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ReNew Hawai'i Panel: Resilient Electrical Grid

Wayne Yoshioka

Renew-Rebuild Hawai’i hosted a panel discussion today on energy resilience and development. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico last September was a wakeup call for Hawai’i emergency preparedness planners focusing on building a resilient electrical grid.   Hawaiian Electric Company senior vice president for public affairs, Scott Seu, says power generation is concentrated in Leeward O’ahu, leaving other communities isolated.


“Our Windward side of the island is fed by 3 transmission lines that go over the Ko’olau Mountains.  Essentially, from Kualoa, down the island, Waimanalo, wrapping around, Hawai’i Kai, even coming back in to perhaps Aina Haina area.  Those are areas served by those 3 lines over the Ko’olau Mountains.”


Credit Hawaiian Electric Company
Hawaiian Electric Company graphic

Seu says the challenge is to distribute power generation more evenly and harden facilities in all communities.  State Economist, Eugene Tian, says providing more renewable energy sources like photovoltaic systems is also a challenge because of inequities between renters and home owners. 


“About 43 percent people rent their houses.  They pay their electricity bills and the percentage of these rental houses rooftop PV is very limited.  For those homes with homeownership, we have about 20 percent already have rooftop PVs.”


But, renewable energy and battery storage cannot provide the base load for a reliable and sustainable grid, says Hawai’i Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies director, Stan Osserman.  He says non-explosive liquid hydrogen is the answer.


“When you take hydrogen and you mix it in a fuel cell with ambient air, it generates electricity, gives you a little bit of heat and clean water.  A lead-acid battery will give you about 55 amp hours per kilogram of weight.  Hydrogen fuel cells are 26-thousand amp hours per kilogram.”


Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric Company is implementing a grid modernization strategy in the next few years and senior vice president Seu recommends a broad-based approach.


“Our older steam plants here like the Kahe Power Plant or at Campbell Industrial Park, we rely heavily on having a source of water.  Now, the water guys rely heavily on having electricity to move that water around.  So, if we’re not thinking from a more holistic perspective, you can easily miss something.”


For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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