TODAY’S STUDY: Hawaii’s Plan To Build A Modern Grid
Hawaii’s Grid Modernization Plan
August 29, 2017 (Hawaiian Electric Companies)
Hawai‘i’s electric grid is a multilayered delivery system that touches nearly every home and business – a sturdy, secure, and safe resource that helps power the state’s $75 billion economy.
The grid was originally designed for one job: to deliver electricity to customers from a handful of big power plants. It didn’t have to be flexible or adaptable or transparent – it just had to be strong and reliable.
Today, there are power plants in every neighborhood. Nearly 80,000 privately owned rooftop solar systems push electricity onto the grid for delivery to other customers.
The steady, one-way flow of electricity that was the norm for more than a century is now a dynamic, two-way stream of power, shifting back and forth between the customer and the utility. Without real-time data, visibility, and control, operators can only estimate how much power these rooftop solar systems are feeding into the grid; they can’t manage it and they have no way of “seeing” into circuits to identify and avert situations that can affect the safe and reliable delivery of power to customers.
Built for durability, most of the lines, transformers, and substations that are the backbone of the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ grids are strong. But these components and others are aging. In addition to the regular schedule of replacement, a program of grid modernization is needed.
New technology will help to more than triple the amount of private rooftop solar, make use of rapidly evolving products – including storage and advanced inverters – and incorporate a vast array of sophisticated energy management tools, such as demand response.
Modernizing Hawai‘i’s Grid For Our Customers is a grid modernization strategy that describes the scope, purpose, and estimated cost of the work required to update the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ energy network in the next six years, and how it will help the five islands served by the Companies to achieve a renewable portfolio standard of 48 percent by 2020 and ultimately 100 percent by 2045. Achieving the renewable portfolio standard goals will require a combination of both customer-owned distributed resources as well as larger grid-scale resources.
Here’s what’s in it for the customer: Modernizing the electric grid will help get Hawai‘i off imported oil faster, use technology to predict and identify outages and to restore service more quickly, and give customers more information and more control over the energy they use.
The cost of the first phase is estimated to be about $205 million over six years. Where appropriate, the Hawaiian Electric Companies plan to pursue partnerships and grants that could reduce the cost.
This needed investment in an advanced grid will be steady and deliberate, aligned with work that’s already being done to strengthen the grid infrastructure. With so much new technology arriving, the idea is to focus on near-term improvements that provide the most immediate system and customer benefit but don’t crowd out future breakthroughs.
Highlights of this near-term work include:
Reliance on advanced inverter technology to enable greater private rooftop solar adoption.
Expanded use of voltage management tools, especially on circuits with heavy solar penetration, to maximize circuit capacities for rooftop solar PV and other customer resources.
Strategic distribution of advanced meters rather than system-wide, primarily for enhanced sensing and monitoring purposes, i.e., customers with private rooftop solar or on saturated circuits and customers who want to participate in programs such as demand response and variable rates or who seek usage data.
Expanded use of sensors at other points on the grid and automated controls at the substation and neighborhood circuit level.
Expansion of a communication network enabling greater operational visibility and efficient coordination of distributed resources, along with smart devices placed on problematic circuits and automation for improved reliability.
Enhanced outage management and notification technology.
A smart power grid can be a catalyst for economic development and sustainable communities, providing everything from energy management services to a solar-powered data center on Hawai‘i Island to reducing voltage fluctuations on a circuit on Moloka‘i so a home-based business can thrive.
A grid that enables variable pricing can also help accelerate the move to electric vehicles and equipment by encouraging charging during the solar peak. Even more important, vehicle batteries and other energy storage devices can provide grid stability – as well as incentives to customers – if system operators can tap these reserves, using stored energy to help meet peak demand and then recharging when solar is abundant.
Public input was critical to the development of this grid modernization strategy. More than 80 residential and commercial customers of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawai‘i Electric Light were consulted at the start of the process, including some with private rooftop solar. The aim of these discussions was to ensure that the Companies addressed customers’ “What’s in it for me?” question before the draft grid modernization strategy was developed.
Many had only a basic idea of how the grid works, but all were able to clearly describe their expectations (continued high level of reliability), their frustrations (slow transition to renewables), and their needs (stable or lower prices, societal benefit derived from use of renewables, more choices, e.g., private rooftop solar, battery storage, rate incentives).
It was also clear that most customers understand the connection between the pursuit of renewable energy goals and the capabilities of the grid.
As one Hawaiian Electric customer observed, “Trying to incorporate renewable energy sources without upgrading the grid is like putting a new kitchen in a house that needs to be knocked down. Why would you do that?”
Following the submission of its draft filing in June 2017, the Companies solicited comments from customers and stakeholders through the Companies’ websites and conducted town-hallstyle public meetings on Maui, Hawai‘i (in both Hilo and Kona), and O‘ahu to review the grid modernization strategy with customers, answer their questions, and receive their comments. Their comments, as well as the transcripts of the public meetings, are included in a separate document accompanying this grid modernization strategy. On top of that, since early 2017, the Hawaiian Electric Companies have held discussions with more than 300 people across the state and across the U.S., including large customers, engineers, energy experts, utility staff, vendors, technologists, elected officials, U.S. Department of Energy officials, staff from county and state agencies, and representatives of non-government agencies involved in energy policy and electric grid development.
Two examples of how this feedback influenced the contents of the final report involve the use of advanced meters. Based on questions and comments from stakeholders regarding curtailment of distributed generation, Section 4 contains a more detailed description of how advanced meters can enable more distributed generation, including alternative technologies. Also, based on some customer feedback regarding health concerns, Section 6 contains more information about health and safety of meter and communication technology, including the Companies’ exploration of alternatives and an acknowledgment that wireless meters will not be right for everyone.
While the discussion of technical challenges and tactics comprise the bulk of this report, customer and stakeholder input has shaped this grid modernization strategy and is present throughout.