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EirGrid plans for the future with three energy scenarios

With an ever-increasing demand for electricity, Tomorrow’s Energy Scenario outlines the future pathways for Ireland’s clean energy transition

Watch some reactions to the EirGrid Group Strategy 2020-2025 as unveiled at the EirGrid Group Annual Conference in the Convention Centre in Dublin

 

“The coming years will see the most radical transformation of the power system in Ireland since the advent of electricity.” 

Those were the words of EirGrid Group CEO Mark Foley at the EirGrid Annual Conference in September 2019 when the Group launched its new five-year strategy shaped by climate change and the impending transformation of the electricity sector. The context of climate change is well understood, according to the electricity grid operator, it’s just a question of how fast society can respond to limit the damage. Electricity from renewable sources will play a vital role in the response to the climate crisis. Demand for power will grow as heating and transport switch to electricity. This change cannot happen unless the power system is transformed. Leading this energy transition is where EirGrid comes in. 

Mark Foley presenting at 2019 EirGrid Group Annual Conference
Mark Foley presenting at 2019 EirGrid Group Annual Conference

Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios 

A crucial part of EirGrid’s role in managing the flow of electricity around Ireland involves identifying what the Irish energy future might look like. Our high voltage network brings power from where it is generated and supplies wholesale energy to heavy users. Our grid also supplies the electricity distribution network by which we are responsible for keeping the lights on in homes and businesses across the country. 

To do this successfully, EirGrid must forecast when and where electricity is needed across the country: hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and year-to-year. 

Key to this process is scenario planning; considering a range of possible ways that electricity supply and consumption may change in the future. Last month, EirGrid published the 2019 version of their Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios document, which does just that.

Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios aims to outline a range of credible pathways for Ireland’s clean energy transition, with specific focus on what this means for the electricity system over the next twenty years and beyond. 

Climate Change

All of this is framed against a backdrop of ambitious targets at national and European level for reducing the carbon intensity of the energy sector and a large increase in electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030.

The transition to low-carbon and renewable energy will have widespread consequences for both consumers and businesses, with major changes expected in how electricity is generated, and in how it is bought and sold. There will also be significant changes in how electricity is used, such as for transport and heat. At a fundamental level, this means ensuring the electricity system can cope with increased renewable generation. 

All of this presents EirGrid with a challenge, at a time when electricity demand is increasing due to a rising population and a growing economy.

Consultation

To ensure the grid is fit for purpose, EirGrid’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios is based on significant consultation with government partners, the energy industry, the businesses community and members of the public. The core functions of EirGrid as the operator of the electricity grid depend on these relationships.

Thankfully, it is clear that EirGrid is not alone on this journey and this strategic shift in outlook. The benefits of a sustainable energy framework have long been realised by not only the business community, but by the Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; the Department for Business, Enterprise and Innovation; along with other industry leaders and the IDA. 

It is arguably for this reason that EirGrid already has a strong track record in accommodating renewable energy on the electricity grid. Success thus far has been built on collaborative partnerships. 

There will be significant changes in how electricity is used
There will be significant changes in how electricity is used in the near future

What does the future look like?

EirGrid has identified three possible scenarios to test the performance of the electricity system, ranging from a slow pace of decarbonisation, due to poor economic growth, right up to a scenario where a strong, growing economy leads to high levels of consumer-spending ability, and a public desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In two of the three scenarios identified, Ireland meets its 70 per cent target for renewable energy by 2030, while a third involves the country failing to meet its objectives. 

Firstly, the Centralised Energy scenario is a plan-led world in which Ireland achieves a low carbon future. This scenario involves a step change in the uptake of electrified transport and heating. 

Secondly, the Delayed Transition scenario involves a world in which decarbonisation progress is made, but the pace is not sufficient to meet climate objectives. Policy measures fail to break down barriers to a systematic clean energy transition and consumer behavioural change is modest, with a gap remaining between climate change awareness and action. 

Finally, the Coordinated Action scenario is a world where sustainability is core to future decisions. Government and citizens recognise climate change as a risk and take the appropriate action. This action is aided by supportive policy measures targeted at and embraced by energy consumers and communities, leading to a more decentralised electricity system.

Commenting on the scenario planning, Liam Ryan, EirGrid’s Director of Operations, Planning and Innovation stated: “Key to our role in ensuring the electricity system is fit for purpose is considering a range of possible ways that electricity supply and consumption may change in the future. In two of our three scenarios, Ireland meets its 70 per cent target for renewable energy. Given the extent of the climate challenge as outlined by the United Nations Climate Reports, we at EirGrid firmly believe that now is the time to respond to this challenge. We, along with our partners, have the expertise, the data, the knowledge of the market and the creativity needed to navigate Ireland through the challenges of this transition and to help it meet its targets.”

So, what next?

EirGrid will now use these three scenarios to identify which elements of the electricity system need to be developed to accommodate power flows into the future and respond to this challenge. This will be presented in a further report, the 2019 System Needs Assessment, which will be published in December 2019. 

EirGrid is committed at company and at individual level to making a difference. Acting as a beacon for change, the EirGrid Group can create a path towards an increasingly carbon-free electricity system. This will enable the lifestyle and behavioural changes needed in every household and business in the country.

The first step is to articulate what the energy transition means, as collective buy-in will only be secured through real understanding. EirGrid has an obligation to help create this understanding and Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios is part of that process. 


Read more about the EirGrid Group Strategy here

Read more about the EirGrid Group strategy in Northern Ireland here