KIUC eyes power shift

LIHUE — Changing up your routine is one way to help move Hawaii toward the goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy usage by 2045.

That means doing laundry and other power-intensive things during the day.

“With solar, we’ve undergone quite a transition so that the middle of the day is the lowest use period for our diesel-powered generators and the evenings are the highest load,” said David Bissell, chief executive officer of KIUC.

He continued: “We want to encourage people to take advantage of our solar achievements and shift those high-load activities to the middle of the day, ideally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., if they are in a position to do so.”

Bissell said on the average clear, sunny day, solar and other renewables supply between 80 and 90 percent of Kauai’s needs during prime sun periods and the island is on track to a 70 percent renewable level by 2030.

Renewables have increased from 5 percent of sales in 2008 to 42 percent of sales in 2016.

Currently there are 3,400 photovoltaic systems (PV systems) installed on rooftops across Kauai — that’s up from the 1,200 in 2012.

And a Time-Of-Use (TOU) pilot program, 300 members strong, is aimed toward reducing the cost with a direct grid PV system, increasing the daytime load and allowing Kauai to use more low-cost PV in the long run.

The concept of the TOU program rests on net metering — which means during the day, especially in places with ample sun like Kauai, members’ solar panels produce more electricity than the household needs. The extra energy is sent back to the grid for storage and at night, KIUC sends the power back to the member.

Members involved in a TOU program sell their solar electricity during the peak-hours at a higher price and buy it back at the off-peak price.

Bissell said while the TOU pilot program is going strong, KIUC is discouraging people from installing systems on their homes that produce more power than they can use.

That’s because the co-op has been successful in promoting member rooftop solar and in building new large-scale solar facilities.

“Those have changed the dynamic somewhat so that we are at the point where we, at times, can’t absorb onto our grid power generated by customers that they can’t use themselves,” he said.

KIUC isn’t rejecting or delaying customer rooftop solar applications, though, and the company is committed to working with members “so they continue to be part of that solution for us,” Bissell said.

KIUC’s TOU program has captured the attention of Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, which took a few pages from KIUC’s book when drafting amendments to its own statewide plan.

The PUC also took into account the CBRE plan from Hawaii Electric Company — Hawaii’s investor-owned utility company.

The two entities share information and strategies as they work toward the goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

“Each island’s energy usage characteristics are different and HECO’s programs are established for their own service territory,” Bissell said. “On Kauai, we are primarily interested in seeing whether members will shift their energy use to daylight hours if incentive rates are offered.”

Along with piloting a TOU program, KIUC has been taking a hard look at their rates, Bissell said, in an effort to ensure fair distribution of cost among members.

“Equitable distribution of cost and avoidance of unfairly asking one group of members to subsidize another is an area of constant and serious concern for us,” Bissell said. “We are working actively to identify any areas where rate adjustments may be needed to assure equity.”

Bissell said KIUC is also considering, but not yet pursuing, a new rate filing with the PUC.

“If we pursue a rate filing with the PUC, we may propose some form of TOU rate program expansion,” he said, “potentially to all members.”

He said while KIUC considers rates, the co-op is working on the key to their progress in renewables: storage technology.

“Kauai’s sunny time of day load is essentially being served fully by solar,” Bissell said. “To bring more solar to our grid, we need to find ways to store energy generated by solar during the day and distribute it after dark.”

That’s what KIUC is attempting to do with the SolarCity dispatchable PV project, which recently began construction on 50 acres of Grove Farm land under the terms of a 20-year contract announced September.

“Once complete, the system’s batteries will be able to provide 13 megawatts of energy for four hours,” Bissell said. “This is enough energy to provide power for around 4,000 homes each night. We could not do a project this size without using storage.”

Construction is set to be completed in December.

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