John Simpson: renewables are key to surge
The Northern Ireland Electricity System Operator prepares and publishes on an ongoing basis an annual forecast of emerging electricity demand and supply for the period from now to 2030.
Along with a parallel study for the Republic of Ireland, the two grid operators, SONI and EirGrid, published a detailed assessment showing emerging issues.
Suffice it to say that the sooner the renewable supply capacity increases to 70%, the better.
The most recent study suggests that Northern Ireland, given current trends and policies, will have sufficient generation capacity to meet the likely demand during this decade.
For the Republic, a certain number of characteristics suggest an emerging capacity deficit leading to foresee a need for an increase in capacity.
There are concerns that it will be necessary to introduce periodic power reductions early enough in the forecast period, 2021-2030.
The combined expectation report for both areas and in total for the whole island is a competent professional presentation and assessment.
That’s not to say that overall results shouldn’t be tested. The report draws conclusions, based on available assessments, which become essential to business development plans.
In the north and south, these will directly and indirectly influence investors’ decisions on production, use and choice of technology, the timing of commissioning and retirement of the power plant, and decisions on relations with wider international energy markets.
The main developments expected particularly affecting Northern Ireland are:
2023: Closure of the two large aging coal / oil units at Kilroot
2025: Commissioning of new gas units at Kilroot with possible operating hours restrictions (to meet new emissions standards)
2026: Commissioning of a new high-capacity north-south interconnection link in Ireland
The report underlines the importance of delivering these assets on time now expected.
In addition, for Northern Ireland it is recognized that it is important to maintain capacity through interconnections, both from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and from Northern Ireland to the Republic from Ireland.
Perhaps the most critical factor in preparing these forecasts is a judgment on the overall rate of growth in the likely demand for electricity which then interacts with the supply response.
For the Irish market (i.e. the Republic of Ireland) forecast demand is for a significant increase driven by a series of variables but containing continued significant growth in the Irish economy, further supported by a significant increase expected in the number of data centers. (should bring great demands for electricity).
In contrast, the report says demand for electricity in Northern Ireland is expected to grow only modestly.
This contrast has serious implications for the general conclusions. Electricity demand in Ireland is expected to increase by 33% between 2021 and 2030.
In Northern Ireland, the increase is just under 5%. This difference is supported by an assessment that at present there is significant international demand from large companies to invest in data centers in Ireland, which contrasts with Ireland’s less dramatic position. North.
In Northern Ireland, after the NI protocol, there is the prospect of a comparable access emerging to international trade (with competitive electricity prices) so that some spillovers in this part of the international market could occur “at the same time”. north of the border ”.
This judgment, which in part reflects varying degrees of optimism about the recovery of the economies, if it turns out to be too pessimistic, could reverse the result of the assessment of the whole island so that a conclusion that the electricity supply capacity in Northern Ireland is adequate may merit a more cautious conclusion.
SONI and EirGrid forecasts are based on current interpretation of energy policies. The forecasts are not motivated by possible changes to make energy policy a partial driver of climate change policies.
The requirement for the electricity supply to switch to a regime with unacceptable levels of lower gas emissions is reflected in some of the assumptions made when it reflects decisions already made.
This tension on possible political issues can be illustrated by reference to the expected evolution of electricity supplies from renewable sources.
In both Ireland and Northern Ireland, the starting point from 2021 is the successful development of renewable supplies in recent years.
It is recognized, from official sources, that in the north and in the south, there are ambitions to see renewable sources provide perhaps up to 70% of electricity consumption.
There is a difference in how this 70% ambition affects the forecast adequacy of supplies.
For the forecast for Ireland, the report cites a currently ambitious approach to further expansion of renewable energy supplies; on-shore wind, solar and off-shore wind power.
For Northern Ireland, while there is satisfaction with the results of renewable energy investments in recent years, there is a break in trends in the absence of any new incentive-based program to increase further. the capacity.
This poses an uncertainty that awaits the policy restatement due later in 2021.
Will the Ministry of the Economy introduce policies to encourage more investment in renewable energies?
Northern Ireland now needs a clear policy matrix to incentivize continued investment in renewable capacity, linked to investment in energy storage and secure technology to allow greater reliance on -visiting additional supplies for interconnections.
Capacity ratings by SONI and EirGrid have offered a powerful boost to anyone looking to keep the lights on in a greener economy.