“The initial data collected shows the wind on
Lanai and Molokai is extremely good,” Mr.
Ching says. “It’s a world-class wind resource with
Of course, now the team just has to figure out
how to effectively bring that energy to Oahu.
“The technology of the cable system is not the
challenge. Rather, it’s the technical challenge of inte-
grating that much wind energy into the operations
of the Oahu grid,” he says. “The economics of the
project also need to be worked out. Each compo-
nent of the project—the wind farms, the cable and
the Oahu grid updates—will be developed separate-
ly, and each developer will need to make significant
The project teams also need to closely evaluate
the environmental impact such a system will have
on the delicate marine ecosystem. Plus, there will
be a need to address community concerns that the
project unfairly taps the resources of one island for
the benefit of another.
Not all stakeholders are sold on the project.
“The community is really torn,” Stephen
Ferguson, owner of Lanai City restaurant Canoes
Lanai, told The Maui News. “They don’t see much
of a benefit, and the loss of access to the land and
hunting is more problematic in their eyes.”
CHANGE IN THE WEATHER
Even if the power can be transmitted from one island
to another, Hawaii must still contend with the
unpredictability of renewable energy. Low winds,
storms and seasonal changes can all reduce the
amount of power generated—and leave a grid short
“We have to be able to absorb the variability
of these energy sources so we can continue to
provide reliable service,” Mr. Ching says.
First Wind, a U.S. wind energy company,
launched a 30-megawatt wind farm project on Oahu
that will include a battery-energy storage system that
can provide as much as 10 megawatts of power for at
least an hour during periods of low wind speeds.
The DOE granted First Wind a $117 million
loan guarantee in March to finance construction
of the farm, which could ultimately meet the
energy needs of 7,700 homes on Oahu.
Other projects are trying to boost reliability
by combining renewable energy resources.
Pacific Light & Power, for example, is pursuing
a 10-megawatt pilot project on a 100-acre
( 40.5-hectare) farm on Kauai, which has the
lowest percentage of renewable resources of Hawaii’s
islands. The project will marry solar energy collectors with a geothermal turbine system to generate
energy for the island using a smaller solar array.
By blending these energy sources, the project
makes the most of the limited resources: Geothermal
turbines require less heat to generate power, and any
excess heat can be stored for use in the evenings or
when cloud cover descends.
In an April interview with the Honolulu Star-
Bulletin, Albert Fong, chief engineer at Albiasa
Corp., which designs and manufactures the energy
system used on the project, said: “You have inertia
in the system that allows you to continually generate
electricity even during low points of solar radiation.”
When completed in 2011, the plant will pro-
vide energy to 8,000 homes on the island.
NECESSIT Y BREEDS INNOVATION
Hawaii has little choice but to pursue projects
that can help wean the islands off fossil fuels.
The stakes—and prices—are simply too high.
Electricity rates averaged 23.77¢ per kilowatt
hour in Hawaii in January, more than double the
U.S. average of 9. 35¢.
Not every municipality may be facing such
economic pressures, but the need to develop more
renewable energy resources is clear for governments around the world. Mr. Ching urges implementing strong project planning methodologies.
“It’s important to begin this process with an
end goal in mind,” he says. “If your goal is to
integrate a large amount of renewable energy over
a long period of time, plan for the infrastructure
to support that goal.”
Three decades ago, Hawaii mapped out a
renewable energy vision that never quite took
hold. Mr. Ching says the state allowed projects to
take all the room on the existing grid, forcing
massive upgrades to accommodate new additions.
“If we had it to do again,” he says, “we could
have employed a more deliberate and planned
approach in adding large amounts of renewable
generation from the beginning.”
It looks like that’s precisely what they’re trying
to do this time around. —Sarah Fister Gale