IPCC Blog: Alan Campbell

13 April 2022

Alan Campbell, Managing Director, SONI writes:

On 4 April 2022, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) was published. This report strongly reiterated the need for us all, both corporately and personally to adapt behaviours immediately to offset and escape an ever-looming climate disaster. With coastal regions under threat from rising sea levels to increasingly likely crop failures because of rising temperatures, the report’s warnings were stark: the need to adapt how our energy systems operate is urgent.

The report outlines that energy markets must be “climate responsive, they must update design standards on energy assets according to current and projected climate change, use smart-grid technologies, robust transmission systems and improved capacity to respond to supply deficits”. That is why SONI welcomes the commitment in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Energy Strategy to growing and diversifying our energy sources; and SONI’s ‘Shaping Our Electricity Future’ roadmap is striving to enable Stormont’s ambition. 

By 2030 we need a stronger and more flexible transmission grid, we need to support the evolution of electricity markets and continue to innovate to increase the amount of renewable energy that we can utilise to deliver a secure electricity supply. This will involve collaboration across the energy industry, government and regulators and we all need to be creative, swift and united in our mission.

We are already seeing hopeful results:

Following a successful trial, the System Non-Synchronous Penetration (SNSP) limit – the amount of electricity coming from variable renewable sources of power that the electricity system can accept at any point in time – has now been raised from 70% to 75%. 

This percentage makes Northern Ireland a world leader in the integration of renewable electricity onto the transmission grid. This milestone has been more than ten years in the making, and I am so grateful to so many partners who have been involved.

But we are not stopping here… We are now working to gradually increase the limit over the coming years to 95% and beyond!

The efforts of SONI to adapt to managing increasing amounts of renewable energy on the system can be found in the interdependent way in which the transmission grid and transmission system have developed. The very nature of SNSP sources of energy is that they are not consistent, unlike fossil fuels. This is why diversification is so important. Both solar and wind energy. Having many renewable energy sources helps create a more stable and reliable energy input into the grid, preventing the transmission system from being overdependent on any one source alone. An example of our expertise in this area, was the last month, when we successfully managed a record march for large scale solar; the amount of power from large scale solar was 20.7 GWh - up 8.1 GWh compared to March last year. During month of March, 38% of Northern Ireland’s electricity came from renewable energy sources.

While the evidential growth of renewable energy sources in Northern Ireland is commendable, it is far from where we ultimately need to be. The IPCC report states: “despite progress, adaptation gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks.” In time we hope to be able to increase the amount of renewable energy that the electricity system can manage, from 75% to 95%; at this point we envisage an almost entirely decarbonised system.

To prepare for this growth in clean energy, we need a stronger and more flexible energy grid, and SONI along with our colleagues at NIE Networks are bringing forward an investment in that clean energy future through the Mid-Antrim Upgrade. The aim of this project is to strengthen the transmission grid so that it will bring the renewable energy supply in the North and West, to the East where the largest demand for energy is required and to remove the bottleneck on the grid in that area; currently we are unable to transport all the renewable energy generated in the North and West, to urban centres such as Ballymena, Antrim and Greater Belfast; and this blockage is costing consumers £9m per year.  At a time when we are seeing the impacts of reliance of imported fossil fuels, this project will deliver cleaner, locally produced energy while also removing an expensive bottleneck on the grid.

SONI remains committed to maintaining and developing its reputation as a world leader in operating a grid powered by clean energy.  By improving current approaches and investing in future systems, we can be confident that we are responding to the urgent crisis outlined in the IPCC report.