SONI, the electricity transmission system operator, has unveiled a plan to transform the high voltage network to support Northern Ireland’s fight against climate change.
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 that included engagement with the farming community 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 per cent.
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.
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.
Any new grid projects taken forward by SONI will involve extensive community consultation and engagement with farmers and landowners in the project area.
SONI’s full-time Agricultural Liaison Officer Fergal Keenan and other members of the team will continue to be available for questions and discussions with landowners as each new project comes forward.
For 14 weeks from March 8, SONI held a series of workshops, meetings 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 involved a Civil Society Forum, Industry Forum and direct engagement with organisations, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union. 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.
“I would like to thank all those from the farming community who took the time to respond to the consultation and to the UFU for their engagement and input.
“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.
“Landowners have a particularly important role to play in the delivery of modern infrastructure and we want to grow the strong working relationships we have built in recent years through our Agricultural Liaison Officer and wider team.
“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 per cent 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 while working closely with farmers and landowners to ensure Northern Ireland plays its part in tackling the climate emergency.”
n The Shaping Our Electricity Future Roadmap is a joint document published by SONI and EirGrid, the electricity transmission system operator in the Republic.
n 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 the Republic.