Hawaiian Electric is Working to Build a More Modern Grid

The initiative gives residents more insight to better manage their energy usage.
Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiian Electric

To reach the state’s 100% renewable energy goal by 2045, Hawaiian Electric is working on customer energy options and upgrading the technology that delivers electricity to customers. 

“It plays a big role in getting to 100%,” Jason Reyes, director of grid modernization at Hawaiian Electric, says about the upgrades, referred to as “grid mod.”

In spring 2019, Hawaiian Electric received state regulatory approval to move forward with the first phase of its energy distribution system modernization, which is aimed, in part, at improving communication and coordination between the utility control center and renewable energy systems across the island. The first phase includes deploying advanced meters, a telecommunications network and a meter data management system, as well as adding an energy portal where customers can view their energy use details. So far, Hawaiian Electric has deployed 5,000 advanced meters.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to have an advanced meter with grid modernization,” Reyes says. “Currently grid operators don’t have visibility of the large quantities of customers’ solar, storage, and electric vehicles to operate the grid safely and reliably. Grid mod is providing that visibility and will allow our operations to see how power flow is going.”

With customer solar and energy storage systems that provide energy to the grid, Reyes likens the electric system improvements to the installation of traffic signals on a roadway that has transitioned from one lane to a more complex multi-lane city street with intersections. 

“What we’re doing is almost like a traffic management system,” Reyes says. “Imagine a road where cars only traveled one way. Now, you have cars traveling two ways and … intersections. Imagine if there are no stoplights, stop signs and crosswalks. It is going to be kind of chaotic.”

The leading role that customer rooftop solar will play in achieving Hawaii’s 100% renewable energy future is one factor behind the system upgrade. 

“You have your bulk resources that will only take you so far,” Reyes says, referencing the utility-scale projects being installed to achieve the state’s energy goal. “A large part is going to have to come from customer generation and grid mod is the piece that will enable us to get there.” 

One challenge the utility faces as it integrates more customer-owned renewables is balancing the energy supply and demand, without causing power quality (voltage and frequency) issues that can lead to outages or damage to customer equipment. Not being able to see what customer rooftop solar systems are producing makes it difficult for the utility to maintain that balance.

It’s not only the electric utility that will be pulled out of the dark with grid mod. Residents with advanced meters will be able to reference an app that shows their energy use for specific periods – whether it be an hour or five minutes – from the prior day, month or year(s). 

“They’ll be able to make decisions about how to manage their electric bill,” Reyes says. “That’s a big benefit.”

Categories: Green Hawaii