SONI signals cautious optimism through Winter Outlook

SONI forecasts that despite risk of tighter electricity buffer margins there will be sufficient electricity generation this Winter to meet expected demand in normal operating conditions.

Individuals and businesses will be interested in SONI’s (the electricity transmission system operator for Northern Ireland) Winter Outlook, published today, which sets out expectations for Northern Ireland’s electricity supply and demand across the 2023/’24 Winter period.

The publication, which is based on detailed research and analysis by SONI’s engineers, shows that there is expected to be sufficient electricity supply to meet demand this Winter in normal operating conditions.

The report indicates that the buffer margins for electricity generation may be tighter than normal at times, and that we may be more reliant on the availability of imports and renewable generation.

The Loss of Load Expectation (LOLE) in Northern Ireland for the five months of the Winter period has increased from 1.5 hours last Winter to 1.95 hours. This remains within the level of risk of 4.9 hours that is set by the Department for the Economy.

This means that there is a risk that the system could enter the Alert State at times, most likely at periods of low wind and low interconnector imports but the risk of the system entering the Emergency State due to insufficient generation being available to meet the demand is low. A System Alert has no immediate impact for users of electricity.

Managing Director of SONI, Alan Campbell explains:

“At SONI, we plan and operate the Northern Ireland Electricity Transmission System, or the electricity ‘Grid’ as it is better known, 365 days a year. Due to their complex nature, there are challenges in managing all electricity systems and Northern Ireland is no different. Our expert engineers are highly trained to manage the risks associated with balancing supply and demand, ensuring electricity gets from where it is generated to where it is needed.

“Every year, we publish our Winter Outlook to help the industry, businesses and consumers across Northern Ireland prepare for the months ahead. Typically, due to our climate, we see demand increase at ‘peak times’ during the colder weather and darker nights and there is always some risk of potential disruption to electricity supply.”

Mr Campbell continues: “It is important to be clear that whilst there is a small increase in risk this year due to tightening of electricity buffer margins, we do expect that there will be sufficient electricity generation to meet demand in normal operating conditions. Whilst a reduction in conventional generation capacity could pose a challenge, we are well placed to manage this risk.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the outlook as our detailed analysis shows that we have sufficient generation to meet demand this winter. SONI has robust contingency plans in place to manage the challenges that may arise as a result of tight generation margins including importing from Great Britain and Ireland, utilising Open Cycle Gas Turbines and batteries and accelerating the onboarding of new, cleaner conventional generation.”

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