Hawaii having difficult time managing solar power's inconsistencies
Wall Street Journal:
For a glimpse of the promise and problems of turning the electric grid green, there’s no better place to look than Hawaii.The inefficiencies of solar energy will become more evident as they try to reach their goal. They would be better off if they converted to LNG and imported that from Texas. It would be cleaner burning than the fuel oil and would also be more dependable than the solar and wind. The poor are hardest hit by this inefficient power structure.
With 21% of its power now coming from renewable sources like wind turbines and solar panels, Hawaii has become a laboratory for those intent on reinventing the grid. A new law mandates that renewables supply all of the state’s electricity by 2045.
But Hawaii’s grid is already running into problems with its heavy helping of rooftop solar and other carbon-free renewables. Among them: sudden swings in the output of solar and wind, which force the state’s main utility to scramble to try to keep the overall supply of power steady.
State officials concede that there are problems. “But we’re highly optimistic we’re going to work through these issues and become energy self-reliant,” says Mark Glick, head of the Hawaii State Energy Office. “We don’t lack confidence at all.”
Though Hawaii’s effort is attracting attention around the globe, its electric system is unusual. For starters, each island has its own electric grid, and they aren’t connected. On the mainland, three big power grids serve 48 states; typically, the bigger the grid, the more stable it is.
Hawaii remains the only state that still burns oil to generate most of its electricity—about 70% for the islands versus 1% for the U.S. as a whole, according to federal data. That has pushed Hawaii’s average electricity price to 34 cents a kilowatt-hour, the highest in the U.S. and nearly triple the national average, the data shows.
Partly as a result, an unusual number of islanders have put solar panels on their roofs. On Oahu, where most of Hawaii’s population lives, 13% of residential utility customers have solar systems, more than any other state, according to data from Hawaiian Electric Industries, the state’s biggest utility, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
More than 50,000 houses in the state act as tiny power plants, putting any electricity that they don’t use onto the grid. But grids were designed to zip electrons across high-voltage wires from a few big power plants to homes and businesses; they were not made to work the other way around. Traditional power plants weren't designed to ramp up and down quickly, either—making it tough to absorb bursts of solar power added to the grid on sunny days or make up for a sudden drop on cloudy ones.