SONI unveil roadmap to radically transform the NI electricity grid to meet renewable ambitions

Belfast electricity transmission system operator, SONI has unveiled a plan to transform the high voltage network to support Northern Ireland’s fight against climate change.

By Claire Cartmill
Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 5:00 pm

The blueprint for Northern Ireland’s future grid, known as the Shaping Our Electricity Future Roadmap, is the result of a comprehensive 14-week consultation across all sectors of society and two years of research by the experts at SONI, including tens of millions of technical simulations.

The plan will be the foundation for delivering Stormont’s 2030 renewable electricity target which looks set to be no less than 70%. Achieving this will mean doubling the amount of renewable energy carried on the grid today; and for this to happen the grid needs to be made stronger and more flexible.

The Shaping Our Electricity Future Roadmap provides an outline of the key developments needed on the transmission grid but also includes the changes required in electricity system operations and in the electricity markets in order to deliver Northern Ireland’s 2030 clean energy ambition – an important step on the journey to net zero carbon emissions.

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Alan Campbell, SONI managing director

SONI consulted on four different approaches to developing the grid and the final roadmap contains a blended approach that looks at grid development from economic, technical, social acceptance and deliverability perspectives; seeking to minimise the impact on communities while still delivering Stormont’s 2030 renewable ambition.

The plan proposes three significant new grid infrastructure projects to move clean energy produced in the north and west, to the urban centres in the east, where it will be used. Nine upgrades to existing electricity transmission lines will also be required, in line with SONI’s commitment to fully utilise the existing transmission grid to minimise cost and disruption.

For 14 weeks from March 8, SONI held a series of workshops, meetings and fora across Northern Ireland to inform people and gather feedback that directly influenced the final roadmap.

The consultation was supported by a range of traditional and innovative engagement and participation activities. These included a Civil Society Forum, Industry Forum and direct engagement with stakeholders. SONI also engaged at grassroots level with rural communities, local businesses and young people.

SONI received just under 100 submissions from members of the public and industry during the consultation period.

Alan Campbell, SONI managing director, said: “SONI’s Shaping Our Electricity Future roadmap is key to securing Stormont’s renewable energy ambitions. It follows what was by far the most extensive consultation ever carried out by SONI and I believe that reflects the importance of the need to tackle climate change.

“The publication of the roadmap is particularly timely given current events at COP26 and the universal focus on the threat posed by global warming. The transmission grid requires unprecedented change by the end of the decade and that change will impact everyone. It will be challenging, but it will bring huge benefits to our environment, economy and society.

“Our final roadmap is based on the feedback we received during the Shaping Our Electricity Future consultation and what SONI experts feel is technically feasible when it comes to facilitating at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030. None of the significant grid developments proposed in the roadmap will move forward without early and meaningful engagement with stakeholders and communities.

“We look forward to implementing this roadmap with the support of industry, the electricity regulator and government so that Northern Ireland plays its part in tackling the climate emergency.”

The Shaping Our Electricity Future Roadmap is a joint document published by SONI the electricity system operator in Northern Ireland and EirGrid the electricity transmission system operator in Ireland. It also covers the Single Electricity Market and considers how the all-island electricity transmission system must change to meet ambitious 2030 decarbonisation ambitions in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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