Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Hawaii’s power gridlock
by Larry Geller
Jonathan Cole’s comment to my article HECO shortcircuits Hawaii’s alternative energy plans (2/22/2010) is worth a plug.
I disagree that an efficient power grid isn’t needed. We can’t all generate our own electricity. If it’s reasonable to purchase it, then the grid will be necessary far into the future. Why not, though, feed the grid with power from renewable sources generated by those who can make extra?
There’s an intermediate concept: a local grid. Plans for an innovative tower in Dubai, which now may or may not be built, would have the wind generators that are part of the building provide enough power for nearby buildings as well.
I wrote in Re-thinking Hawaii’s utilities means thinking smaller about local power generation at the housing project in Brooklyn where we used to live. For about 50 years, they have been generating their own power and are now feeding back into the grid. They could also have provided power for the other nearby projects.
We could have neighbors providing power for neighbors, buildings providing power for other buildings.
You could choose to make a buck by generating power in your back yard and selling it to others on the opposite side of the island.
It’s not rocket science. The main obstacles are the will to make it happen and the influence of and dependence upon a system of utilities that favors the status quo (that is, burning oil and selling you electricity at whatever cost).
Thanks for the plug, but you miss one important point. There is a factual technical reason that HECO can utilize to discourage solar and other renewables. HECO customers expect the power to be there whether the sun shines or not, whether the wind blows or not. When there is no storage then, the utility has to provide backup power that is there regardless of nature's cooperation.
So they claim they have to invest in fossil fuel generators for reliable power. That of course is a fallacy. They could invest in energy storage modalities such as large battery systems, pumped hydro, etc. The problem is, those petroleum distribution revenues that feed some participants in the utility industry. Conflict of interest. You betcha, but probably not illegal.
Sure there should be an efficient grid but, in my opinion, it should not be enlarged. There is a better way for society to allot its infrastructure outlays. Large scale storage for renewable energy and then distributed renewable energy systems that use that stored energy as a backup generator. We could end the fossil fuel era in Hawaii with solar alone, but it requires storage. Affordable, durable electric storage is already available for distributed stationary solar electric systems. Solar batteries installed in distributed solar systems last 15-20 years when properly utilized and are 100% recyclable.