29 September 2021
SONI, the electricity transmission system operator for Northern Ireland is forecasting a largely stable demand for electricity over the next decade, but says it will have to continue to manage a challenging operational environment in the coming winters.
In a new report released today, SONI has said that the economic recovery from the pandemic and the first large data centres in Northern Ireland could result in an increase in electricity use of around 5% between now and 2025.
The analysis is contained in the All Island Generation Capacity Statement 2021-30 (GCS), which examines the likely balance between electricity demand and supply. It also predicts a surplus of electricity supply out to 2030, positioning Northern Ireland as an exporter of clean energy.
"Northern Ireland is well positioned due to its natural resources and engineering expertise to become a green electricity powerhouse”, according to SONI Managing Director, Alan Campbell: “Stormont’s forthcoming energy strategy will be a critical next step in cementing Northern Ireland’s ambitious decarbonisation of power, particularly over this decade of change. SONI is proud to be a key contributor to this vital transformation”.
The GCS analysis is carried out on an annual basis by SONI in collaboration with EirGrid, the electricity system operator in Ireland. While the forecast changes year-on-year, EirGrid is warning of a particularly stressed system in Ireland in the near-term. Meanwhile, National Grid in GB is also expecting challenging supply and demand over winter periods and is currently managing well publicised issues following an interconnector outage. SONI believes that Northern Ireland could also continue to experience situations where the margin between demand and supply is tight.
“We can experience operational challenges on a cold, still winter’s day, particularly if units at conventional power plants are off-line, whether for maintenance or a due to a fault, as happened on a number of occasions last winter.” explains Alan Campbell.
A number of system alerts occurred in Northern Ireland between November 2020 and January 2021. More recently, two alerts occurred in early September 2021. These alerts happen when the margin or cushion between supply and demand is very limited. The alerts occurred due to technical issues with some power generators, in combination with spells of low-wind across the UK and Ireland. While SONI managed the challenging margins, the GCS forecasts that the number of system alerts could increase in the short-term due to lower plant availability.
Alan Campbell, SONI MD: “What is important is that we have identified the risk and are working with the energy industry, the Department for the Economy and the Utility Regulator to manage it. It is SONI’s role to ensure all reasonable demands for electricity are met, but we do not generate electricity. It is essential that we inform those who do, of our data, and support preparations for the winters to come.
“Longer-term, the North South Interconnector, along with additional interconnection to GB will mean that we can fully support our neighbours if they have difficulties and vice-versa. Diversifying Northern Ireland’s energy portfolio to include new technologies such as cleaner gas-fired generation, battery storage and off shore wind will provide us with additional power sources, thereby decreasing the likelihood of tight margins occurring. All of this will ensure that the electricity system will continue to deliver for consumers, while keeping Northern Ireland’s switch to clean energy on track.”