Grid upgrade plan sent to PUC
Use of more renewable energy focus of strategy
KAILUA-KONA — Hawaiian Electric Companies submitted on Tuesday the final draft of its Grid Modernization Strategy for review by the state Public Utilities Commission.
The first phase of the statewide plan is a six-year, $205 million endeavor geared toward increasing grid capacity for the use of more renewable energy sources and improving the reliability of aging infrastructure through technological upgrades.
For most of its existence, the state’s electrical grid functioned as a one-way system, providing electricity from power plants to homes and businesses.
Since the advent of solar power and its rise in popularity throughout a state well-suited to produce a great
deal of it, the grid now functions as a two-way system with energy flowing back and forth between the grid and private generators of solar energy.
According to a HECO release, Hawaii now is home to more than 80,000 privately owned rooftop solar systems. The increased production and use of solar energy is in line with the state’s goal of moving to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, but the grid isn’t equipped for that yet.
Making sure it is equipped is the primary catalyst and primary goal of the modernization strategy. The plan will “… help to more than triple the amount of private rooftop solar,” according to the release.
“In some areas it’s saturated and we cannot have anymore (photovoltaic),” said HECO spokeswoman Shannon Tangonan. “Just because of the nature of how the grid is currently, we can take only so much. What we’re embarking on now is a strategy to where the grid will be renewable ready.”
Tangonan said as of the end of 2016, renewable energy sources represented 54 percent of the energy used on Hawaii Island, up from 49 percent the year before. That is the highest rate in the state.
HECO’s release highlights a handful of what it refers to as “near-term” work, which if approved would take place during the first phase of grid modernization.
The work includes strategic distribution of smart meters to customers such as those using solar on saturated circuits or those who want to take part in demand response programs that would, with customer permission, allow HECO companies to cut power to devices such as water heaters during times of high power usage in exchange for lower rates.
The release also mentioned advanced inverter technology, which allows for more rooftop solar adoption, as well as more widespread use of voltage management tools “to maximize circuit capacities for private rooftop solar and other customer resources.”
Tangonan said beyond that, technological upgrades around outage management and notification will make the grid more resilient and allow operators to respond more quickly and efficiently to what HECO hopes will be fewer outages.
Upgrades through the modernization won’t come at zero cost to the consumer.
The final draft of the modernization strategy estimates the average impact of the $205 million plan to the bills of Hawaii Island electric customers at $2.07 per month during the first 10 years.
The PUC just more than a week ago approved Hawaiian Electric Light Co.’s proposed 3.4 percent base rate increase on Hawaii Island — the first such rate bump in more than six years. HELCO projected that rate increase will raise the average monthly bill for households by $4.98.