Switching from an oil-based energy system to a renewables/efficiency based system will take investment in new facilities and infrastructure and, in the case of “as available” energy sources like wind, sufficient and firm backup to keep the lights on. While this will increase electricity costs, the more renewable energy that can be added using fixed price formulas, the less we will need to use oil, which is increasingly more expensive, to produce electricity. That can result in more stable and lower prices to customers compared where prices were headed.
(Currently, in Hawaii, more than 50% of a typical electric bill goes to pay for fuel, mainly oil).
Some people believe that renewable energy must be cheaper because “fuel” such as sunlight, wind, volcanic heat, ocean waves and flowing water are “free.” However, this ignores the cost of converting these sources to electricity, and making them reliable.
Here are some things to remember about cost:
Environmental & cultural concerns
Every energy project raises environmental and cultural issues that can delay or stop the project if they are not addressed in advance, with openness and respect.
Some people also expressed concerns about the slight possibility that injection wells might contaminate drinking water sources.
All of these concerns must be addressed through thorough environmental reviews and extensive consultation with the native Hawaiian community.
Some people also think the wind turbines are an eyesore, noisy, a contributor to erosion, and are concerned about potential harm to birds flying in the area. Thorough environmental reviews and habitat conservation plans are important to addressing these concerns.
• Biomass & biofuel
A waste-to-energy plant, like H-POWER on Oahu, does not require land for crops. Waste-to-energy may actually protect land by reducing the requirement for noxious land fills.
(1) Institute for Energy Research (http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/energy-overview/biomass/)
|•||Reliable, high-quality power is essential in our high-tech world|
|•||Integrating "as available" renewables like wind and solar poses challenges|
|•||New technologies are being developed to "smooth" and store renewable electricity|
In a technological, computer-based world, we depend on reliable, high-quality electricity more than ever. Maintaining such power while increasing renewable electricity on our grids is a challenge we must understand and solve.
“Reliable” means electricity is available when needed, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Power quality” refers to electricity delivered at a smooth 60 hertz (cycles per second). The grid is designed to operate at this frequency. If frequency changes beyond a certain level, the grid is designed to protect itself from expensive, long-term damage. This can be done by turning off some customers if necessary and, in extreme cases, shutting down entirely.
In our homes and businesses, electronic devices are also designed to operate on the 60 hertz frequency. In sensitive electronic devices electrical surges and ebbs can disrupt or distort operations and even damage or destroy the devices.
Many renewable resources are variable, or intermittent. Wind is a good example. Hawaii’s typical tradewinds may blow harder on some days, softer on others, and at times not at all. Wind direction and speed can change minute to minute. All this affects the electrical output of wind turbines.
On small, stand-alone grids like those in the Hawaiian Islands, these fluctuations must be offset by “firm” generators. One challenge is that the wind can change quicker than typical electric generators. Maintaining 60 hertz frequency can strain generators (and the people who operate them).
This problem is less severe for large utilities on the continental U.S. because the variable renewable resource may be a much smaller percentage of total generation than on Hawaii’s small grids. As a result, power can be picked up from interconnected utilities.
New technologies -- like the electronic shock absorber invented and patented by engineers at Hawaiian Electric Company -- can help smooth the ebbs and surges of wind in the short term.
Large-scale electric storage -- including very large chemical, mechanical and electronic “batteries” -- is being developed. But some technologies are in very early stages of development. At present, large batteries or other storage can be very expensive, adding to the cost of every kilowatt hour of electricity produced.
A great technical and commercial challenge for renewable energy is energy storage. As-available energy sources such as solar and wind can’t be counted on to provide power 24 hours a day. Energy storage, in the early stages of development, can help make renewable electricity available when it is needed. Stored energy can be used in three ways. One is load leveling, holding energy produced when demand is low and using it when demand is high. Compressed air energy storage and pumped storage hydro work well for this.
Another is ramping. Energy from renewable sources like wind typically rises and drops off faster than typical firm-energy generators can ramp down or up to meet the change. Stored electricity can be used to fill in the difference. Compressed air energy storage, pumped storage hydro and flow-type batteries work well for ramping. Renewable electricity output can fluctuate minute to minute, causing problems in voltage regulation. Batteries, super capacitators, flywheels and Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage can help.
Electricity storage systems on a large or utility scale are at different stages of technical and commercial development and still quite costly.
Pumped storage hydro is a proven form of energy storage for electric utilities. There are over 150 plants with 22,000 MW of capacity in United States and 78,000 MW of PSH installed worldwide. Pumped storage hydroelectricity is a method of storing and producing electricity to supply high peak demands by pumping water to a reservoir at a higher elevation during off-peak periods and producing electricity using flowing water during on-peak periods. Several natural geological features are needed, including adequate close land areas divided by adequate elevation. There must also be an adequate water supply, though in some cases the lower reservoir is the ocean and sea water is used.
Studies have explored the possibilities of pumped storage hydro at Koko Crater and Ka'au Crater; on Hawaii Island at Puu Waawaa and Puu Anahulu in North Kona, Puu Enuhe in Kau and at Kaupulehu/Kukio. On Maui, sites have been considered at Maalaea, Honokowai in the Kaanapali area, Kohama near Lahaina and upcountry at Ulupalakua.
PSH challenges include siting, permitting, water availability, cost and the long lead time for development.
|•||Electricity generation and demand must be kept in balance at all times|
|•||When electric demand drops, it is necessary to turn some generators down or off; but some generators must be kept running at a minimum level|
|•||Curtailment of renewable resources can make them more challenging to operate efficiently and profitably
Even when renewable energy is available, utilities sometimes must cut back on “as-available” variable sources during off-peak periods of low electricity use.
Generation and consumption of electricity must be in balance at all times to maintain reliability and power quality. As customer demand for power drops, for example overnight, generation must be turned down or off. If electricity generated exceeds demand, the electric system can become unstable. A minimum level of firm generation sources must be kept on line to ensure reliability for customers 24/7. This can mean that not all of the energy from variable sources like wind can be used during period of low electricity demand.
Increasing the use of overnight charging for electric vehicles is one way to increase demand during off-peak times to utilize more as-available renewable energy and reduce fossil fuel for transportation.
|•||Land is scarce and valuable in Hawaii, making the siting of renewable facilities difficult|
|•||NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) attitudes also make siting energy facilities difficult
Land in Hawaii is limited and some renewable energy sources require a lot of it. Also, most renewable energy projects must be located where the renewable energy source (wind, geothermal, solar, etc.) is. It may be in a remote area away from existing power lines where new substations and transmission lines must be built to get power to the grid. That leads to higher costs.
With increasing residential and commercial development on our islands, especially Oahu, it is hard to find less populated space for energy projects like wind farms that have a high profile and visibility.