EirGrid’s draft Grid Development Strategy, launched in March, outlines plans for Grid Link, Grid West and the North South Interconnector. Here, EirGrid explains the reasons behind these plans and asks engineers for their feedback
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In March 2015, EirGrid published a discussion paper on Ireland’s Grid Development Strategy, which aims to explain the need for, and drivers of, grid development. The draft EirGrid Grid Development Strategy has been fundamentally shaped by our desire to engage with public feedback, and by our commitment to use technological advances to make the existing grid work harder for the people of Ireland, thus minimising the need for new infrastructure.

This article looks to provide an overview of the main themes and issues addressed in our Discussion Paper, and will pay particular attention to the three major projects: Grid Link, Grid West and the North South Interconnector. The Discussion Paper is a step on the road to greater public engagement and we are seeking feedback at www.eirgrid.com/yourgridyourviews.

The broader context


Our primary responsibility is the consistent and reliable transmission of electricity. EirGrid operates the high-voltage transmission grid; a world-class system that homes and businesses can rely on. In order to achieve this, we must make sure that the system is planned and developed to meet Ireland’s future needs. At EirGrid, we are transforming our operations to best meet this changing environment, as well as developing the physical infrastructure of the grid to match these changing needs. Our draft strategy reflects the changed economic context, but also discusses the opportunities offered by advances in transmission technology. There is a relationship between economic growth and electricity consumption.

The year 2008 saw the beginning of the most severe recession in decades. This resulted in significant variation between demand forecast from 2008 to those from 2015. The 2015 peak demand forecast for 2025 has been scaled back considerably. It is now approximately 5,100 MW, compared to the 2008 peak demand forecast of approximately 8,000 MW.

As our economy returns to growth, renewal and expansion of the transmission system continues to grow in importance. The demand for electricity is now expected to grow on average by 1.3% per annum from now to 2025. This seminal work will support job creation, economic development and economic competitiveness. Developing a 21st-century transmission system will deliver real social, economic and environmental benefits for every person in Ireland.

Integral to our developing of the grid is seeking the opinions and suggestions of those who are impacted by our plans. In 2014, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources issued a public consultation on Energy Policy in Ireland – the Green Paper. This highlighted the challenge of seeking acceptance from communities of electricity transmission infrastructure. For EirGrid, it was clear toward the end of 2013 that we needed to review how we consulted on our projects.

Throughout 2014, we carried out a comprehensive review of our approach to public consultation. This concluded with a detailed report, highlighting where we did not meet people’s expectations and where changes would improve future engagement. Our draft strategy responds to the public feedback gathered and is a pillar in our renewed efforts and commitment to engage the public and encourage greater participation in our decision-making process.

Renewable energy, EirGrid and the environment


Government strategy has set a target of providing 40% of energy demand through renewable energy by 2020. In 2013, some 89% of Ireland’s electricity generation came from imported natural gas, costing an estimated €6.7 billion. In order to attain the established renewable energy targets by 2020, the electricity transmission grid must be modernised and strengthened. In addition to increasing capacity, we are also investing in operational technology – including advanced information and communications systems. This will allow us to operate the grid securely, while increasing our ability to take variable generation from renewable sources like wind.

An essential part of EirGrid’s work is to understand how the development of the transmission system has the potential to affect the environment. Consideration of the environment is central to how we work – whether we are looking at a review of overall grid strategy, or the progress of an individual project, we ensure at all times, that we comply with all national and EU guidelines.

EirGrid works with industry partners, technology innovators and with other transmission service operators to identify, research and trial possible innovations. Existing technologies, in many cases, continue to provide effective and reliable means of transmitting electricity. Among these are: AC overhead lines, HTLS overhead line conductors, AC underground cable technology, and HVDC and DC transmission.

However, alongside these well-established technologies, new innovations continue to emerge. Among these are Power Line Guardians, which are used as part of our efforts to make the existing grid work harder. These devices can be deployed rapidly onto existing overhead lines, and allow power flows to be diverted from heavily loaded overhead lines or cables to more lightly loaded ones. Furthermore, EirGrid is actively supporting research and development efforts into new voltage uprating technologies, which would increase the capacity of a line by increasing its operating voltage. Such modifications would involve less structural modifications.

Major projects


  • North-South Interconnector

EirGrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) are jointly proposing a new high-capacity electricity interconnector between the electricity networks of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The proposed development is a 400kV overhead line linking a substation in Woodland, Co Meath, with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co Tyrone. There have been numerous studies of underground options. In July 2014, a Government-appointed Independent Expert Panel found that, in all material respects, the studies and work undertaken on the interconnector project was compatible with the methodologies being employed on the Grid West and Grid Link projects.

The project was designated a Project of Common Interest (PCI) by the European Commission in October 2013. As part of the PCI process, in November 2014, EirGrid submitted a draft planning application file to An Bord Pleanála for review. In December 2014, An Bord Pleanála informed EirGrid that it had reviewed the draft application, and requested certain specific information. EirGrid submitted this information in March of this year.

This interconnector is critical in ensuring a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It will bring about major cost savings and address significant issues around security of electricity supply, particularly in Northern Ireland. Interconnection will also facilitate greater connection of wind generation which will help achieve Ireland’s renewable energy targets.

  • Grid West

In 2008, as part of its ‘Gate 3’ process, the Commission for Energy Regulation set out the process for EirGrid’s consideration of applications from companies that wished to connect to the distribution and transmission networks. In the west of Ireland, 647 MW of renewable generation projects have entered into a contract and are awaiting connection.

In order to accommodate this, there is a need for an additional transmission line or cable. EirGrid conducted a number of studies including; demand forecasts, available technology, cost and environmental considerations. All of these studies concluded that the best option to meet the needs of the project was a 400kV High-Voltage Alternating Current overhead line.

Following feedback from the public, we reassessed underground cables to see if they could meet the needs of the project and to determine how they performed in environmental, economic and technical terms. Three possible solutions emerged from this review: A high Voltage Direct Current underground cable, which would allow for a fully underground solution, with an estimated cost of €475 million. The second option proposed was a 400kV High Voltage Alternating Current overhead line, with 8km of undergrounding, at an estimated cost of €220 million. The third option was a 220kV High Voltage Alternating Current overhead line with partial use of underground cable to the maximum extent of 30km.

  • Grid Link

In 2008, studies indicated that, if left as is, the existing transmission system in the south and east of Ireland would not meet either Ireland’s or the region’s future electricity demands. Changing demand, a slower rate of growth, upgrade works on existing lines and advances in technology means it is now possible to consider alternative solutions, including placing the line underground using HVDC technology. This will, however, incur a higher cost. The capital investment of this option would be €800-€850 million.

Secondly, we can introduce a technology known as ‘series compensation’ onto the Irish transmission grid for the first time. This advanced smart grid technology would allow us to put more power on existing lines so that we could address the current weaknesses of the system. The capital investment for all the element in this solution is €200-€250 million.

Conclusion


We have listened. We have assessed advances in technology and we have reviewed the forecasted changes in the economic and energy landscape. While these factors will influence how we develop the grid, the basic need for investment remains. We need to invest in a stronger, flexible and future-focussed electricity grid. We are committed to working more closely with local communities to respect their concerns, and to do all we can to help communities and homeowners in response to their concerns about the visual intrusion of new infrastructure on the landscape.

We now need your views. Let us know your thoughts – and we will reflect these in the final strategy. Our discussion paper on Ireland’s Grid Development Strategy forms part of our commitment to a broad public engagement.

At the launch of the draft strategy, EirGrid Chief Executive Fintan Slye emphasised this, explaining that, “We committed last year, to be open with people and find out what it is they want from this most critical of infrastructure. We are now asking people to give us their views on our draft strategy”. Through this Paper, we are seeking an open dialogue, the themes and issues of which will be addressed in a feedback report which will be published later this year.

The period for feedback on our draft development strategy extends until 22 May and can be provided at www.eirgrid.com/yourgridyourviews. The full discussion paper, as well as all accompanying documents, can also be found at www.eirgrid.com/yourgridyourviews.

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  In March 2015, EirGrid published a discussion paper on Ireland’s Grid Development Strategy, which aims to explain the need for, and drivers of, grid development. The draft EirGrid Grid Development Strategy has been fundamentally shaped by our desire to engage with public feedback, and by our commitment to use...