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

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - INDEX -

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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