Connecting Further Generation in Northern Ireland – Out of the Box Thinking at Last

Sunday, 18 February, 2018


Connecting Further Generation in Northern Ireland – Out of the Box Thinking at Last

Written by Chris Osborne, Senior Policy Officer

Last August, SONI-NIE Networks hosted a Workshop highlighting the level of connected and committed renewable electricity generation in Northern Ireland.  At the time, 1,300MW of renewable generation has been connected with a further 500MW committed.  A Call for Evidence (CfE) followed in October 2017 and the Ulster Farmers' Union responded.  NIE Networks and SONI have now launched a formal consultation titled “Connecting Further Generation in Northern Ireland”.

With no clear policy direction being provided by Government and no further network investment for renewable generation being approved by the Utility Regulator, NIE Networks and SONI are looking at adopting more innovative approaches (rather than traditional network investment) when considering future grid connection.

Feedback from the CfE focused on proposals including the need to release further capacity with prioritisation in favour of differing technologies connecting to the grid.  Several respondees to the CfE promoted the use of a “smarter distribution network” and “energy storage to facilitate further generation connections”. NIE Networks included a number of innovation projects in RP6 to investigate such technologies. However, since these projects are in the early development stages, SONI-NIE Networks have stated that these do not fall under the scope of the consultation.

As far as the consultation is concerned, of most relevance to our UFU Rural Enterprise Committee is the part of the Consultation focused on Potential Capacity Solutions.  A Hybrid Working Group (HWG) will investigate possible alternative connection methods and is chaired by SONI. A number of potential opportunities and mechanisms have been identified by the HWG to address and advance many aspects of hybrid connections, including; Grid Code changes, market changes and connection policy.  Two options are under consideration where there are different generation technology types (for example, wind and solar) behind one connection point and secondly, sites comprised of both generation and demand behind one connection point.  These are scenarios which are not possible under current circumstances.

The HWG has the aim of reviewing such sites, assessing how they can accommodate and potentially resolve any issues identified. In doing this the group seeks to produce workable solutions to allow hybrid sites to connect and operate on the Transmission or Distribution System, in a safe and secure manner.  A further aim of the group is to assess and work through the proposals and issues emerging from the European Network Code requirements and to recommend necessary modifications to Grid Code, the Trading & Settlement Code, connection processes and I-SEM.

HWG remit is focused on new and existing Transmission and Distribution connections with registered capacity greater ≥1 MW. The range of Hybrid Site combinations includes Wind/Solar, Wind/Battery, Solar/Battery and Biomass/Storage.  Whilst the focus is on ≥1 MW units, the UFU believe that the progress on these hybrid sites could be extended to ≤ 500kW installations.

System Operators have performed a high level feasibility study into Wind/Solar and Wind/Battery Hybrid Sites focusing on Controllability, Dispatch Modelling, Availability, Forecasting and Treatment within I-SEM.  A Wind/Solar Hybrid should be acceptable operationally and in the new I-SEM Market according to the HWG.  A Wind/Battery Hybrid may be acceptable but it may require rule changes which will the HWG will need to be investigated further.   Going forward, the HWG will continue to meet and will seek further formal engagement with wider industry (including the UFU) with respect to how multiple entities behind a connection point are managed.

In the absence of any Government Energy Policy, the UFU is reassured that key industry players are starting to think outside of the box as this is what we have been calling for and we will be making our position known within the Consultation response.