Federal grant to aid HECO with forecasting capability

Hawaiian Electric Co. has received a $500,000 federal grant to help the utility improve its use of renewable energy by bettering its forecasting capability for wind and solar power sources.

HECO, which includes subsidiaries Maui Electric Co. and Hawaii Electric Light Co., will be using the grant, which it will match with $500,000 of its own, to better forecast how much wind will blow and how sunny it will be. This will improve the utility’s ability to incorporate more variable renewable energy into the grid, said Peter Rosegg, HECO spokesman.

HECO’s control rooms monitor the power coming into the grid from power plants, wind facilities and rooftop solar, and balances that input against the output of power being used by customers, Rosegg said. Without that balance, there are outages or burned-out appliances.

Currently, rooftop solar is “invisible” to those who run the control rooms or energy management systems with the help of advanced computers and software. Solar power cannot be monitored or controlled, “it just arrives,” Rosegg said.

MECO fossil fuel power generation is turned down as far as possible based on rooftop solar power generation, he said. Wind power levels, which can be seen and controlled, are sometimes turned down or curtailed in response to rooftop solar power volume.

“So if we are better able to predict on a fairly short-term basis how much solar and distributed wind is coming in to the grid, we are able to turn down our fossil fuel generators and use them more efficiently,” Rosegg said.

Noting that HECO has “high solar penetration,” the $1 million grant will help make rooftop PV visible to the energy management system and “factor advanced short-term wind and solar forecasting into the EMS decision-making process,” a news release about the grant said.

Hawaiian Electric companies have been actively pursuing increased forecasting capability by placing sensors in the field, Rosegg said. This grant will aid the development work of HECO energy management system vendors to integrate the solar and wind forecasting data collected.

The database needed to manage the forecasting data will be supported by Referentia, a local computer company, he said. The funds from the Department of Energy grant will cover coordination, travel, work by HECO partners, and program implementation and training of HECO workers.

HECO received a portion of $7.8 million provided to eight projects under the Solar Utility Networks: Replicable Innovations in Solar Energy program. The projects are helping utilities develop adaptable and replicable practices, long-term strategic plans and technical solutions to sustain reliable operations with large amounts of solar power.