Ireland’s 2019 Climate Action Plan and the 2020 Programme for Government sets out the ambition of producing 70% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Northern Ireland has a similar ambition of achieving at least 70% of electricity from renewable sources by that date. The electricity sector is committed to a decarbonised future and supports the Government’s ambition for a carbon neutral economy. To achieve the most cost-efficient transformation to a decarbonised electricity sector we need a clear idea of what the power system will look like in 2030. In 2020 we approached UCC MaREI to undertake such a study, using existing European and government policy as a framework and to take into consideration the constraints of the power system.
To understand the future 2030 all-Island power system, MaREI developed an extensive Pan-EU power market model covering EU 27, United Kingdom and Norway for the purpose of this study. The report authors, Laura Mehigan and Paul Deane, also looked at over 250,000 hours of weather data across the island of Ireland to determine the extremes of weather we will experience to predict how flexible and reliable our power system will need to be.
The modelled 2030 system is different in scale and configuration from the system we see today. In 2030, the all-island system will be 60% larger in capacity and will essentially be a dual fuel system of natural gas and wind. However, smaller elements of other renewables, including solar PV, will play an important role in offering technology diversity. To meet our 70% RES-E targets by 2030, wind capacity will need to more than double and solar will need to increase by more than 11 times. Batteries will also have to considerably scale up.
The report finds that the electrification of new loads in heat and transport plays an important role in wider system decarbonisation. A lower uptake of EVs and Heat Pumps naturally leads to a lower electricity demand and results in lower emissions of 0.1 Mt in the electricity system. However, the resulting emissions in the wider energy system are higher by 0.9 Mt. The net system wide impact is that these lower levels of electrification lead to a net increase of 0.8Mt of emissions. To maximise the benefit of renewable generation for emissions reduction, the rate of electrification of new loads, particularly in switching from high-carbon fossil fuel in heating and transport, must keep pace.
The decarbonisation ambition demands we have a resilient power system capable of absorbing and storing fluctuations in weather driven generation and meeting the demand of new electricity loads from electric cars, residential heating and data centres. In particular, the all-island power system System Non-Synchronous Penetration (SNSP) level must increase to 95%, grid constraints must be removed and there must be continued investment in flexibility and grid infrastructure. Without this, emissions will increase, and a lower ambition will be realised.
With lower levels of system flexibility, we are unable to reach a RES-E ambition of 70%. It results in a level of 66% RES-E but with significant levels of variable curtailment (16%) making the financing of renewable projects highly challenging. All-island emissions are 7.2 Mt, 14% higher than the 2030 Base Scenario.
The report reviews options for different technologies that could further assist decarbonisation in the future to go beyond 70% RES-E. While these options all have implicit uncertainty, they share a requirement for significant capital commitment, long lead times for construction, decades-long operational lifetime and a need for investment decisions to be made well in advance of 2030.
You can download our report and the supplementary data here:
A summary of the report was featured in Energy Ireland’s Renewable Energy magazine.