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Hawaii picks Maui luxury resort as site to test smart-grid technology

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Hawaii,Wailea,wind, green energy, renewable, GEHawaii has been working for more than a year to map out concrete plans to harness the abundant—though unpredictable—winds that blow across the state’s numerous islands. As the state and its utilities draw up plans for wind farms and other green-energy facilities to help meet the goal of pulling 70 percent of power from clean energy by 2030, General Electric Company has announced it will test its smart-grid technology (designed to efficiently manage energy from a variety of sources while cutting down on overall consumption) in the Maui luxury resort community of Wailea, the Associated Press reports.

The test is expected to reduce peak electricity consumption in this 10.4-square-mile patch of land by 15 percent by 2012. Half of the $14 million Maui project is paid for with a federal Department of Energy grant, with the rest of the resources and personnel contributed by General Electric and Hawaiian Electric Company. The pilot is being treated as part of the federal economic recovery package, according to the AP, which included $4.5 billion for smart grid development. Hawaii remains the nation’s most fossil-fuel dependent state, with imports supplying about 90 percent of its power needs.

Maui, whose peak load is about 200 megawatts throughout the island, already receives nearly 10 percent of its energy from wind, but minute-to-minute wind fluctuations prevent wind power from being a reliable source of energy for the grid.

GE announced in July it was working with Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric Company, the University of Hawaii’s Natural Energy Institute and the U.S. Energy Department to launch the Maui Smart Grid project. This project’s goal is to develop and demonstrate the use of smart grid technologies and help Maui Electric control peak circuit demand, maintain adequate circuit voltage levels, and integrate intermittent renewable energy resources such as wind and solar.

Maui Smart Grid Project developers especially want to address wind’s unpredictability—a major barrier to its widespread use as a reliable green technology and one that prompts the state to continue depending on oil-fueled generators—by developing grid communications and controls that help Maui Electric coordinate various resources, such as distributed generation, energy storage, voltage controls and residential loads.

The Hawaiian government signed an energy agreement (pdf) with Hawaiian Electric a year ago to increase renewable energy statewide by 1,100 megawatts by 2030, with wind contributing 400 megawatts to Oahu’s grid from wind farms on built on Lanai and/or Molokai by way of an undersea cable developed with the state’s help.

Although wind will be the most significant contributor to the grid, other renewable sources will contribute, such as solar photovoltaic farms and geothermal energy. More novel technologies include one venture involving a 20-megawatt ocean thermal plant that uses the temperature difference between the Pacific’s warm surface water and its cooler deep water to drive a heat engine, Scientific American reported in June. This prototype would be the first of its kind and cost about $200 million.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Jay Spooner





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  1. 1. Jonathan Christopher 9:10 am 10/14/2009

    Hawaii is a great laboratory for trials of sustainable, renewable energy sources. It literally has EVERYTHING:

    High Temperature Geothermal (read active volcanoes)

    Low Temperature Geothermal (read dormant or extinct volcanoes)

    Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (high ocean surface temperatures, low deep ocean temperatures)

    Ocean wave energy conversion (Two miles off shore, and Hawaii experiences deep ocean wave action)

    Ocean current conversion ( massive and nearly constant currents in the channels between islands)

    Solar energy conversion ( nearly constant sunlight on the Leeward side of the islands, with thousands of square miles of desert and lava fields as potential sites)

    Biomass to energy (already use some Bagasse for electricity, but there could be much more)

    Wind energy conversion (the trade winds blow at about 12-15 MPH eleven months of the year)

    If the Hawaii government were innovative instead or anti-business, Hawaii would be energy independent and a source of saleable technology to the rest of the world.

    Too bad Linda ingle doesn’t get more support.

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  2. 2. HawaiiBill 8:35 pm 10/14/2009

    Unsure where Jonathan Christopher lives but our governor doesn’t "get more support" because she hasn’t sought it. On issue after issue since she was first elected she has ignored the state legislators — including Republican members — and announced whatever policy she has decided unilaterally the state will follow.

    Legislators in Hawai`i and elsewhere have a hard time operating successfully without leadership from their administration. Hawai`i and Alaska — sharing virtually the same constitutional powers — have extremely strong governors and legislatures that are weak by design.

    When governors such as George Ariyoshi were in office they instituted sweeping improvements in planning, education, agriculture and science. I’m hard put to come up with anything of that nature in the too many years Lingle has been in the top position. Perhaps a reader can correct me.

    In this current economic crisis, she announced there would be furloughs by state workers — including those in our schools — to help control costs. When "announced" it was far too late to bring along any cooperation from the Legislature or groups that have something to say about such matters, both in business and labor. Turmoil continues.

    Waimea was chosen for the grid grant — I would guess — because it is a well-designed and mature area that meets some good sense from its design by Alexander and Baldwin several decades ago. It has a mix of commercial and private uses, all of which are both cooperative and under good management. Maui Electric Company is compact and small enough to work with a project of this nature primarily because its leadership has been in intelligent hands for a very long time.

    The Big Island of Hawai`i, where I now live after many years on Maui, has some energy projects in geothermal, wind and ocean thermal conversion. It is sad but true that those exist without much — if any — help from the island’s electric company.

    If Hawai`i government were anti-business, as Mr. Christopher alleges, the fault would be in the governor’s office where all the business resources were ignored or simply not noticed. The university is floundering. Agriculture is in a state of frustration and hopelessness. Those are two areas where past governors excelled in bringing programs and leadership. So where is Linda Lingle? Hard to say as she isn’t visible when scanning the horizon for help in innovation or improvement of our island economy.

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