Maui County Continues to Lead the Way in Renewable Energy

A review of initiatives to date

Maui County continues as a hotbed of activity for renewable energy and leads the way nationally in terms of renewable energy production and usage.

Wind-TurbineWind. In December 2012, 21 megawatts (MW) of capacity were added to Maui’s grid with the commissioning of Sempra’s Auwahi wind farm on Ulupalakua Ranch land, bringing Maui’s “big wind” generating capacity to 72 MW; currently, Maui Electric Company (MECO) has a grid capacity of about 260 MW. The two phases of Kaheawa wind farm above Ma’alaea (brought online in 2006 and 2012) account for 51 MW. Some power curtailment of wind energy production has occurred, especially during the daytime due to overproduction and grid constraints; development of electricity storage technology and “quick start” technology for conventional fuel oil generators would enable greater penetration of renewable wind energy onto Maui’s grid.

YA-at-Wind-FarmDiscussions are ongoing between the State of Hawaii and the utility Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) regarding further “big wind” development in Maui County. Potential wind farms on Maui and Lanai would supply up to 400 MW of renewable energy to Oahu via undersea cable. This proposed interisland grid has a projected cost of $3 billion and a 2020 completion date.

Solar PV. Perhaps the biggest story in Maui’s renewable energy portfolio is the success of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy, in both the residential and commercial sectors.  There is an estimated 32MW of PV capacity on Maui currently, and PV has been a remarkable growth sector over the last few years as equipment costs have progressively fallen with improving technology. Large-scale solar farms are in the planning stages and under consideration; of existing installations, Lanai’s La Ola solar farm has a 1.2 MW capacity, and a new system on the County’s wastewater treatment plant in Kihei will provide 0.9 MW. There are an estimated 4,000 PV systems in Maui County. Although MECO has not denied PV connection applications and some grid circuits are approaching PV saturation, PV installers have reported a slowing down in the application process and MECO is revising its interconnection criteria and fees structure. It is anticipated that large-scale solar installations will go forward if plans for the undersea cable and interisland grid go ahead, and initial locations have been discussed for West Maui, Upcountry, and Central Maui.

Battery Storage. Experts believe that the extent of renewable energy penetration into Maui County’s grid depends in large part on technologies to store renewable power, especially electricity derived from intermittent (“non-firm”) sources such as wind and PV. Storage not only provides electricity as needed, but also helps regulate and “smooth” intermittent sources, providing valuable grid stability. Although battery arrays augment both the Kaheawa and Sempra wind farms and the La Ola solar installation, technical issues have limited their effectiveness. Utility-scale battery technology is at the cutting edge of renewable energy development, and advances will minimize the storage “bottleneck” in renewable energy penetration. One expert recently described developments to date in battery technology as “a triumph of hope over experience.”

MSGPSmart Grid. Two “smart grid” projects are currently underway on Maui. The first, in South Kihei, was funded with “Stimulus” ARRA funding. Smart meters and thermostats and an interactive web portal offering homeowners “real time” information on their consumption are among the initiatives piloted to improve grid reliability.

In 2011, HECO announced a “smart grid” and electric vehicle demonstration project funded by a partnership led by the Japan-based New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), which has invested $37m. in the initiative. Partners in the JumpSmart project include the U.S. Department of Energy, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii (HNEI), HECO, MECO, and the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB).

JSM-FleetElectric Vehicles. One aspect of the NEDO “smart grid” project is establishing a network of electric vehicle (EV) car chargers throughout Maui to support owners of Nissan Leaf EVs. Network charging stations have been opened in Central Maui, West Maui, Waikapu, Ma’alaea and Kihei. The County of Maui has engaged in a process of reviewing and revising ordinances to encourage the introduction of EVs and MECO has introduced a special tariff for dedicated EV charging stations.

Biomass. “Firm” power generation from biomass – energy stored in biological material – has a well-established history on Maui. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S), the last remaining sugar plantation in the state that farms 35,000 acres, is contracted by MECO to produce up to 16 MW of Maui’s energy needs primarily from bagasse, the fibrous material remaining after sugar cane has been squeezed and processed. Converting waste to energy, another form of harnessing biomass, is planned at the Central Maui Landfill. Methane piping and vents have already been installed and the successful bidder for the County’s Integrated Waste Conversion and Energy Project (IWCEP) – Anaergia Services of carlsbad, CA — was announced in April 2013 following an RFP process. The project is expected to divert 80 percent of waste from the landfill and produce at least 1.5 MW of energy.

Biofuel. Pacific Biodiesel was one of the first businesses in the country to set up a biodiesel refinery by establishing a production operation on Maui in 1996 to recycle cooking oil from local sources. The company now manages multiple plants on Oahu, the Big Island, and the mainland U.S. In 2010, HC&S announced federal funding for research initiatives on biofuel through the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research. HC&S’s acreage and trained labor force make it an ideal partner for biofuel research and development. Biofuel projects on Maui involving ethanol and gasification of woods such as keawe are in the discussion or development phase. Several biofuel proposals are also under consideration on Kauai and the Big Island.

Geothermal. In 2011, Ormat, the largest geothermal producer in the U.S., announced it will be testing sites for geothermal potential in the Haleakala Rift Zone at Ulupalakua Ranch in Upcountry Maui. The company has partnered with the Department of Energy to drill exploratory test wells and hopes to provide up to 30 MW of “firm” power to the Maui grid in the next few years.

Ocean Energy. Maui is surrounded by the ocean, and although prototype seafloor and wave turbines are an exciting technology currently in development, ocean energy remains a largely untapped resource with considerable potential. On the Big Island, the OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) project uses the difference in temperature between surface and deep water to produce energy. Undersea compressed air storage, using the natural pressure of the ocean to generate electricity, is another interesting technology in development that offers potential.

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