SONI Identifies Paths To Net Zero by 2050 in New Research

16th May 2024

Northern Ireland electricity demand predicted to double in the next 25 years

SONI, the Transmission System Operator for Northern Ireland, has published its latest Tomorrow's Energy Scenarios (TES) report, a key publication that maps out the future of the electricity grid in Northern Ireland in alignment with government set climate goals.

Published in partnership with EirGrid, Tomorrow's Energy Scenarios explores a number of likely scenarios to understand how much electricity we might need and how it can be provided, beyond 2030, up to 2050.

The report reflects the complexity of the challenge ahead and how society’s needs for energy security and affordability can be met, while also outlining what positive action can be taken to decarbonise the island’s power supply.

The scenarios highlight the critical role of innovative technologies and enhanced grid capabilities in supporting Northern Ireland's path to net zero. SONI is working to meet the challenges that lie ahead, as the analysis shows that the annual total electricity demand is forecast to more than double by 2050, to between 21TWh – 26TWh.

The extensive report outlines four specific approaches to decarbonizing the power system, emphasizing the importance of flexibility, interconnections, and the integration of renewable energy sources. TES notes that a balanced portfolio of generation technologies will be required, with renewables supported by energy storage, firm dispatchable capacity and interconnection.

The comprehensive scenarios outlined in TES are designed to inform and support strategic decisions by policymakers, industry leaders, and the community as we work together towards a net-zero future.

The four scenarios are:

  • Self-Sustaining: Self-Sustaining considers a future where there is very high penetration of renewables across all technologies – onshore and offshore wind, large scale solar, rooftop solar, and grid-scale energy storage – and this clean energy attracts new industry and development to Northern Ireland. Targeting a net zero power system from 2040 and a fast pace of decarbonisation, there is also a very high penetration of electric vehicles, residential and commercial heat pumps.
  • Offshore Opportunity: Offshore Opportunity is similar to Self-Sustaining, where it includes for very high levels of offshore wind capacity and interconnection to Great Britain and continental Europe. The large amount of clean electricity generated by offshore wind enables economic development, increasing energy exports and a portion of renewable generation is also used to create green hydrogen for power generation. Offshore Opportunity also features a fast pace towards a net zero power system from 2040.
  • Gas Evolution: Gas Evolution sees the energy transition being supplemented by a potential hydrogen economy. It features significant amounts of renewable power being converted at scale into green hydrogen. Due to more widespread use of hydrogen, the transmission system electricity demand is lower than in the previous scenarios. However, a portion of electricity demand will develop outside of the transmission system to produce green hydrogen. The pace of decarbonisation in Gas Evolution is steady, targeting a net zero power system from 2045.
  • Constrained Growth: Constrained Growth reflects a future where the energy transition proceeds more slowly, and it takes longer to achieve climate targets for the power system and other sectors of demand. In Constrained Growth, offshore wind develops slowly, as does interconnection with other countries. Electric vehicle roll-out is slower, and electrification of heat and other demand progresses more slowly. In Constrained Growth, the net zero power system target is 2050.

SONI's central role in the energy system is instrumental in supporting the strategic planning necessary to achieve the government's ambitious climate targets.

SONI Chief Executive, Alan Campbell commented, "SONI is at the forefront of transforming Northern Ireland’s energy system to ensure it is both sustainable and capable of meeting future demands. It’s essential that we plan and make decisions now that will prepare for this transformation. Collaboration, technological advancement, and proactive scenario planning are crucial for Northern Ireland to realise the potential of an energy secure future."

Campbell added: “As a trusted adviser to government, our ambition, through research like Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios, is to provide the analysis that can support decision-makers on the formation and implementation of energy policy that can deliver a cleaner, more secure energy future for homes, farms and businesses across Northern Ireland.”

The TES Reports

You can read the TES Reports below.

Summary Report