SONI launches five-year strategy to transform Northern Ireland’s power system

SONI managing director Jo Aston
SONI managing director Jo Aston

SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland) has launched a new five-year strategy aimed at transforming Northern Ireland’s power system for the next generation.

The strategy will ensure that Northern Ireland’s grid can handle 95% renewable energy at any one time.

This pioneering ambition will see a significant increase from the current figure of 65%.

Key to the new strategy is upgrading the power system so that it can handle these world-leading levels of renewable energy, supplied through a combination of wind and solar energy.

Launching the strategy, SONI managing director Jo Aston said: “SONI’s strategy is a direct response to the climate crisis and the UK government’s commitment to zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

"The strategy is focused on ensuring that we have a green energy system ready to handle significantly increasing amounts of renewable energy, the target for which will be set by the Department of the Economy.

"Leading, shaping and informing the energy transition is our priority. To do this we must innovate for the next generation while ensuring today’s electricity users have a reliable, secure and cost-effective supply.

"Our strategy is shaped by the rapid evolution of the electricity sector and its aims are reflected in our new statement of purpose; transforming the electricity system for the next generation.”

To achieve this transformation, it is expected that the amount of renewable energy connected to the grid will need to double by 2030.

Currently, approximately 1600 MW of renewable energy is connected to the Northern Ireland power system.

Ms Aston added: “SONI is responsible for the flow of electricity across Northern Ireland. But homes and businesses cannot ‘go green’ without the transformation of the electricity system.

"The next 10 years will see the most radical transformation of the system since rural electrification. It will allow people who want to make a change to have access to the clean energy they need.

"SONI will develop the infrastructure and operational requirements to facilitate this shift. We will be a beacon for decarbonisation.”

Noel Lavery, Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Economy, welcomed the launch of the new SONI strategy as fundamental in the delivery of a value for money electricity service for the Northern Ireland consumer.

He said: “SONI’s investment in innovative engineering solutions has provided the backbone to bring as much wind energy onto the system in Northern Ireland as possible and helped us reach the recently-reported figure of 44% of Northern Ireland’s electricity being consumed from renewable sources in the past 12 months.

"I welcome SONI’s updated strategy for Northern Ireland, ensuring that it continues to strive for best value for money for the Northern Ireland consumer, whilst helping to tackle climate change.

"I also look forward to the ongoing engagement with SONI as a key stakeholder in developing the new Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland.”

Key supporting pillars of the strategy are SONI’s engagement and partnership programmes.

Recognising the importance of effective collaboration, the strategy outlines the organisation’s goal to continue to work with government, generators, NIE Networks and the Utility Regulator to deal with the rapid changes to the energy industry, including the move to electric vehicles and electric heating in homes.

The strategy also commits SONI to deeper and broader engagement with local communities on the electricity grid infrastructure needed to enable the power system transformation.