As Managing Director of SONI, the electricity transmission system operator for Northern Ireland, I often get asked to speak at key energy events. I was pleased to be invited to speak at the Westminster Policy Forum event yesterday (01 March 2022), to highlight the world leading work of SONI in helping Northern Ireland reach its clean energy goals.
The theme of the discussion – Next Steps for Energy Policy in Northern Ireland - is timely given the publication of the Northern Ireland Executive’s new energy strategy. As the electricity transmission system operator, SONI has a pivotal role in implementing this new policy.
In just under 8 years the amount of renewable energy connected to the grid today will need to double and we will need to be able to run the transmission system on ever increasing levels of clean energy while ensuring security of supply. This is no small task, but Northern Ireland has the natural resources, the engineering, and data prowess to get there.
SONI’s Shaping Our Electricity Future roadmap is our response to the ambitious new target set by the Northern Ireland Executive that by 2030 no less than 70% of our electricity will come from renewables. Ultimately it is about preparing the Northern Ireland power system for the pathway to net zero.
This roadmap is the outworking of 2 years of analysis and tens of millions of technical simulations as well as inputs from SONI’s most extensive consultation to date. It is our plan for the evolution of our operations – how our control centre builds on its world leading levels of integration of renewable energy – how we securely deliver electricity from 75% to 95% renewables in real time and beyond – and how we meet what we expect to be a 60% increase in demand by 2050 as the heat and transport sectors electrify.
It is our plan to evolve the markets and as the way energy is being used, the way it is being bought and sold is changing, so too we need to be ready to facilitate the changes.
As the system operator we welcome the focus on fuel diversity in the Northern Ireland Executive’s energy strategy; this is one of the key ingredients for success. We need to see offshore, battery storage, interconnection and flexible demand such as Demand Side Units playing their part in the drive towards net zero energy.
We welcome the resulting 2022 action plan and Stormont’s commitment to having a plan in place to deliver 1GW offshore wind from 2030.
These new technologies will complement the onshore wind and solar already on the system – and which have been pivotal to Northern Ireland reaching our 2020 energy target of 40% electricity from renewables - this was achieved a year in advance of the timeline and is testament to collaboration and innovation between government, the regulator, communities, landowners and the energy sector.
This shared responsibility and collaboration will be the key to unlocking the pathway to 2030 and beyond.
At SONI we are proud to be playing our part in delivering a cleaner energy future for Northern Ireland.
Read more about the Shaping Our Electricity Future Roadmap at soni.ltd.uk