Is Hawaii your solar future? A postcard to the mainland

Sponsored by SEPA

Aloha! Hawaii is as beautiful as ever, with our palm trees, ocean breezes and plenty of sunshine. But it is no longer just our tourists on the beaches who are soaking up the rays. There are photovoltaic systems everywhere and at least one concentrating solar power system—more solar power than hula skirts and surfboards!

 
 
SEPA
 

Hawaiian utilities have installed more than 42,000 PV systems through the end of 2013: 9% of the nation’s total, despite having less than 1% of the country’s utility customers. Similarly, almost 9% of utility customers now have solar, versus 0.5% nationwide. No other state in the country has experienced anything close to our level of solar penetration. (see SEPA Utility Solar Rankings: www.sepatop10.org)

 
 
SEPA
 

And the reasons are obvious. Here in Hawaii, solar power is now cheaper than power from the grid. It is the economic option for consumers and for utilities. Nowhere else are utilities grappling with the three biggest solar issues in such a real-time business environment:

1. How to integrate fully renewable energy into utility resource planning?

Solar and wind are least-cost generation planning options, but their operating characteristics are very different and require fast start generation, energy storage, and demand response options for support. Distributed generation, long seen as changing demand profiles, needs to be considered part of the generation planning process. At the same time, consumer demand profiles are changing the amount and timing of consumption patterns. All of these issues are driving fresh approaches to utility integrated resource planning. (see also SEPA, NREL report: “Treatment of Solar Generation in Electric Utility Resource Planning”)

2. How to manage solar high-penetration on the distribution system?

Individual feeders are also experiencing high levels of solar penetration, which is the limiting factor to distributed solar deployment. In response utilities and solar stakeholders alike are investigating better forecasting and monitoring tools as well as introducing more battery storage to help account for fluctuations in energy. (see also SEPA report “Predicting Solar Power Production”)

Solar penetration map for Oahu.
 

3. How will the utility business model evolve?

Of course, the big issue is how to manage the future of the utility business. The traditional model of generation, transmission and distribution planning, and cost recovery for these assets need to be updated. Utilities, stakeholders and policymakers will need to work together to adapt to the shifting energy mix.

Of course, we understand that at this point in time, our situation in Hawaii is unique – only  a few mainland utilities are approaching this level of solar activity. But the utility industry of yesterday is not going to be the utility industry of tomorrow. What will it look like? Hawaii is a glimpse of what's to come…

Hope you visit soon…mahalo!

Hawaii