The energy system is experiencing unparalleled change. Even the language that characterised the old process of supply and demand is no longer appropriate. Now, the producer consumes, the consumer manages, the manager connects and the connector controls. Software as well as hardware is becoming increasingly important in enabling high renewables systems such as Ireland. The system operators operating on both sides of the Irish border have succeeded in enabling world-leading penetration of renewables, something that has been facilitated by grid build-out but also network optimisation, automated communications, advanced prediction and transmission and distribution planning.
Decarbonisation will deliver energy with lower carbon emissions, and the renewable electricity sector is doing so with ever-lower costs. This drive to achieve ‘more’ with ‘less’ can be seen in almost every aspect of energy policy. For example, changing from the ROC scheme to competitive auctions encouraged more renewable generation with lower costs, and facilitated cost reductions across a range of technologies in the UK. Co-locating projects behind a single connection point is another method of maximising existing network capacity. The growth in storage technologies and demand management is itself utilising more generation capacity, both existing and planned.
Northern Ireland generated almost 35% of its electricity needs from renewable sources in 2017 and is on course to reach its 2020 target of 40%. We now need to assess more comprehensively the requirements of a future energy system, powered by renewables. NIRIG is gathering a team of experts on 24 April to discuss future energy systems and explore how we can securely operate and develop an active distribution system comprising networks, demand, generation and other flexible distributed energy resources. If we want to continue to deliver ‘more with less’ we must recognise that it requires greater complexity in systems and much more innovation and change to take us there.