The operator of NI’s electricity network has suggested four options for doubling the amount of renewable power on the grid.
SONI said the network needs investment in the hundreds of millions to cope with increased demand for green energy as NI tries to hit carbon targets.
The demand is likely to be driven by much higher uptake of electric vehicles and the electrification of heat.
The cost of the investment will be paid through customers’ electricity bills.
One of the biggest problems is that much renewable energy – mainly wind farms – is in the north and west, while most of the power is consumed in the east of Northern Ireland.
About half our power already comes from renewables but there is a stated ambition to get that to 70% by 2030.
For that to happen, the amount of renewable energy on the network would have to almost double.
That presents major challenges for the electricity network due to the nature of renewable power and the capacity of the grid to deliver it.
The four approaches suggested include using policy to concentrate renewable generation in areas where the grid is strong.
Other options include continuing to offer grid connections where generators choose to site renewable projects and using technology to transfer power from west to east.
The final suggestion is that the executive incentivises power-hungry data centres and other big industry to locate close to renewable sources.
SONI says only two of the options – concentrating renewable connections at grid strong-points and encouraging big business to locate near renewable sources – will guarantee Northern Ireland meets a 70% target.
They also come at the lowest investment cost of between £113m and £120m
SONI is beginning a consultation on the options and encouraging people to offer their views.
It hopes to publish the way forward on grid development by the end of the year.
The work assumes that off-shore wind will be part of the renewable power mix in the future, though no off-shore sites for Northern Ireland were listed in the most recent leasing round by the Crown Estate, which owns the sea bed.