Hawaii Gets a Smart Grid

Hawaii’s grid is being upgraded with smarter technology to accommodate for a smarter, more efficient grid, powered by cleaner energy.
Published: Tue 18 Mar 2014

The Hawaiian Electric Co. will be installing smart grid technologies for 5,200 customers on Oahu. The initiative forms part of its grid modernization efforts and is the first phase of a plan that will see the development of smart grids across Oahu, in Maui County and on Hawaii Island by 2018.

The initial upgrade will affect customers in Moanalua Valley and portions of Pearl City, Diamond Head, Kaimuki, Kahala and Waikiki. These areas were chosen due to the diverse mix of customers and physical terrain.

Carried out in collaboration with Silver Spring Networks, the program calls for the integration of wireless communications into the current power grid. These include wireless relays, sensors, automated system controls, as well as advanced meters for customers. The aim of this is to help improve outage detection and outage restoration.

Customers will also be given access to a customized online portal which will provide frequent updates about their energy consumption. This is aimed at assisting them to make more informed decisions about their energy consumption.

Planning for the long-term benefits

To provide additional long-term benefits, Hawaiian Electric says it is evaluating future applications, including the following:

  • Fully automated detection of power outages. We cover the benefits of investing in asset management in our article Effective Asset Management is Key to the Utility’s New Business Plan.

  • Integration of new technologies, such as energy storage, which can lead to more efficient use of renewable energy. The country has recently developed a test bed for developers for energy storage technologies. We cover this in Hawaii Encourages Energy Storage Development and Microgrid Technologies.

  • Support for other energy-saving technology, such as the continued increase of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are key to Hawaii’s power grid because of the growing volume of intermittent wind and solar power. This variability calls for spinning reserves of diesel-powered generators. Much of the renewable power must be curtailed because the supply sometimes far exceeds demand. Electric vehicles are viewed as another part of the solution since their charging can be scheduled to partially align with renewable power production.

  • With many customers leaving the grid, utilities need to implement smart technologies in order to capture business from off-grid generation. In our article, Distributed Generation-Utility’s Main Revenue, we discussed why the utility must start developing a new business model by incorporating numerous technological and service opportunities available on the market so that it can avoid becoming irrelevant in the electric industry.

Smart Grid is a matter of necessity

A disjointed cluster of island power grids, a rapidly increasing mix of wind and solar generation, and high electricity costs are the reasons why the country needs an efficient smart grid.

Hawaii pays a high price for the current inefficiency, as customers pay between US$0.31 and US$0.46 per kWh for electricity and 90% of the state’s energy is imported. That’s approximately US$5 billion leaving the local economy each year in the form of fossil fuels that negatively affect the environment of this environmentally conscious state.

A grid upgrade will help to integrate and manage the variability of renewable power generation, as well as reduce energy waste.

Hawaiian Electric operations senior vice president Dan Giovanni says the firm continues to modernize the electric system to provide a solid foundation for the community's sustainable energy future.

"Our state needs modern electric grids to further improve service, provide customers with more choices and integrate more low-cost renewable energy to reduce Hawaii's dependency on expensive imported oil," comments Dan Giovanni, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for operations.

The smart grid communications infrastructure, including new meters, will be installed in the initial areas from mid-April to the end of July.