Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What's the Overall Objective?

On April 15, 2014, the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program convened Ascent: Building a Secure and Sustainable Water and Energy Future for Hawaii.  After the morning session, which I participated in as a panelist, and prior to the capstone session with former Vice President Al Gore, the afternoon working group sessions consisted of experts from the public and private sectors who were focused in energy, green building, community design and water sustainability solutions.  In the energy working group, Severin Borenstein, a E.T. Grether Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business and a Research Associate of the Energy Institute at Haas was a presenter. He is also Director Emeritus of the University of California Energy Institute and the Energy Institute at Haas.  It was too bad that his presentation was somewhat overshadowed by Ralph Cavangh's, the Co-Director of Natural Resources Defense Council's Energy Program, big personality and the fact that the session was not that well publicized or attended for it should have sparked a conversation on the costs and benefits of distributed generation in meeting Hawaii's overall objectives to lower electricity costs and move towards cleaner, renewable resources.

Professor Borenstein's May 4, 2015 blog, Is the Future of Electricity Really Distributed?, needs to be carefully considered by Hawaii's policymakers as we move forward.  What he describes is very much the rhetoric being advocated in Hawaii by rooftop solar advocates:
. . . Instead of seeking the most affordable way to scale up renewables, the loudest voices (though possibly not most of the voices) in the renewables movement are talking about “personal power”, “home energy independence”, “empowering the consumer”, and rejecting “government-created monopolies”. . . 
. . . That’s not to say that distributed generation couldn’t be the best way for some people at some locations to adopt renewables, but simply that DG should not be the goal in itself.  We desperately need to reduce greenhouse gases from the electricity sector, not just in the U.S., but around the world, including some very poor countries where affordability is a real barrier and electricity access is life-changing.  If DG is the least costly way to get that done, I’m in, but the choice should be driven by real cost-benefit analysis, not slogans about energy freedom.  

I'll touch more about the economics of rooftop solar and its impact on the general fund and ratepayers tomorrow.

Here's a clever European wind commercial that I saw on FaceBook recently.  Capacity factor is another issue that needs to be carefully considered as we move forward but I'll leave that discussion for another day.

1 comment:

  1. I believe DG is the way to go in places with cloudy weather as we have on Hawaii. I have rooftop PV that can be very closely monitored, and even on a very sunny day, there are dozens of spikes and valleys in the production. With DG it evens out. With a huge solar array it causes instability.

    Here on Kauai KIUC tried to buffer this with batteries, but within less than 2 years the 2,000,000$ battery bank was pau. They bought another one for their next array, this time for 8,000,000 and will still have to replace the first one.

    Also, with DG the utility has no land-lease costs, no maintenance, and especially no purchase costs. And on Kauai they even get away with a wholesale-retail ratio of 1:3 (meaning we need to feed 3 kWh into the grid in order to get 1 kWh back at night) - This is a change that's most likely coming to all of the islands, HECO is moving away from net-metering too, and the PUC is likely to approve it as it's working so well on Kauai.