Postcard from Hawaii to the Nation's Capital
The mood at the second annual VERGE conference in Honolulu, Hawaii last week was upbeat about the future of clean energy, despite pushback on the U.S. mainland. Apparently, those committed to a clean energy agenda, including the private sector, are more motivated than ever to push forward with aggressive programs to bring on-line renewables resources to not only to combat climate change, but to create jobs.
Conference attendees clearly supported the supposition that clean energy is here to stay, no matter what might be unfolding in Washington, D.C.The proposed dismantling of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Accord on climate change only seemed to serve as motivation to push forward even harder.
Hawaii is the first (and so far) only state in the U.S. to commit to a 100% renewable energy future. Gov. David Ige of Hawaii didn’t seem to blink in the face of counter currents flowing from the Trump administration. A confessed energy geek, he seemed to take particulardelight in the fact that Hawaii has emerged as a key testing ground for bolstering commitments to infrastructure needed to integrate variable renewables for not only power, but transportation services. Since each island of Hawaii is its own separate electric grid control area, and retail costs are high due to such a reliance upon imported sources of fossil fuel, Hawaii is in a unique spot. The economics here clearly favor renewable energy.
Even Connie Lau, CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, reported that her investor-owned utilities brethren have all bought into the clean energy agenda. If the radical about-face on clean energy had occurred eight years ago in our nation’s capital, then indeed the momentum for renewables and other clean energy may have been halted, she and others argued. Past government and industry investments have driven down the price of solar PV, wind and batteries while software innovation to manage such resources has scaled up.
Nevertheless, there are challenges in implementing aggressive clean energy goals. Just take a look at California, where the state is paying neighboring states to take excess solar production. Many models show that once one reaches 80-90% renewables penetration, the cost of integration can jump dramatically.
One of the key tools Hawaii will rely upon to reach its 100% renewable energy goal is to integrate devices such as energy storage into self-balancing distribution networks such as microgrids.As of now, over 90 MW of new energy storage devices has been authorized by state regulators to be installed amongthe Hawaiian islands, with the majority of that capacity -- 70 MW – to be installed in Oahu.
I had the pleasure of helping to run a 4-hour workshop on how to overcome challenges to developing a microgrid at VERGE with cutting edge microgrid market makers such as Engie and Spirae.I also moderated a session on how microgrids boost clean energy on islands, with featured speakers from ABB, which is pushing forward with a 134 MW microgrid designed to reach 50% renewable energy on the Island of Aruba by 2020, as well as representatives from the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Navy.
Ironically enough, there may still be some room for collaboration between Hawaii and Washington, D.C.in the clean energy space As I noted in a previous blog, one area where interests in promoting national security in D.C. and a clean energy agenda in Hawaii align is the microgrid space. Look for a report on that topic from yours truly later this year.