid infrastructure requires partnership with landowners and communities.
Advances in technology are helping us to find less intrusive ways to move large amounts of power. But all electricity grids, in any country, depend on large-scale infrastructure. This means we still rely on an intricate mesh of pylons, substations and overhead wires.
Asking landowners and local communities to accept new infrastructure has never been easy. Our new strategy will test the advances we have made in our public and stakeholder engagement.
The climate crisis, and our strategy to help resolve it, provides an urgent rationale. We will articulate this goal in our ongoing engagement efforts.
Our aim is to achieve world-class standards, and to deliver better results as a consequence. Our goal is to deepen and broaden our consultation, and to respond in meaningful and persuasive ways to fears and concerns.
We will continue to invest our time and resources in a strategic and transparent approach to regulatory engagement. The Utility Regulator is a primary stakeholder in our new focus on sustainability.
To do this, we will re-align our current engagement to our new strategy. We will do this in an open and transparent manner. Our aim is to collaborate with the Utility Regulator to agree how best to manage the energy transition in response to the challenge of climate change.
This strategy is shaped by climate change and the impending transformation of the electricity sector.
The context of climate change is well understood, and beyond scientific doubt. The only question now is how fast society can respond to limit the damage, and so protect our planet for current and future generations.
The transition to low-carbon and renewable energy will have widespread consequences. There will be major changes in how electricity is generated, and in how it is bought, sold, and used.
The electricity system will carry more power than ever before and most of that power will be from renewable sources. Coal, peat and oil-based generation will be phased out in the next decade. And while this happens, new technology will allow electricity users to generate and store power, and return any surplus to the grid. This creates opportunities for all.