National grid operator outlines 20-year vision for electricity

It’s envisaged that the grid will be able to take up to 95% renewables by 2030

The direction of travel will be ‘shaped by political, economic, technological and environmental changes’, according to EirGrid chief executive Mark Foley. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The direction of travel will be ‘shaped by political, economic, technological and environmental changes’, according to EirGrid chief executive Mark Foley. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Ireland’s transmission system operator EirGrid has released its latest analysis of how Ireland’s electricity sector might evolve over the next 20 years.

Two scenarios meet the challenge of ensuring 70 per cent of power on the grid comes from renewables by 2030; the third is likely to mean Ireland fails to meet climate and energy objectives, as it assumes a slow pace among consumers in embracing decarbonisation options.

The scenarios outline a range of possible pathways for Ireland’s energy transition, with specific focus on the electricity system.

The direction of travel will be “shaped by political, economic, technological and environmental changes”, according to EirGrid chief executive Mark Foley.

While there is no clear, single pathway to achieving climate and energy policy targets, “electricity demand will likely increase significantly due to large energy users connecting [to the grid] and the electrification of heating and transport”, he said.

“Smart demand side devices and their role in managing new demand growth will increase over time,” Mr Foley predicted.

Scenario planning is a way of managing risk, and in EirGrid’s case helps to ensure the national grid remains stable. It will now chart what electricity system is required for each set of circumstances.

The three scenarios are:

Centralised energy: Ireland achieves a low-carbon future in a plan-driven approach. There is a step change in the uptake of electrified transport and heating, while big generators are supplying the grid and there is significant growth in renewables, notably offshore wind.

Delayed transition: Progress is made on decarbonisation but pace is not sufficient to meet climate objectives. Consumer behavioural change is modest; there is a gap between climate change awareness and action, reflected in slow uptake of EVs and retrofitting homes.

Community action: Sustainability and “economic circularity” are core to future decisions, so consumers recognise climate change is a risk and take appropriate action, though there is still high demand for power. Transformation of the energy sector is most evident on the demand side, notably in the adoption of smart technology and microgeneration, where small generators are feeding into the grid, while battery storage options are realised.

Consumption patterns

The report published on Tuesday contains additional information on future electricity production and consumption patterns, installed capacities for storage technologies and operational rules for generators feeding into the grid – and for EirGrid itself.

It forecasts a significant increase in demand for weather-dependent renewable energy sources (wind and solar) across all three scenarios. As forecasted closures occur due to getting out of peat and coal use in power generation, “the North-South Interconnector will be an important enabler of capacity sharing on the island of Ireland,” it says.

The report confirms it is envisaged that the grid will be able to take up to 95 per cent renewables at any one time by 2030.

A similar scenarios exercise was conducted in the North, by System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), which is part of the EirGrid Group.

EirGrid will use the final scenarios to conduct a technical assessment of likely power system performance and factor in growth demand, including that from data centres. It will focus on how the transmission system is operated and the grid itself, notably capacity issues.

This will be achieved by performing a number of different studies for each scenario out to 2040. “These studies will help us identify any future needs on the transmission system brought about by changes in electricity generation, electricity demand, electricity storage or interconnection,” it notes.

The results will be presented in a system needs assessment report to be published in coming months.