SONI and IOD coming together to drive the debate on renewable energy

18 October 2021

Alan Campbell, SONI Managing Director, writes:

When it comes to challenges, none is greater than climate change and so SONI is pleased to partner with the Institute of Directors on Northern Ireland’s very first Energy Symposium, a pioneering and visionary event which brings together the leading climate and energy experts from these islands. This is a hugely important discussion, as we actively apply our innovation and deep expertise to the challenge of decarbonising the Northern Ireland power system for future generations.

As Managing Director of SONI, I am very proud of the role the that SONI team plays in planning and operating an electricity system which can deliver on Northern Ireland’s clean energy aspirations.  We are world leaders at what we do, but there are significant challenges ahead.

This really is a pivotal time for the future of clean energy - latest Department for the Economy figures show that in the 12 months up to June of this year, 45% of NI’s electricity needs were met through renewable energy. However, we have a lot more to do to move that to at least 70%, as signposted by the DFE in its energy strategy consultation, and just 8 years to do it. 

SONI, along with many stakeholders is looking forward to the publication of the new Northern Ireland energy strategy. In advance of its publication, we have been hard at work to proactively make the changes needed in the transmission grid, markets and our operations in order to reach Northern Ireland’s 2030 renewable ambition. 

We are doing this through a programme called Shaping Our Electricity Future – and we have consulted far and wide to gain as broad a range of views as possible. We’ve listened hard to all sectors of Northern Ireland society on what we should be doing, about Northern Ireland’s priorities, and what matters to the broad range of stakeholders with a major interest in how electricity is produced, transported, traded and consumed.

Our modelling for the Shaping our electricity future project shows us that if we are to meet a goal of at least 70% of electricity from renewables by 2030 - then we would expect somewhere around 300,000 electric vehicles to be on the roads in NI by then.  We can also expect to see low carbon heating kicking in for all new builds in particular from 2025 with this rapidly increasing by 2040 – and we will also see consumers actively participating in the market. 

All of this will change demand patterns, which up until now have been fairly predictable and so SONI is getting ready for these behavioural and technological changes. We also need to ensure that the transition is secure and that the grid can safely carry large increases in renewable energy; this means the grid will need to be more flexible. While we will always seek to maximise the use of the existing grid infrastructure, we know that grid investment including additional interconnection with GB and Ireland will be needed.

And we expect to see greater diversity in our energy sources – so offshore wind, more onshore wind, solar, tidal as well as efficient thermal gas generation and storage of energy be it large scale batteries or power from hydrogen; this will all be a reality.

It all sounds relatively straight forward and there will be lots of opportunities, but it is nothing short of a transformation – the way electricity is produced; the way it is bought and sold; and the way it is being consumed – is all changing at pace – and at SONI we are working hard to stay ahead; we are proud of our track record, and we have the deep expertise we need to win the race.  Our response to the climate emergency is fast, certain and sure.  But we can’t do this on our own. Tough decisions will have to be made, but if we are courageous, collaborative and proactive, we can continue Northern Ireland’s progress, towards a secure, decarbonised electricity system which delivers for Northern Ireland’s consumers, economy and the next generation.