2013 Utility Solar Champion: Hawaiian Electric Company

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Our 2013 Utility Solar Champion Award goes to … drumroll please … The Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO).

Here’s why. The Hawaiian solar market is taking off. Just skyrocketing. Check this article out:

“In 2012, a total of 16,715 PV permits were issued [in Oahu], a figure more than 170 percent of the previous 10+ years’ worth of PV systems installed across the entire state over that time.”

With nearly 100 MW of new solar installed across Hawaiian Electric Company service territories in 2012, Hawaii gets a larger percentage of its electricity from solar than any other state and is among the top states in solar watts per capita. Hawaii’s solar industry added 12,215 systems for Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii Island in 2012, exceeding the total of the previous 10 years combined. Indeed, cumulative solar power has doubled year-over-year since 2008 when net metering began.

A big challenge in sustaining this growth is ensuring that projects can be safely interconnected to the grid — one that was not originally designed with DG in mind. And here’s where HECO’s leadership comes in.

Hawaii’s rules required a costly ‘Interconnection Review Study’ when a prospective solar system wanted to interconnect to a distribution line where combined generation totalled 15% of peak load. The 15% limit is an engineering rule of thumb, and a very conservative one at that. With Hawaii’s tremendous solar growth, many distribution lines were hitting that cap, and blocking further solar growth. Check out these maps — the red areas were effectively closed to new solar (images are courtesy of Marco Mangelsdorf, ProVision Solar):

Oahu:

PV Saturation on Distribution Networks on Oahu

Maui:

PV Saturation on Distribution Networks on Maui

Hawaii (the Big Island, for mainlanders)

PV Saturation on Distribution Networks on Big Island

To manage high growth while maintaining safety, reliability, and power quality across the transmission and distribution infrastructure, Hawaiian Electric proactively engaged in a multi-party collaboration with local solar advocates and adopted a pioneering framework to allow more rooftop solar systems to connect to the grid. The new “proactive approach” includes enhanced modeling, monitoring, and planning to manage a grid that facilitates and maximizes distributed generation. The overall goal is a more transparent and efficient process for interconnecting higher levels of solar and other distributed generation.

The new agreement moves the trigger from 15% of peak load to 75% of minimum load — depending on the circuit, a near doubling of the amount of DG that can be intereconnected without a costly and time-consuming study.

From the PV Sub-Group Final Report (1-18-13) (pdf):

HECO will utilize the interconnection queue and other data points to establish a reasonable base case of anticipated DG development. Through its distribution and transmission planning effort, it will proactively plan for the aggregate system impacts from expected DG development in order to accommodate higher penetration levels. The coordination of interconnection and planning will identify opportunities where infrastructure upgrades can accommodate both DG and load such that a number of generators and customers can benefit from the upgrades.

Specifically, HECO will employ enhanced tools for modeling DG to inform both system and distribution-level planning and operations. Those models will leverage PV production data from individual DG systems, which members of the PV industry recently made available to HECO, to supplement utility monitoring tools. This improved modeling capability will, in turn, enhance a number of areas related to the interconnection of high penetrations of DG, including:

  • Assessing potential system and region-level impacts due to high penetrations;
  • Evaluating impacts to dispatch and generation, reserve planning, and response to ramping events;
  • Informing and streamlining the distribution level interconnection process; and
  • Helping to identify circuit penetration capabilities, potential issues, and necessary upgrades.

The overall goal of this collaborative approach is to create a more transparent and efficient process for interconnecting higher levels of DG while maintaining safety, reliability, and power quality across the transmission and distribution infrastructure.

The approach will benefit all parties involved, including customers, developers and utilities, as well as the broader public. IREC’s press release has more.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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