Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beyond the microgrid is the nanogrid

By Henry Curtis

Microgrids are usually thought of as collections of buildings that have some generation capacity and can exist at least temporarily while discounted from the utility grid. That is, they are islandable.

Microgrids come in a variety of flavors. The Pearl Harbor model envisions the microgrid as backup to the utility grid. The Parker Ranch model envisions the utility grid as backup to the microgrid.

Most microgrids in operation today rely on fossil fuel and are thus sometimes referred to as vintage microgrids.

 Microgrid News notes the confusion in terminology.

“Microgrids are a global phenomenon. Yet, a clear definition of what is and what is not a microgrid is still open to debate. The only government agency to define a microgrid is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which identifies a microgrid as:

‘A group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources (DER) within clearly defined electrical boundaries that act as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected and island-mode.’

Navigant Research has broadened this widely accepted definition of a microgrid to include remote systems in its analysis. Remote microgrids are networks that are not typically interconnected with any utility grid or may interconnect with a highly unreliable grid; therefore, they operate in island mode for a majority of the time. It was these remote, off-grid systems that were first called microgrids decades ago.”

Microgrids are most commonly found at military installations, schools, hospitals, fire stations and other critical infrastructure facilities.

Beyond the smart grid is the smart building.

Some commercial facilities utilize a Building Automation System (BAS); a computerized network of electronic devices which monitor and control lighting (especially emergency lighting), air conditioning, heating and other mechanical systems.

Some buildings have their own energy generators ranging from rooftop solar to basement combined heat and power systems. Some have batteries.

A Forbes Magazine article highlighted the growth in building-based nanogrids.  

“‘In many ways, nanogrids appear to be an even more radical rewiring and rethinking of the world’s energy future than microgrids,’ writes principal Navigant Research analyst Peter Asmus

‘Nanogrids mimic the innovation that is rising up from the bottom of the pyramid and capturing the imagination of growing numbers of technology vendors and investment capital, particularly in the smart building and smart transportation spaces.’”

One issue facing HECO, MECO and HELCO is whether to build a utility-scale global Smart Grid and then allow, control and micromanage the development of microgrids and nanogrids within that architecture, or to watch the development of microgrids and nanogrids and then determine a transmission overlay that can provide support for these systems.

The former approach is all about HECO’s past: control, control, control. The latter approach is all about transforming the generation and transmission utility into an energy service provider.

The risk in either approach will occur in two to ten years. Microgrids and nanogrids may be able to supply electricity at rates far below the utility rate and will therefore spin off and permanently disconnect from the utility grid.

Related to the cost risk is the reliability risk. Medium sized microgrid systems are more resilient; they can better withstand and adjust to disturbances.

If one thing goes wrong with a macrogrid, a cascading blackout can ripple across the system.

The U.S. and Brazil have been impacted by large blackouts affecting a 100 million customers while India was impacted by a mega blackout in 2012 when 600 million customers were without power.

Electric architecture companies – Siemens, ABB, GE, IBM, Navigant, Aclara and Schneider – will survive and prosper regardless of whether the focus is on nanogrids, microgrids, macrogrids, or grid interfaces.

The issue facing HECO is how to survive in turbulent times when there is no clear path ahead, when technology is rapidly changing and when the public is clamoring about high costs and the inability to interconnect to the grid.

One approach is to rip out all of the old, inefficient oil and diesel driven generators and to replace them with fast reacting, modern, smaller gas driven generators to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).

An alternative is to bypass the LNG Bridge and head directly into renewable energy resources and energy storage.

Hawai`i is the leading edge of the disruptive electricity storm sweeping across the U.S. 

Maui is on the leading edge of Hawai`i. On Maui wind and solar can supply all of the power at certain times of the day. 

The traditional cost structure, reliability requirements, grid architecture and utility business models are all in play.

Ron Binz is the former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and, more famously, President Obama’s failed nominee to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Binz spoke at the Maui Energy Conference last spring and is a consultant to the Blue Planet Foundation in the Decoupling Docket.

Binz noted that electric utilities are famously slow-moving, risk-averse organizations. He credits Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy (2009-13), as the origin of a joke that Binz now tells audiences.

There’s these three utility executives, and they’re wringing their hands over their future. They decide they’d better end it all. So, they decide to jump in front of a fast moving object. They jump in front of a glacier — that’s their estimate of what a fast moving object is. The glacier killed them.

Today the electric utility business is at a crossroads. The future business model is highly uncertain. Disruptive technology is the name of the game. 

Hawaii is like a boat caught in the middle of a ferocious storm. The emphasis is on surviving the next few years. 

What lies beyond the next set of waves is unknown.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Public attitudes about renewable energy in Hawai‘i

By Henry Curtis

The University of Hawai‘i Center on the Family released a report on “Public attitudes about renewable energy in Hawai‘i.”  

The authors Barbara D. DeBaryshe and Ivette Rodriguez Stern commissioned SMS to conduct a poll.

The Report assesses overall feelings towards renewable energy.

Then it breaks down the support by examining specific attitudes towards the different types of renewable energy.

Not surprisingly solar is the most popular. But how does it rank compared to wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, and nuclear?

What are the reasons that people support renewable energy? 

The leading answer supported by a quarter of those serveyed is the cost.

The Report compares the responses to national and international polls as well as comments submitted for the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) Environmental Impact Statement process.

The Report offers a good glimpse into public opinion. Further polling is needed to understand in greater detail how the public views renewable energy and what shapes their opinions.

One part of the report could be misinterpreted.

Hawai‘i is well situated to take advantage of RE. It is estimated that our state could generate significant portions of current electricity needs from offshore wind power (22%), rooftop photovoltaic panels (49%), and geothermal power (71%). In fact, the potential capacity combined across multiple RE sources exceeds current levels of electricity use.”

Offshore wind has a unique Hawaii interpretation. It refers to wind turbines built on one island that will produce electricity for consumption on another island via a future undersea cable. More specifically it refers to a particular Maui project accompanied with a future Maui County-Oahu cable. 

If wind turbines were built everywhere Maui County they could supply more than 25% of the electricity consumed within the State. Furthermore, the Waikoloa-Kohala area of the Big Island has more land-based wind resources that all other land areas in Hawaii combined.

The other misleading reference is to geothermal. The original source is from a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study conducted in 2008 that examined only one site in Hawaii (Puna) and estimated that the “undiscovered potential” was four times greater than the known resource. No cable was contemplated.

In Hawaii, we apply only those calibrated logistic regression models for magmatic geothermal systems and estimate the mean undiscovered potential at 2435 MWe, with 95% and 5% confidence intervals of 822 MWe and 5438 MWe.” 

Survey Methodology

The random phone survey included land lines and cell phones. 

“The respondent had to be at least 18 years of age, a Hawaii resident, and a household member if the number was a land line. The sample was designed to be representative at the county level, but we did not have the resources to be representative of each island.  

We did over sample on the Hamakua coast, with the original intention of comparing that region to the rest of the big island on other items not related to renewable energy.”

“The final sample included 1,214 adults, with 171 to 702 respondents per county (largest number on the Big Island). The final sampling errors at the county level were larger than is typically desired, but the state-wide sampling error was only 2.9 points. 

In the energy report, we focused on state-wide figures as they were quite reliable. The comparisons we did at the county level were done with weighted data that took the larger sampling error into account.”

List of Survey Questions

A total of 16 questions were asked. After the initial questions the order was varied. Most of the questions had standardized answers (yes, no, not sure, don’t know, refused). A few were open-ended.

Would you say you support or oppose developing more renewable energy sources for the State of Hawaii?

Do you strongly support it, or just support it?

Do you strongly oppose it, or just oppose it?

Why do you say that?

What are the biggest problems with renewable energy for Hawaii?

What are the most important benefits of renewable energy for Hawaii?

What is the most important issue to you when considering how you feel about renewable energy?

What about wind power or windmills?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about photovoltaic energy or solar panels?  Do you think they would be good for Hawaii?

What about municipal solid waste combustion, burning garbage, to produce electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about hydroelectric power or water power?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about biomass power or burning plant matter to make electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about geothermal energy, using volcanic heat to make electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about burning coal to make electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about burning oil to make electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

What about using nuclear power to make electricity?  Do you think that would be good for Hawaii?

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Monday, October 20, 2014

We Demand Change But Won’t Tolerate Sunshine or Dissent

By Henry Curtis

A number of energy plans have been proposed for Hawai`i. Will any given plan allow for community input? Will suggestions be listened to? Will the community be thanked and ignored? Will options and alternatives be considered? These are important questions.

 “Abercrombie is not getting enough credit for the progress that has been made, and it’s on the strength of that effort — and the promise of further advances — that the Honolulu Star-Advertiser endorses him for the Democratic nomination to a second term.” (July 27, 2014

The Governor through his appointments of the DBEDT Director and the State Energy Office administrator, has guided Hawai`i energy policies down a particular path.

On Sunday the Honolulu Star Advertiser ran an editorial “Core changes needed at HEI.”

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism concluded that the Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) Power Supply Improvement Plans fail to show ‘the strategic focus needed to advance the state's energy policies.’ …As the state DBEDT observed, this seems to be the strategic planning of a company more interested in covering its bases.”

The Governor’s Energy Plan appears on the DBEDT Energy Office web site:

The State has established five guiding directives to help ensure whether particular actions or proposals are consistent with the State's energy policy:

(1) developing a diversified energy portfolio that maximizes renewable generation;

(2) building interconnected, modernized grids;

(3) effectively balancing technical, economic, environmental, and cultural considerations;

(4) being a "trail blazer" with regard to energy innovation; and

(5) supporting market-led investments and pricing structures that align with the State's energy policy and economic goals.”

Point four includes the phrase "balancing technical, economic, environmental, and cultural considerations" is outside of DBEDT's kuleana.

"It shall be the objective of the department of business, economic development, and tourism to make broad policy determinations with respect to economic development in the State." (HRS §201-2)

"Specific research and promotional functions of the department.  Without prejudice to its general functions and duties, the department of business, economic development, and tourism shall have specific functions in the following areas: (1)  Industrial development. ...Land development. ...Credit development. ...Promotion." (HRS §201-3)  

The Star Advertiser asserted that one problem with the HECO Plan is that it is not in alignment with Governor’s Plan  --- which will remain official state policy for the next eight weeks.

There are many paths towards the future. Some are fuzzy while others are more distinct. Some are flexible and others are rigid. Each has promises and risks. Each plan have a variety of impacts: some known, some unknown and some known to insiders but intentionally hidden. Each path creates a different set of winners and losers.

HECO’s 2013 Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) Report, HECO's 2014 Power Supply Improvement Plans (PSIPs) and HECO's 2014 Distributed Generation Interconnection Plan leave a great deal to be desired.

But for all of their weakness, the HECO plans are significantly stronger than Governor’s plan.

The current 2014 HECO plan and the DBEDT plan were both developed in dark rooms without community input. Both plans promote a particular vision. Both plans are based on a combination of facts, and sets of reasonable assumptions and questionable assumptions.

Both plans rely on confidential documents that are not reviewable by the public.

But the HECO Plans are superior for several reasons. The HECO’s plans were more fully developed.   The HECO’s IRP Report was developed over a year-long period. The Final Report was filed with the Public Utilities Commission in June 2013. 

To analyze the HECO Companies IRP process, the Public Utilities Commission established a five-island advisory group with dozens of members. They met for day-long meetings on more than a dozen occasions.  The advisory group analyzed the HECO, MECO and HELCO IRP filings and processes. They asked questions and got answers.

The Public Utilities Commission invited the public to comment on HECO’s current 2014 Power Supply Improvement Plans and HECO's 2014 Distributed Generation Interconnection Plan. Hundreds of comments have flooded in. The comments are still arriving.

HECO’s plans are highly visible and have been and are being subjected to intense analysis. The underlying data, assumptions and models have been attacked and defended; some proposals have been modified.

By contrast, DBEDT has not presented their convoluted plans to the Public Utilities Commission for review nor encouraged public scrutiny.

The DBEDT Plan is justified by self-serving confidential reports that have highly questionable assumptions that defy logic.  

The DBEDT Plan covers many issues, one of them being inter-island connectivity. DBEDT asserts that Neighbor Islands should power O`ahu. 

DBEDT opines that the Maui-Oahu cable, unlike every other undersea cable in the world, will absolutely never fail. This bizarre statement has led to the manufacturing of false analysis. 

DBEDT has been unwilling to engage in a meaningful and honest discussion on the true cost, reliability and environmental impacts of inter-island connectivity.

The DBEDT attack against HECO, supported by the Star Advertiser editorial board, is an attack against HECO's Plans, not because the HECO plans are weak, which they are, but because they are different from the DBEDT Plans, which happen to be weaker. 

DBEDT will undergo fundamental change in eight weeks. The new Governor will establish his own policies for moving forward and will appoint new DBEDT leadership to focus on that new strategy.

DBEDT should not become the Public Energy Development Corporation (PEDC). 

Energy policy development requires open discussion, true analysis and consensus. 

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Hawai`i Ethics Commission

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The County of Hawai`i sees a bright innovative energy future

By Henry Curtis

Four days after the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) Energy Agreement was signed on October 20, 2008, the Public Utilities Commission opened a regulatory proceeding to examine decoupling.

Traditional, utilities and regulators guesstimate the anticipated costs and kilowatt-hours of electricity that will be sold in the upcoming cycle. Then a rate per kilowatt-hour is established that will allow the utility to recover its costs and have the opportunity to make a reasonable profit.

After receiving regulatory approval the utility adjusts its plan to increase its profits. The utility gains if customers increase the amount of electricity they buy. The increase can occur due to weather conditions or intentional utility actions.

Decoupling supposedly breaks that process by separating revenue from sales. A change in sales results in an automatic adjustment in rates such that the total revenue collected remains the same.

Thus the utility may encourage widespread use of rooftop solar and energy efficiency, knowing that the resulting decrease in sales will not affect their revenue stream.

Thus decoupling eliminates the disincentive to fight renewables and efficiencies, but it does not incentivize the desire to promote the use of renewables and efficiencies.

In May 2013 the Public Utilities Commission decided to open a docket to reexamine the decoupling mechanisms for HECO, MECO and HELCO.

The Public Utilities Commission admitted four intervenors into Docket 2013-0141: the County of Hawaii (COH), Hawaii Solar Energy Association (HSEA), Blue Planet Foundation, and the Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance (HREA).

The proceeding are complex and the filings lengthy. 

On July 2, 2014 HECO filed responses to various discovery questions. The filing included a total of 28 documents varying from 350 pages to over 600 pages each.

An Evidentiary Hearing will be held. 

A Pre-Hearing Conference has been scheduled for October 23 at 9:30 a.m. in the Commission Hearing Room located in the basement at 465 King Street.

The PUC building is the makai eva corner of Punchbowl and King, the other three corners are the Public Library, City Hall and Kawaiaha'o Church.

The Evidentiary Hearing will be held on October 28 and 29 and possibly extend to October 30. For the most part the hearings are open to the public although attendance by outsiders is rare.

Discussions on alternative utility business models are actively being discussed in many venues including within the decoupling docket.

Blue Planet proposed the adoption of Incentive-Based Regulation (IBR) which seeks to incentivize the utilization of clean energy in Hawaii.

Blue Planet hired Ronald Binz as a consultant.

Binz served as Colorado’s advocate for energy consumers, sat on Colorado’s Utilities Commission from 2007 to 2011, was nominated by President Obama to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, He had to withdraw his nomination due to his anti-coal efforts.

Binz is now affiliated with a Colorado renewable energy institute headed by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.

Last March Binz spoke at the Maui Energy Conference and it was clear that the Hawai`i Commissioners hold him in high regard.

The Hawaii Solar Energy Association hired EarthJustice and consultant Diane Munns.

In January Munns joined the Environmental Defense Fund as senior director of the group’s Smart Power Collaboration.

Munns had been MidAmerican Energy Co.’s vice president of regulatory relations and energy efficiency since 2008. She served the Iowa Utilities Board for more than two decades, first as the agency’s general counsel and later as a chairwoman and member.

In regulatory proceedings it is important to be strong on issues but not to attack people. Diversity of issues is key, as it leads to better decision making. Thinking outside of the box should be encouraged.

In filings made on September 15, 2014, the County of Hawai`i, the Hawaii Solar Energy Association and the Blue Planet Foundation all presented different business models for a utility of the future.

The County of Hawai`i noted that “the island of Hawai'i already exceeded the 2030 RPS objectives for renewable energy penetration at the time the HCEI was adopted, in 2008. Decoupling was not necessary and was completely irrelevant to achieve high levels of renewable energy on the island of Hawai'i.”

Furthermore, “Market forces that fundamentally disrupt the traditional regulated utility model are here to stay in the state of Hawai'i. …These market dynamics cannot be stopped.”

The County of Hawai’i proposed the elimination of decoupling.

“In a perverse sense, one could argue that decoupling leads to greater energy efficiency, since decoupling leads to higher so-called "death spiral" prices, which in turn force increasingly desperate customers to seek efficiency measures, or necessarily cut back to minimize their utility bill pain.”

“Decoupling contributes to deleterious dynamics that threaten a tidal wave catastrophe for utilities that do not adapt—a tidal wave that will likely swamp the credit rating concerns expressed by the utilities in trying to justify decoupling as a benefit in financial markets.“

“There should be absolute clarity that there is no value in backward looking exercises to preserve prior policies and business models that are increasingly unviable, including …decoupling."

"Energy alternatives already exist that deliver more favorable benefits and economics to the HECO companies' customers, as evidenced by the explosive growth in partial grid defections (aided by technology options and subsidized by net-energy-metering policies) and increasingly complete withdrawal from the grid, whether individually or through community-planned micro-grids (one example being Parker Ranch-Paniolo Power on the island of Hawai'i).”

The County of Hawai`i listed several examples of Big Island innovation.

Blue Planet Foundation Founder Henk Rogers installed an 85 kW photovoltaic array at his Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch. His ranch currently requires 30 kW to operate, so excess electricity is being used to generate hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

In the same spirit, COH installed a 250 kW photovoltaic array at its new West Hawai'i Civic Center, although 150 kW load was the total daily peak demand. The excess energy is being absorbed by a lithium-ion battery for use at night and a future electric car fleet.

Richard Ha, president of Hamakua Springs Country Farms will produce electricity from a 74-kW hydroelectric generator that uses water from a flume that was part of a former sugar mill. Half of the energy produced will power the farm, the rest could be converted to hydrogen fuel.

Edmund C. Olson is installing a 400 kW hydroelectric generator in Pahala to provide power for the nearby Ka'u Coffee Mill and macadamia nut husking operation. Excess energy can be used for other commercial and residential uses and for fuel.

 “Inappropriate pricing schemes attempt to recover fixed costs through volume sales, obfuscate pricing transparency and accuracy, hinder innovation, prevent consumer choice, limit utility profitability, and create problems that decoupling attempts to address but are better solved through proper pricing.”

The County of Hawai’i proposed the elimination of other “price-distorting policies” such as Net Energy Metering, “avoided cost contracts, improperly priced feed-in-tariffs, and ineffectual energy efficiency programs.”

The future will have microgrids and nanogrids (smart buildings).

The County of Hawai’i asserts that rather than limit energy production through conservation -- excess renewable energy should be encouraged -- as this will drive innovation, economic expansion, job creation and provide for renewable fuel to power the conversion of transportation to a renewable sustainable future.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fingerprinting Natural Gas and Fracking Fluids

By Henry Curtis

Hawaii Gas asserts that the source of its imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) can't be identified.  Gas pipelines bring gas from production sites to refineries and then to ports. The gases co-mingle.

It is critical that fingerprinting occur. 

Enhanced drilling techniques such as Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) leads to methane emission from wells and from destabilized porous soil. Fracked shale basins have significantly higher levels of methane in their local atmosphere. 

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

Over eons organic matter decayed and was subjected to enormous pressure. It can now exist as a liquid (petroleum), solid (coal) or gas (natural gas). The chemical structure can include hydrocarbons and non-hydrocarbons.

Exponent is a major engineering and scientific consulting firm with a staff of 900 people in 20 U.S. and 5 international offices.

 Exponent asserts that “under the law of capture, some states provide that an injector of natural gas retains title to and possession of gas that has migrated to adjoining properties, if the injector can prove that such gas was originally injected in an underground formation for the purpose of storage. Those states also give the injector the right to conduct tests on gas wells surrounding the storage formation to determine the ownership of the disputed gas.”

Fossil fuel migration, leakage, unintentional spills and illegal dumping can cause serious problems. 

Various terms are used to analyze fossil fuel including compositional analysis, detailed chemical analysis, geochemical fingerprinting and detailed isotope analysis.

Typical chemical composition of natural gas

Carbon Dioxide
Hydrogen Sulphide
Rare gases


The carbon 12 isotope is the most common form of carbon (99 percent of all carbon) and has 6 neutrons in the carbon atom. The carbon 12 isotope (1 percent of all carbon) has one extra neutron (a total of 7 neutrons). The ratio of 13C/12C has been proven to be an effective discriminator in identifying natural gases from different sources. Other isotope rations can also be used.

Fingerprinting can also be conducted to detect fracking fluids.

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involves injecting a proprietary fracking fluid chemical soup under high pressure into a well. Companies may intentionally fingerprint their fluid using different type of tracers such as magnetic nanoparticles.

Hawaii Gas asserts that gas co-mingles in gas pipelines; that it is impossible to identify where the fuel came from. 

Certainly it is harder in the U.S., but British Columbia has fewer pipelines and fewer shale basins.   

U.S. Natural Gas Supply Basins Relative to Major Natural Gas Pipeline Transportation Corridors, 2008 (Source: US Energy Information Administration)

US-Canada Gas Pipeline Routes (Source: Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects)

Natural Gas and Oil Resources in British Columbia (Source: Ministry of Energy and Mines)

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