New systems could help HECO add more rooftop PV

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Hawaiian Electric Companies’ (HECO) plans to generate 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2045 has not been the smoothest transition, particularly on the solar side.

With the elimination of net metering and the curtailment of other pro-solar incentives, the rooftop solar market in the state has slowed to crawl – but the state’s largest utility is taking steps to change the equation by installing new equipment and software that would open opportunities for more rooftop solar installations.

Building on a pilot program the utility started in 2016 with Varentec, a smart-grid technology firm, HECO will add 100 grid-optimizing devices and a monitoring system to three O’ahu substations currently dealing with high penetrations of solar PV electricity.

The optimization devices regulate distribution voltages, while the software provides granular data to system operators to diagnose and solve minor grid problems before they become widespread. HECO hopes to minimize voltage fluctuations along the distribution grid, which would allow for additional rooftop solar capacity to be installed with degrading grid performance.

HECO provides electricity to 95%  of Hawaii’s customers and, by the end of 2016, had sourced 26% of its power from renewable sources – so it clearly has a long way to go to meet its ambitious 2045 goal.

“Our first pilot project let us test cutting-edge technology to open up capacity for rooftop solar on two PV-saturated circuits and also minimize the need for costly upgrades,” said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric Companies senior vice president of planning and technology. “We’re excited to expand our pilot into other service areas and learn more about these new technologies as we modernize our electric grid and work toward meeting our state’s clean energy goals.”