When Northern Ireland’s new energy strategy hit email inboxes on Thursday, the countdown to 2030 began.
It leaves us with eight years to make the leap from 42% of electricity consumed from renewable sources to 70%, while doubling the amount of renewable energy connected on the grid today.
Eight years to continue innovating and collaborating so that we can manage even larger volumes of intermittent energy, without compromising security of supply. Can we do it? We must, for the planet and for future generations.
At SONI, the electricity system operator for Northern Ireland, we are proud of the role we have played in NI’s clean energy journey to date.
We are world leaders at integrating renewable energy on the grid. Over the past 20 years, SONI along with our colleagues at NIE Networks, have connected more than 1300MW of onshore wind and solar to the grid. That’s enough to power almost 1 million homes.
The race to net zero is already underway and NI is well positioned to become a clean energy champion.
The publication of the new energy strategy sets the direction which the energy industry, businesses, consumers, communities and landowners must all now travel; and at SONI we have been gearing up for this for the past two years.
During this time, we have carefully considered the strong signposting from economy ministers that a target of no less than 70% electricity from renewables by 2030 is challenging but achievable.
While supporting our colleagues in the Department for the Economy, we were also preparing our own plan for readying the transmission grid, markets and our operations to facilitate the new energy strategy.
We call this project Shaping Our Electricity Future and we informed our approach with the most extensive public consultation we have ever undertaken.
We now have a clear roadmap to 2030 and to achieving NI’s clean energy target. Through Shaping Our Electricity Future we have identified a number of grid investments needed to move bulk loads of clean energy from the north and west, where it is mostly produced, to the east, where most electricity is used.
We need to invest in our operations to allow us to manage larger volumes of intermittent clean energy, so that when people flick a switch at home, they still have the secure and quality electricity supply they’ve come to expect.
We also know that the way people use, buy and sell electricity will change and so the markets need to evolve.
Through our consultation exercise, we know that people want us to provide a balanced solution and that means an affordable, secure and increasingly clean electricity supply.
During recent months increases in global gas prices have impacted all consumers in Northern Ireland and we welcome the focus on fuel diversity in the energy strategy which will reduce our current reliance on fossil fuels.
Northern Ireland has rich onshore wind and solar resources to provide electricity consumers with a secure, cost effective and clean supply to 2030 and beyond.
Longer-term, off shore wind in particular, is essential to the path to net zero. Additional interconnection to Ireland and GB will mean that Northern Ireland can export this clean energy when demand is lower, and when combined with new technologies such as battery storage will increase our electricity security.
The clock is ticking, but the energy strategy has set the guiderails for Northern Ireland industry and our world class engineers.
Alan Campbell is managing director of SONI