The Hawaiian Electric companies are committed to providing reliable, cost-efficient electricity that is also environmentally friendly. For energy security and to reduce our contribution to global climate change, we must get more energy from clean, local and renewable resources.
Hawaii's oil-based energy system has worked well for almost a century
Cost and availability of oil and concern about global warming mean the system must change
Switching from an oil-based system to a renewable/efficiency based system will take investment and may be more expensive, especially at first
Renewables include solar, wind, water, geothermal, biomass (including waste-to-energy), ocean energy and biofuels with a preference for those that can be grown locally.
Oil is becoming more expensive and harder to find. Also, we now understand that using fossil fuel contributes to global climate change. Hawaii's oil-based energy system that has worked well for about a century must change.
Switching from an oil-based energy system to a renewables/efficiency based system will not necessarily be cheaper, especially at first. Switching 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.
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.
Reliability is Very Important
- 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. Learn more about 24-hour availability and how it affects reliability.
"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 ("dropping load") 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 trade winds 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.