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Fast times

Hawaiian Electric could be to blame for clocks being ahead

If the time on your electric plug-in clocks seem to be ahead by a few minutes, it could be because of the record low energy demand and generation caused by the shuttering of hotels and businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaiian Electric said.

The Maui News received several reports of plug-in clocks, such as those on stoves and microwaves, running a few minutes fast. A check with Hawaiian Electric indicated that the problem is likely related to the utility dealing with unprecedented declines in energy use and power generation.

“Such pronounced changes are something we haven’t experienced before and reflect how quickly and substantially business activity and individual behavior were affected by the pandemic,” said Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Shayna Decker on Tuesday.

She explained that like all U.S. grids, the Hawaiian Electric Maui grid operates at a 60 hertz target. There is always a slight variation to this frequency, but this target is maintained by the utility’s grid operators, who balance power generation and energy demand on the island.

Power generation has to equal consumption at all times to maintain stability of the system.

Typical plug-in digital clocks, such as clocks on ovens, alarms and microwaves, are designed to use an average electrical frequency of 60 Hz to track time, Decker said. Even a slight deviation in frequency can affect the time on plug-in clocks.

“We saw a significant reduction in use of electricity as tourism activities ceased, businesses closed, and thousands of residents stayed home to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Decker.

The utility also began seeing record low daytime generation from its units on sunny days when private rooftop solar systems supply the most energy, she said.

Most private rooftop solar power flows unregulated into the grid with the utility’s generators smoothing out the ebbs and surges of PV energy.

“This decreased energy use and abundance of solar energy have created record low energy demand on the island, resulting in grid frequency going slightly above 60 Hz at times and affecting timing on plug-in digital clocks,” Decker said.

When this happens, utility grid operators take action and reduce generation to maintain the target frequency, she said.

“Even with these record low energy demands, we’re able to maintain a safe and reliable essential service and make adjustments as needed,” Decker said. “We recognize this can be an inconvenience, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding with these slight frequency fluctuations.”

Decker said “grid operators quickly adapted to these unprecedented times, and we’ll continue to keep the lights on for everyone.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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