Time for an all-island switch

As the dust settles after the Brexit vote, many remain uncertain of the impact it may have on their lives and businesses. Many are struggling with uncertainty, market volatility and political changes, writes SONI General Manager Robin McCormick.

As the dust settles after the Brexit vote, many remain uncertain of the impact it may have on their lives and businesses. Many are struggling with uncertainty, market volatility and political changes, writes SONI General Manager Robin McCormick.

As the business that operates Northern Ireland’s electricity grid we value certainty but we are always planning to deal with the unexpected. Everyone benefits from being confident that when we flick the switch, the lights will come on.
While Brexit has created uncertainty in many areas let’s reflect on how we can continue to be confident that we can “keep the lights on”.

Northern Ireland is facing an energy supply crisis, as old conventional fossil fuel generators retire. Our modelling of electricity demand and available generation capacity tells us that over the next five years we will be at a point where we are in an energy generation deficit. As the system operator, I cannot be confident that we would be able to keep the lights on.

It has been possible to temporarily defer the problem with a short term solution with a local power station. However, this safety net is costing Northern Ireland consumers an additional £8 million per year and is not a sustainable solution.

These are the facts but the problem can be addressed by delivering the North South Interconnector. Customers in Northern Ireland will benefit from having access to the most economic generation capacity available on the island and we can be confident that we can keep the lights on.

A proposal for the project is in the planning system. The scheme will provide a high-capacity connection between the electricity grids north and south, ensuring that we have the secure supply we all need. It can be in place by 2020, avoiding more expense to Northern Ireland customers.

The interconnector has been in the planning process since 2009 and Brexit does not change the need for this vital project. It is essential and is supported by Northern Ireland’s Executive and business leaders.

The North South Interconnector is also important to an efficient all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM) which has been run by SONI in Belfast and our colleagues at EirGrid in Dublin since 2007.

Both SONI and EirGrid are now working towards the introduction of a new market in 2017 that is designed to bring further benefits to electricity users across the island. It is anticipated the Integrated Single Electricity Market (I-SEM) project will bring many benefits including:

  • Increased access to cheaper sources of electricity;
  • Access to a larger market into which we can sell our electricity;
  • A more open and efficient pan-European electricity market;
  • A trading platform for the development of intra-day, forward futures and derivative markets that enable investors and operators to manage risk.

These ambitious plans improve the wholesale electricity market arrangements and provide greater opportunities for trading, particularly renewable energy, into the wider UK and European energy market. This will bring further benefits to customers. Brexit should not deflect from delivery of these two critical projects.

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