The final day of this year’s VERGE Hawaii included a session that tackled one of the biggest issues we are facing – the modernization of our electrical grid. Titled “The Latest on Hawaii’s Grid Modernization,” this discussion reviewed the current infrastructural transition from our current system and moving Hawai‘i closer toward energy resiliency in line with the state’s ambitious goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
Panelists included: Kyle Datta, general partner at Ulupono Initiative and member of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) Transformation Advisory Council; Colton Ching, senior vice president, Planning & Technology at Hawaiian Electric; Rich Sedano, president and CEO of Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP); and John Cole, assistant specialist at Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. Moderating the discussion was Paul Carp, director of research and senior analyst at GreenBiz Group.
The movement towards grid modernization was sparked by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission which asked that each of the Hawaiian Electric Companies create a detailed Grid Modernization Strategy. Although this program is still in its adolescence, all panelist agreed it will ultimately play a key role in our state’s energy sustainability efforts, as well as its resiliency in the wake of a major storm or other natural disaster.
Datta echoed this, and commented that grid modernization is “a new narrative,” one which will play a key role in Hawaii's economic infrastructure in terms of its resilience. Due to Hawaii's geographical location, he said we find ourselves in a challenging logistical position thousands of miles from the nearest populated landmass and within a known hurricane corridor. However, through collaborative efforts, each member was highly optimistic on the current progress of grid modernization, and the innovative “outside of the box” planning on part of Ching and his team.
"Innovation tends to happen when you have people come together and share ideas," Sedano said. “It offers perspective on what the technology can do for their state.” But this innovation does come at a cost. Sedano stressed that “grid modernization is a very expensive process,” and although some states such as California are investing, most other states have been slower to embrace new practices.
In estimating the cost, Ching explained that the utility approached the assessment from a different position. Rather than the standard “opt out” approach, Hawaiian Electric presented an “opt in” method for consumers. This helped with determining what areas to invest in. “We don’t deploy everywhere. We deploy where it’s needed or requested,” commented Ching.
Datta was very optimistic in the overall progress, “In about five years … there will be a pivot point when the grid becomes the generation source and not the backbone. It will be exciting!"