Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia)

The Future is Sun(ny) in Hawaii

By leveraging solar power, the Aloha State takes its next big step to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045


Call it a sun-kissed irony: The very remoteness that makes Hawaii an ideal getaway is also the source of the energy challenges that face the island chain. Unlike the continenta­l states, which can rely on cross-border utility systems in times of need, Hawaii is isolated. Even the islands are separated by deep-sea chasms that make running underwater cables challengin­g—and expensive.

Factor in the distance from the mainland (2,390 miles to California), and the current electrical system in Oahu, which gets more than 80 percent of its power from fuel oil, is becoming antiquated and costly to maintain. However, the two power sources that Hawaii has in spades—solar and wind—don’t yet deliver the reliabilit­y of pricier fossil fuels.

“Solar and wind production is variable. It’s not like you can say, ‘I want this amount’ and press a button,” says Dora Nakafuji, Director of the Renewable Energy Planning Division at the Hawaiian Electric Company. "Integratin­g significan­t variable resources can offer real challenges on a system that needs to maintain and manage its own reserves.” But thanks to an injection of capital from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and privatesec­tor partnershi­ps, Hawaii’s future is brightenin­g.

As part of its SunShot SHINES Initiative, which has invested more than $3 billion to support emerging photovolta­ic technologi­es, the DOE awarded $2.5 million to Hawaiian Electric to assist in its quest to increase the integratio­n of solar energy on Oahu. And to incorporat­e automation of distribute­d energy resources (DER) to the grid, Hawaiian Electric turned to Siemens Distribute­d Energy Resource Management (DERMS) software.

This intelligen­t grid solution from Siemens interfaces with Hawaiian Electric’s solar monitoring, real-time forecastin­g and DER installati­on tracking. Together they shine a ray of light on data that had previously been difficult to see (total capacity of PV energy, near-term load forecasts, etc.) from the farthest edges of the grid, including distributi­on circuits with high levels of customer-sited, private solar generation that feed eastern Oahu, particular­ly the critical urban center of Honolulu.

With these resources, Hawaiian Electric can more effectivel­y integrate renewable resources and manage demand, helping its grid evolve from one that simply adds capacity to one that leverages existing capacity through monitoring, control and automation. The result also increases reliabilit­y, reducing potential outages and outage times while delivering new cost efficienci­es to residents.

As it strengthen­s its grid and informatio­n capacity, Hawaiian Electric can look ahead to smart integratio­n of renewable power, transition­ing to a multi-directiona­l model able to maximize renewable energy use on the island. Management and coordinati­on remain tasks, to be sure, but ones that can be met head on in collaborat­ion with industry stakeholde­rs and utilities.

“This is the most remote populated area in the world, so the issues here are orders of magnitude different than they are on the mainland,” says Ken Geisler, Vice President of Strategy for Siemens Smart Grid. “It’s a unique situation, but it will have an amazing impact on the problems that will hit the rest of the states in the future.”

Indeed, while other states have not (yet) committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, as Hawaii has done, many are watching Hawaii's efforts as the push to green energy intensifie­s.

“Every utility will create its own path,” says Nakafuji, but Hawaiian Electric won’t go it alone. “We need like-minded partners to get there. These partners are also being pushed to adopt this informatio­n into their traditiona­l tool sets, so together we’re exploring ways to create a more optimal, efficient system".

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