Jo Aston, Managing Director, SONI

"The green economy is a lifeline for Northern Ireland’s recovery – now is the time to grasp it"

02 June 2020

A blog post from SONI MD, Jo Aston

"Tomorrow I, along with SONI colleagues, am delighted to have the opportunity to brief the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for the Economy on our thoughts on the importance of the green economy and how we harness this to transform Northern Ireland’s power system for future generations.

"As the Department for the Economy continues its work on the development of a new energy strategy for Northern Ireland, the briefing (which will be available to view here on Wednesday from 10am) gives SONI the first in a series of key opportunities to detail how we can deal with the climate emergency through greater decarbonisation; exploration and development of new technologies and; maximising Northern Ireland’s unique advantages which can ensure that we succeed.

"I hope you enjoy this article and would appreciate your views on it and our collective energy future.

Unprecedented crisis

"During this unprecedented crisis, Northern Ireland’s electricity system has performed exactly as it should – reliably and securely;  providing an essential service needed by all.

"As operators of the electricity system and of the wholesale electricity market; SONI considered the challenge; collaborated to find solutions and acted decisively; implementing robust protocols to protect our essential operations and staff from the Covid-19 outbreak.

"With Northern Ireland suffering resulting economic damage, it could be argued that now is not the time to focus on another existential threat, that of the climate emergency. I would argue that it is precisely the time to take on that challenge and avail of the opportunities.

"Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to make the green economy a success"

"Supporting sustainability, decarbonisation and biodiversity as pillars of the economy, should be included in the Executive’s coronavirus recovery plan. By doing so we can deliver on the Green New Deal commitments promised in the New Decade New Approach agreement; tackling the climate emergency, enriching our natural environment, improving lives, while also making our economy more resilient.

New technologies and maximising our uniqueness

"Flexible technologies such as battery storage, low carbon plant, renewable generation, electric transport, zero-carbon construction – all offer economic benefit. The uptake of demand side use of energy by consumers who will sell from their homes directly to the grid and the digitalisation and data that comes with it is an exciting prospect.

"Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to make the green economy a success. We have significant natural resources. Offshore wind in particular, offers an excellent opportunity to diversify our energy mix. We have an expert construction sector and a highly skilled digital workforce – data will be central to the energy transition.

Being ambitious

"The new energy strategy from the Department for the Economy will be among the key policy drivers needed to see a thriving green economy become a reality. A strong strategy with an ambitious renewable electricity target of 70% or above is essential – and it can be achieved by 2030; if key sectors work together.

Strategy 2020-25

"At SONI we are already playing our part; our new business strategy is focused on decarbonising the power system.

"We have already achieved much; we are world leaders in managing renewable electricity onto the grid.  We can now handle 65% renewable energy at any one time, this has been fundamental to Northern Ireland reaching its 40% renewable electricity target in advance of the 2020 timeline.

"Reflecting on how we all came together against the Covid-19 pandemic, I am optimistic that the same combined effort and determination will be there to address climate change"

"In order to meet any ambitious future target, we need to be able to run the electricity system on 95% renewables at any one time.  This is a highly complex technical challenge, but we are committed to making it happen.

"We’ve implemented a redesign of the wholesale electricity market, making it more competitive and attractive to cleaner, more efficient technology.  Within this market Kilroot Power Station recently committed to transitioning to natural gas fired generation, which will see the end of coal in Northern Ireland’s energy mix in 2023.

"We’re also making the transmission grid ready to take an increasing volume of renewable energy; we need to add another 1600 MW of renewables to the grid by 2030.  With this additional renewable load we will require the electricity system to be more flexible and resilient and so, interconnection with neighbouring grids will be vital. The North South Interconnector is critical to this.

The North South Interconnector remains crucial

"The essential North South Interconnector project will support decarbonisation and the green economy; present job opportunities in construction; will deliver that system resilience and security and will remove constraints on the grid resulting in savings to consumers on the island of £20million per annum, this figure will increase as the amount of renewable energy on the grid grows.  The North South Interconnector has cleared all legal and planning challenges in the Republic of Ireland; a decision here is overdue and urgent.

"If Northern Ireland is to stand up to the climate crisis, we need to consider the challenge; collaborate and have the courage to take decisive action.  Reflecting on how we all came together against the Covid-19 pandemic, I am optimistic that the same combined effort and determination will be there to address climate change, protecting our planet for future generations."