Powering towards net zero: SONI proposes transformation of NI’s electricity grid by 2030

08 March 2021

SONI, the Electricity Transmission System Operator for Northern Ireland, operates and plans the transmission grid. This includes interconnection with neighbouring grids and the operation of the wholesale electricity market.

Today, SONI has launched ‘Shaping Our Electricity Future’, a new report that details four innovative potential approaches to fundamentally change the grid to achieve Northern Ireland’s clean energy ambitions, while maintaining an affordable and secure supply for consumers.

The grid operator is now hosting a fourteen week public consultation on the report as it seeks feedback on ways to deliver a clean electricity grid for Northern Ireland by 2030.

The four approaches outlined by SONI could result in up to twenty significant grid development projects to transfer renewable electricity from the north and west to the east, including to the Greater Belfast area where there is most demand.

In the report, SONI also details the possible use of new technologies to limit the number of projects needed and is suggesting that offshore wind and policies to influence the location of generators and future large energy users (such as big industry and data centres) could impact the scale of change to the grid.

"SONI has a central role to play in the transition to cleaner electricity"

SONI Managing Director Alan Campbell is asking every one interested in Northern Ireland’s energy future to consider the approaches, provide feedback through the public consultation and be part of this decade of change: 

“SONI has a central role to play in the transition to cleaner electricity. The Economy Minister has stated an ambition for Northern Ireland of at least 70% electricity from renewable sources by 2030. While future energy policy is being developed, the change needed to the electricity system must begin today.

“It is important to reflect on what has been achieved to date. Latest figures from the Department of the Economy show almost 50% of the electricity used last year came from renewable sources; we have been proud to play our part in this success, but we have much to do.

“The amount of renewable generation connected to the transmission grid will need to double in a decade, and so the grid itself requires unprecedented change: It must be made stronger and more flexible in order to carry increasing amounts of clean energy like wind and solar. The change will affect every one of us and will sometimes be difficult. It is because of this that we are hosting a public consultation to find an agreed approach. Every one of us should have a say.

“Shaping Our Electricity Future will be the roadmap to decarbonising the power system, which will support Northern Ireland’s Net Zero carbon emission commitments over the next 10 years and out to 2050.  It will ultimately feed into the Economy Minister’s future energy policy development and will support the delivery of NI’s future clean energy targets.”

The four approaches set out by SONI in the report are as follows:

  1. Generation-Led: Government policy would influence where renewable energy is generated – favouring locations where the grid is already strong
  2. Developer-Led: In this approach, we continue to connect new sources of renewable electricity as requested in any location
  3. Technology-Led: This approach uses technical solutions to make the grid more resilient so it can better handle the variable nature of renewable energy
  4. Demand-Led: Government policy determines where future large energy users such as big industry and data centres would locate in Northern Ireland

Each of the four approaches requires investments in grid development projects throughout Northern Ireland, with costs ranging from £113 million to £535 million. Further details on each of the approaches are available at consult.soni.ltd.uk

Over the next fourteen weeks, SONI will hold a series of workshops, meetings and forums to inform people and to gather feedback that will directly influence the final roadmap for the transformation of the grid, which is due to be published before the end of the year.

People can find out more about the public consultation and how to have their say in Shaping Northern Ireland’s Electricity Future by visiting consult.soni.ltd.uk. You can also participate by emailing info@soni.ltd.uk or via post to Shaping Our Electricity Future, SONI, 12 Manse Road, Belfast, BT6 9RT.