Why All Eyes Are On Maui's Smart Grid Infrastructure

  • Posted on: 11 November 2011
  • By: Patrick Oliphant

The entire energy sector eyes are on Hawaii’s second largest island of Maui.  The island's electricity provider Maui Electric Company (MECO) and the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii (HNEI) said they want to reduce their dependency on imported Diesel Oil.  Currently 15 percent of the island’s electricity is generated by renewable energy and they have set themselves an ambitious target of increasing this number to 70 percent by the year 2030. Therefore, Maui Island has become a test bed for the latest in smart grid technologies under a Japanese-businesses and US joint partnership.

Through the partnership Hawaii has attracted some of world’s leading smart grid solutions providers to help then reach this ambitious target.  One project has Hitachi as the leader (with Mizuho Bank, Hewlett-Packard Japan, Cyber Defence Institute, Sharp, JFE Engineering as partners)  along with other government entities from the island an in the US; the other project involves GE's Net Zero Energy Home solutions, Silver Spring Networks plus others. Hawaii has created what it calls the maui smart grid project for island residents to learn more about the project.

Similar projects are in progress in other countries such as Italy and the Danish island of Bornholm, but what makes Hawaii’s different is it location and the percentage of renewable energy that will form part of the grid's input.  On completion the results will guide other governments in the region and elsewhere who are planning on implementing smart grids but are concern about the issues around the technology. One of the key outcome is its security: will it be easy for hackers to cause any damage to the infrastructure and especially if it meets US security standards for smart grid security.

The cost and especially to the consumer is another key area of study.  At the moment islanders pay a high rate for electricity because MECO has to import the oil used to generate electricity. The project's aim is to see if a high percentage of renewable energy will reduce the cost for households. Homes involve in the test are given the latest smart grid appliances that help them learn more about their energy use.

Other Project Targets

  • "Advanced load shift" for maximum utilization of renewable energy
  • "Direct control" of home electric appliances and PV generation output control by smart PCS to withstand rapid changes in power supply and demand
  • "EV/PHEV management system" coordinated with the grid management system for the impact of EV/PHEV high penetration
  • "Cyber security" to improve safe operation of the system
  • "Autonomous control architecture" for system scalability and highly responsive energy control
  • Evolution of community and infrastructure based on the integrated control system of EV/PHEV management system and the grid management system using the latest information and communication and control technology to improve quality of life
  • Evaluation of the efficiency of demonstration systems developed forthe Project. Establish business models and assessment tools for remote island social infrastructure systems based on the project results

The project is expected to cost US$ 37 million and finish in March 2014.