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Hawaiian Electric files grid modernization strategy with Hawaii regulators

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The Hawaiian Electric Companies filed their Grid Modernization Strategy with the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission, outlining near-term initiatives that strengthen the grid through investments in technology to enable more renewable energy resources to be safely and efficiently integrated with the grid, according to a company statement.

According to the filing, the strategy will help the five islands served by the utility to achieve a renewable portfolio standard of 48 percent by 2020, and ultimately 100 percent by 2045.

The cost of the first phase is estimated to be about $205 million over six years, and where appropriate, the Hawaiian Electric plans to pursue partnerships and grants that could reduce the cost, the filing noted.

As noted in the filing, highlights of the 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 – for instance, 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, the filing said.

A grid that enables variable pricing can also help accelerate the move to electric vehicles and equipment by encouraging charging during the solar peak, the filing noted. Even more important, the filing said, vehicle batteries and other energy storage devices can provide grid stability – as well as incentives to customers – if system operators can tap those reserves, using stored energy to help meet peak demand and then recharging when solar is abundant.

The filing follows the submission of the companies’ draft report in late June, the Aug. 29 statement noted, adding that the draft was presented at four public meetings to review the strategy with customers and receive their comments.

According to the filing, public input was critical to the development of the 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.

It was clear that most customers understand the connection between the pursuit of renewable energy goals and the capabilities of the grid, the filing noted, adding that 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?”

The comments received from the utility's website and from the town hall-style public meetings on Maui, Hawai’i, and O’ahu – as well as the transcripts of the public meetings – are included in a separate document accompanying the strategy, the filing noted.

Also, the filing said, since early 2017, the Hawaiian Electric have held discussions with more than 300 people across the state and across the United States, 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 that feedback influenced the contents of the final report involve the use of advanced meters, the filing noted, adding that based on some customer feedback regarding health concerns, for instance, Section 6 of the strategy 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.

For instance, the filing noted that while radio-based communications have been proven safe and are widely used for many consumer and commercial (non-utility) applications today, the Companies recognize that a few customers feel concern for their safety. As such, the strategy recognizes the option for customers to not have a wireless radio communicating meter, and the Companies are exploring other wired communication alternatives for advanced meters for select customers and applications with poor radio reception. That will be addressed in the planned subsequent advanced meter procurement, the filing added.

However, it may be that no viable alternatives may exist, and in those few cases, customers may not receive an advanced meter with communications, which may preclude participation in a program that requires an advanced meter, the filing noted.

According to the Aug. 29 statement, longer term, the strategy is to continue to evolve the grid as a platform to enable greater customer choice and support statewide economic development and “smart communities” efforts that rely on robust data and energy management system.

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