Sunday, March 29, 2015
Beyond replacing HECO with a bigger HECO—Hawaii needs to get with the technology
by Larry Geller
Today’s Star-Advertiser is worth buying, if you don’t have one. Unfortunately they continue to lock away on-line articles behind a paywall, so there’s not much choice. So borrow one, or… whatever.
There is an interesting triptych of articles in the Insight section on the NextEra/HECO issue, but also, it would be worth finding a copy just to read David Sharpiro’s column on p.2). There’s also an op-ed about the city screwing up an RFP for streetlights—with an apparent technology error in the specs. Technology is not our long suit, it seems.
The three-part “debate” on the NextEra/HECO/rooftop solar controversy is very worth reading. But it misses one key point.
I’m not sure if I can properly articulate it (Henry Curtis, where are you??). But if I could, it would go something like this: “We’re behind on the technology, and so are shooting for something that will be obsolete when we get it.”
Not only can we find ourselves obsolete, but as ratepayers, we’ll be the losers. HECO or NextEra can’t lose, because they send us the bills no matter what.
Now, check out my article from Sunday, March 08: PV panel technology that even HECO may welcome and ratepayers should demand (3/8/2015).
Rooftop solar power systems are picking up a second job on the distribution grids that deliver electricity to California homes and businesses. Right now, their photovoltaic panels just generate electricity (meeting about 1 percent of the state’s consumption), but within a few months some systems will also start moonlighting as junior grid regulators—a role that could keep them busy even after the sun goes down.
[IEEE Spectrum, How Rooftop Solar Can Stabilize the Grid, 2/2015]
This self-regulation is key because HECO insists (correctly) that the voltage and frequency on the grid must be maintained within very narrow limits. This is done with a variety of technologies, all of them involving giant machinery located on the premises of the utility companies (see, for example, synchronous condensers. used to manage inductive loads). But that’s so 20th century. They may still be needed because of industrial use on the power grid, but Germany, Japan and California are overcoming other HECO stability concerns through their distributed technology.
We may be “leaders” in rooftop PV installations by some measures, but that’s only because the falling price of solar panels finally crossed a threshold—and created an industry composed of contractors lining up to profit from installation jobs.
So now we have contractors experienced in the basics of solar power, and many of them know exactly where the industry is going.
We need to shoot for that point.
What I read in the paper also falls short in that it doesn’t anticipate progress in energy storage.
If, in the future, consumers will also be storing electricity, if grid operators will be storing electricity, then it will be a new ballgame. Much less fossil-fuel-based generation capacity should be needed.
We need to study and understand the technology
How come you read about what Germany, Japan and California are doing here on Disappeared News? Where are our technology leaders (stop laughing)? The installation business, even if they keep abreast of the latest rooftop gizmos, cannot help us design a future system.
We need an independent, flexible, nimble grid
The future may hold opportunities that will not fit the current model. For example, suppose Costco covered their parking lots with PV panels, and offered to sell electricity as well as toilet paper and Spam to their customers (I’ve suggested that to them)? There needs to be a framework to accommodate that. It’s not so far-fetched. The small shopping center at the corner of Vineyard Blvd. and Liliha has already covered their parking spaces with PV.
Or suppose someone simply had a lot of roof area and wanted to sell electricity to a neighbor?
Or why can’t a condo buy electricity from a remote solar farm and pay for transport via the independent grid?
We’re not getting the best deal from HECO and won’t get it from NextEra
I doubt that the business plan of these giants includes “power to the people.” Bottom line is profit to the shareholders.
In today’s paper, the NextEra side reiterated that it won’t seek a rate action for four years. In Henry Curtis’ article The Most Unexpected Energy Conversation (ililanimedia, 3/28/2015) he notes that ratepayers would not get a rate decrease in that case, should NextEra, with access to cheaper capital, enjoy significantly lower costs of operation. In that event, NextEra would enjoy windfall profits.
Using technology that would facilitate rooftop solar connections, if that would conflict with profits, is also not on the table.
It’s a choice of way cheaper power for us, or more profit for the giants. Cheaper power also enhances Hawaii’s competitiveness by lowering the cost of doing business here. It should be as cheap as possible for the most benefit.
These objectives are in conflict with maximizing HECO/NextEra shareholder profit.
We, as a state, can take a different path.
If we set out to do it.
If not, HECO will simply be replaced with a bigger and badder HECO, and we’ll continue to pay as much as they can squeeze out of us.
HECO has admitted that PV solar has NEVER caused and problem with the grid. their assertion that they must currently (I mean right now with the low levels of PV we have) slow and deny "permission" for homeowners to have rooftop PV solar in order to maintain safety and reliability, is a complete lie.
A class action lawsuit is warranted.
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