Hawaii Is a “Postcard from the Future”

Today, the New York Times published a good look at how Hawaii’s residential solar power industry, the most advanced in the US, is forcing obsolete power companies to change, and how those power companies are fighting back. Regular readers of The Power Line are already familiar with the issues, as well as the Edison Electric Institute’s agenda of sabotaging small scale solar generation.  The Times article about Hawaii shows why the electric industry is fighting a losing battle.

The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not.

It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.

Hawaiian Electric is scrambling to accede to that demand, approving thousands of applications in recent weeks. But it is under pressure on other fronts as well. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, is awaiting approval to buy it, while other islands it serves are exploring defecting to form their own cooperative power companies.

It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

For customers, such explanations offer little comfort as they continue to pay among the highest electric rates in the country and still face an uncertain solar future.

Note the “problem” cited by the Hawaii Electric staffer:

But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

And why is that?  Because the power company has failed to install the digital metering technology that allows the power company to “see” behind the meter systems.  This is not a big deal.  But Hawaii Electric, like all major electric utilities, prefers to fight the solar trend, instead of building a more reliable and resilient distribution grid.

Here is a link to an article about the study that Times reporter Diane Cardwell mentions in her story.  Enphase Energy, maker of micro-inverters and digital management systems, showed that Hawaii Electric’s Colton Ching was simply wrong to claim that the company couldn’t add any new solar generators to its system.

Renewable power company NextEra Energy is showing Hawaii Electric what happens when dinosaurs refuse to change.  They disappear.

Load defection”  is the final threat to Hawaii Electric, that they can do little about:

Installers — who saw their fast-growing businesses slow to a trickle — are also frustrated with the pace. For those who can afford it, said James Whitcomb, chief executive of Haleakala Solar, which he started in 1977, the answer may lie in a more radical solution: Avoid the utility and its grid altogether.

Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries that he often puts in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.

“I’ve actually taken people right off the grid,” he said, including a couple who got tired of waiting for Hawaiian Electric to approve their solar system and expressed no interest in returning to utility service. “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

Did Charles Patton Really Say That?

I was just reading an article by Sarah Tincher in The State Journal about a meeting in Beckley earlier today where people got together to talk about compliance with EPA’s rule 111(d).

At the end of the article I read the following quotes from Appalachian Power CEO Charles Patton:

“Just to say we’re going to stop using these power plants and invest in wind mills and solar panels and have our customers pay for it is just – it’s crazy,” he said. “The other thing is renewables — they’re important part of portfolio but the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time.

“We need some sort of fossil based or nuclear power,” he added. “As we saw during the Polar Vortex, the wind didn’t quite blow the way it was forecasted to. It’s important to keep that in mind.

I think Mr. Patton is a pretty smart guy.  He was either very poorly prepared or he was deliberately misleading his listeners.

Look at what really happened during the 2014 polar vortex cold spells:

For the second time in two weeks, wind power once again kept consumers’ energy costs down as extreme cold drove energy prices to record highs across much of the eastern U.S.

Electricity and natural gas prices skyrocketed to 10 to 50 times normal across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states as extreme cold drove demand for electric and gas heating to near-record levels late last week. Fortunately, regional wind energy output was strong throughout these periods of peak demand, producing around 3,000 megawatts (MW) on the evening of Jan. 22 when supply was particularly tight, and roughly 3,000 to 4,000 MW for nearly all of Jan. 23 as electricity prices remained very high.

The savings that wind energy provided for consumers last week likely tally in the millions if not tens of millions of dollars, as wind energy reduced consumers’ energy costs in several major ways. Wind energy always provides these savings for consumers, which is why more than a dozen state government, grid operator, and other studies have confirmed that wind energy reduces consumers’ electricity prices.

Mr. Patton doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to come to an important meeting without being prepared.  That leaves only one alternative – he was knowingly spouting false propaganda for his employer, American Electric Power.

Solar Eclipse Not a Problem for German Grid Managers

For the last month, there has been a lot of hyper-ventilating about what would happen to Germany’s electric dispatch system with today’s eclipse of the sun.  Germany has the highest penetration of solar electrical generation in the world, and the media (more than a little of it “fossil-fueled”?) was touting Germany’s “vulnerability” to catastrophe.

So what happened?  As it turns out, not so vulnerable.

Here’s the real world from Reuters:

Electrical grids in Europe claimed success on Friday in managing the unprecedented disruption to solar power from a 2-1/2-hour eclipse that brought sudden, massive drops in supply.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, at the heart of the event, boasts the world’s biggest solar-powered installations, which last year supplied 6 percent of national power requirements.

The initial 13 gigawatts (GW) drop in Germany was less than operators had feared and they were able to draw on alternative power sources including coal, gas, biogas and hydroelectric energy pumped from storage.

Grid spokespeople said control rooms were tense. “The mood is concentrated but confident that it will go smoothly,” said Andreas Preuss, spokesman of TenneT peer Amprion, which operates the longest network inside Germany.

“Network frequency is stable, reserve load is being called on,” one of the four high-voltage grid firms, TenneT, said in a live webfeed.

Naturally, grid managers would be “tense” because this is a significant event that they have never experienced before, but there is still lots of non-solar generation capacity to be deployed.  Germany has one of the most extensive and sophisticated load management systems in the world, which was available as well.

Charleston Engineer Alan Tweddle Explains Why WV Needs Solar Energy Renewal

Alan Tweddle is an engineer and entrepreneur based in Charleston.  In a recent op ed in the Charleston Daily Mail, he made the case for rebuilding WV’s economy using renewable energy, particularly solar power.

Mr. Tweddle provides clear and specific examples of why we need to shift our economy to solar power:

And if you don’t like my statement that coal fired power is too expensive, then I suggest you look very carefully at the Province of Ontario, Canada.

Ontario studied why they were experiencing very excessive health-care costs in the air shadows of the coal-fired power plants. After two years of study, they determined that if they shut those plants down and replaced them with renewable energy systems, they would save money in the provincial budget, lowering the costs of electric power and health care, and increasing the health of the local people.

Ontario determined in 2005 that renewable energy is less costly than coal-fired power, so they completed their transition to shutting down all coal-fired power plants last year.

Legislators should visit with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (How’s that for a cabinet level title?). While there, I could arrange to see a remarkable development in concentrated photovoltaic cells that has brought the price of electric power from solar energy down to 5 cents per KWH. Currently John Amos, I am told by AEP executives, is running at 6 cents per KWH. This same company, Morgan Solar, has a next generation of CPV cells that will generate at 3 cents per KWH.

Solar Power Driving Down Prices for All Rate Payers

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis points to a recent study of the California electrical system that demonstrates clearly that as solar power expands, the price of electricity falls.

The truth is this: Rooftop solar provides substantial benefits for everyone, regardless of who installs it. It helps power the homes and shops that adopt it, to be sure, but it has far-reaching benefits for other customers as well. If Jane Doe in Anywhere, USA, puts a solar panel on her roof, every other electricity ratepayer within the footprint of whatever regional grid Jane Doe is tied into will benefit as well.

Honest purveyors of utility-industry fact know this, of course, and say it quite often. So, more and more, does Wall Street. No less a titan than Sanford Burstein & Co., one of the perennially best-rated firms in Institutional Investor’s annual rankings of investment researchers, has studied the issue deeply over the past couple of years and comes away with an unequivocal take on the issue: Rooftop solar, aka photovoltaic solar, means lower peak-hour energy prices for all.

Bernstein lays out the supporting research in a reported published last month that found that the rapid increase in the amount of solar PV available on the electricity grid in California—a seven-fold expansion in only four years, from 0.7 gigawatts in 2010 to 4.8 GW in 2014— had helped reduce system loads so much that peak prices were put off until later in the day, when demand was lower. Lower demand means lower prices.

Load shifting to reduce peak prices is only one of the many ways in which the expansion of solar power helps everyone.

NY Moving Ahead to Stop Wasteful Infrastructure Spending

NY is now leading the nation in promoting the development of microgrid technology.  The result has been a lot of new projects, including ConEd’s demand management project in Brooklyn and Queens that will eliminate the need for a new $1 billion (yup, that’s a “b”) substation.  Here’s what a recent story on Bloomberg said about the project:

Consolidated Edison Inc. can move ahead with a plan to give users in New York City’s two fastest growing boroughs incentives to boost energy savings and reduce reliance on the grid, the state Public Service Commission said.

The commission in a webcast meeting today approved the utility’s demand-management program for Brooklyn and Queens, where power consumption has jumped as gentrification spurred growth. The plan includes investments by consumers in more efficient lighting, batteries, rooftop solar panels and other strategies to cut demand.

Con Ed said in June that the plan would delay the need to build a $1 billion substation for the two boroughs until at least 2024.

“We are not going to change the landscape in one fell swoop,” Commissioner Gregg C. Sayre said. “That requires us to take small steps.”

Also at the meeting, commissioners discussed a broader energy vision for the state that includes proposals to give power companies more incentives to build new, cleaner generation and consumers incentives to cut use.

The Brooklyn/Queens plan for reducing demand will include energy efficiency, such as replacing refrigerators and painting roofs white, battery storage, distributed generation and microgrids, the company has said.

Con Ed envisions customer demand reductions totaling 41 megawatts. The company expects plan costs to be about $200 million, including expenses associated with the customer cuts and another 11 megawatts of reductions by the utility. Customer savings from the plan will be $400 million to $600 million, Robert Schimmenti, vice president of engineering and planning at the utility, said in a June 27 interview.

This is how you do electrical system investment – quality, not quantity.  And it’s cheaper for everyone.

Here is a link to ConEd’s request for proposals, so you can see the details of the proposed project.

The NY PSC is far ahead of WV PSC Chairman Albert’s ignorant “steel in the ground” fetish.  While the WV PSC sticks WV rate payers with over-capacity obsolete power plants, the NY PSC is serious about building a resilient electrical grid that actually saves rate payers and power companies money.