by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

Consumers and businesses across Northern Ireland are being urged to have their say in how the electricity network is developed to deliver the transition to net zero in the coming years. The call comes as NIE Networks today launches its strategy to develop a sustainable energy system for the future, which it says will impact every citizen across NI.


Entitled ‘Networks for Net Zero’, the strategy report sets out NIE Networks’ considered views on the options and pathways for decarbonisation in Northern Ireland. It also highlights how electrification can play a significant role in a flexible and integrated decarbonised energy system.

Explaining the “critical role” that the electricity network plays in Northern Ireland, NIE Networks Managing Director Paul Stapleton said: “The twin challenges of re-building our economy after the Covid-19 pandemic, together with transforming our society to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, provide the context for a unique period of change and opportunity in how we provide and consume energy in Northern Ireland.

“The electricity network plays a critical role in ensuring our economy and society have access to safe, secure and reliable energy in our homes, farms, schools and hospitals, businesses and other institutions.

“But the electricity network also plays an equally important role in delivering the transition to net carbon zero by securing more energy from renewable energy network, and by enabling that energy to be used by customers to replace our dependency on imported fossil fuels in transport and heating.”

NIE Networks is seeking customers’ feedback on the various themes laid out in the report, which sets out how the company can facilitate increased renewables on the network, and how it can enable an increasing uptake of low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles, solar photovoltaics and electric heat pumps.

The report also outlines how NIE Networks will support new technologies such as hydrogen electrolysis and battery storage, as well as the development and operation of new services and markets. Customers are also updated on how the role of NIE Networks will change as a result – a journey to becoming a ‘Distribution Systems Operator (DSO), which the company says it has already commenced.

“We are embarking on what will be the most significant change to the electricity network design, management and operation since rural electrification in the 1960s,” explained Mr Stapleton. “This requires NIE Networks to evolve and enhance our capabilities and skills to facilitate this new world.”

NIE Networks believes that the transition to DSO will deliver whole system and considerable customer benefits. The company has committed to ensuring that customers are at the centre of this transition and to engaging regularly with stakeholders throughout the journey.

With customers at its core, the report assesses how they will have increased opportunities for managing their energy demands more efficiently through adoption of new technologies and will have the ability to engage with new energy markets.

Mr Stapleton continued: “The decisions and actions we take over the next decade will fundamentally determine the progress Northern Ireland will make towards becoming a carbon free society.

“NIE Networks has a crucial role to play, but we do not have all the answers. For that reason, we are appealing to our 900,000 customers across Northern Ireland to share their views and inputs to help inform how we progress this journey.

“This feedback will also assist NIE Networks in its business planning process for the next Regulatory Price Control period, which commences in 2024.”

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