HECO’s five-year plans accommodate more solar than ever

Hawai’ian Electric Cos. (HECO) has set an aggressive growth agenda to generate 100% of its electricity from renewables five years ahead of a state-mandated timeline.

An updated Power Supply Improvement Plan filed with the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission (PUC) details faster expansion of the utility’s renewable energy portfolio — including solar — than the plan filed in April. It also revealed five-year blueprints for its five islands HECO serves.

While the plans are detailed, the updated plan also emphasizes HECO’s need to remain flexible to deal with unforeseen challenges in the future. As the solar industry continues to change rapidly, HECO says it doesn’t want to crowd out future technological breakthroughs in power generation, distribution and storage.

As pv magazine reported last month, HECO has wrestled with the challenges associated with its “solar oversupply” problem for the past three years. HECO stopped net-metering program a year ago because of its overwhelming popularity was making grid acceptance of the excess energy impossible.

Its first non-net-metering option the Customer Grid-Supply (CGS) program, provided consumers with a credit for electricity they sent to the grid, which also proved too popular, hitting its own caps in August.

Recently, the utility has seen an uptick in its Customer Self-Supply (CSS) program, which is designed for distributed PV installations that don’t export any electricity to the grid. The CSS program is at least in part the reason HECO is optimistic that it can hit the state’s goals early by expanding private rooftop solar.

It’s no surprise that HECO serves the highest percentage of customers using rooftop solar of any utility in the United States, but its plans for solar expansion don’t stop there. The utility also forecasts the addition of 360 MW of grid‑scale solar and 115 MW from programs known as Demand Response (DR).

DR shifts customer use of electricity to times when more renewable energy is available, which will make room for more solar customers than are possible now. HECO also says it will upgrade and expand its grid to accommodate an estimated total of 165,000 private PV systems by 2030 — more than double what they have now.

HECO believes it will generate at least 100 percent of its energy from renewables by the end of 2040, five years ahead of the state’s mandated 2045 deadline.

“We have a solid plan that accelerates our progress to get to 100 percent renewable energy,” said Alan Oshima, HECO president and CEO.  “We want to work with parties from all segments of our community — government, business, community, and environmental groups – to refine the plans for Hawai’i’s energy future.”