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Economic Currents

Keep up to date with the latest UHERO news.

UHERO 101.10: The Confusing World of PV

This UHERO 101 intends to clarify some of the rate and policy aspects of PV in Hawai‘i, and explores the two opposite driving forces of PV adoption.

PV is an attractive investment in Hawai‘i where electricity rates are almost four times the national average. Rising electricity prices and falling system costs have largely driven the installation trend, with installations roughly doubling annually since 2007. Moreover, residential PV is quite cost-effective because it’s installation costs are up to 65% subsidized. In addition, there is ongoing support of PV in the form of Net Energy Metering (NEM). NEM gives households retail rate for their unused PV generation, rather than the wholesale rates paid for other sources of energy. As such, what many do not realize is that distributed PV can actually raise electricity rates rather than lower them. While PV customers benefit from providing their own energy and selling excess electricity back to the grid, non-PV customers are consequently likely to pay relatively more. Also, although PV certainly reduces the use of fossil fuels, it is not necessarily proportionately. Since PV is an intermittent source of energy, the utility also has to run spinning reserves to ensure reliable electricity at any given time.

To add to the confusing world of PV, Hawaiian Electric Industries recently modified its policy— both the primary metric used to determine circuit saturation and the process of connecting to the utility’s power grid. Prior to September 2013, distributed PV generation was limited to 15% of peak load on each circuit that, if exceeded, required the NEM applicant to pay for an interconnection requirements study (IRS). However this limit was not enforced for smaller systems under 10 kW (i.e. residential systems). However, now the metric of daytime minimum load (DML) is used to determine circuit saturation. The policy does not distinguish between small and large systems, and requires that written consent be obtained from the utility prior to installation.1  The details are summarized as follows:

     1.    Circuits below 75% of DML are not subject to an IRS or circuit upgrades. These projects should receive notice to proceed within 35 business days.
     2.    Circuits that fall between 75-99% of DML are not subject to an IRS but may require circuit upgrades. Depending on whether a supplemental review is required in addition to the initial technical review, these projects may receive a response anywhere from 35 to 85 business days.
     3.    Circuits beyond 100% of DML may require an IRS and circuit upgrades. Completing an IRS study may take up to an additional 165 calendar days on top of the initial and supplemental review.

As a result, on one hand, the policy change has slowed down solar installations, due to circuit upgrades. For projects above 75% of DML, customers have to first wait to hear whether a circuit upgrade is necessary and then, if deemed necessary, another several months for conducting the circuit upgrade. In addition to the long waiting period, potential customers face extra costs for circuit upgrades, which are allocated on a prorated basis and divided according to the size of the systems to be installed.

At the same time, the policy change provides further motivation for those customers who have been considering a PV system and whose homes are on circuits below 75% of DML, to join the race to install PV.2 

* If you are thinking of installing PV, as an initial circuit availability check, enter your address here: http://www.heco.com/portal/site/heco/lvmsearch 


Source: HECO


-- Sherilyn Wee and Makena Coffman


1In the past, submitting the NEM agreement was often the last paperwork step of the installation process. Applying for the City and County building permit was usually the first step, and now is applied for only after receiving approval to interconnect. Building permit approval takes about 20 business days.

2Previous state legislative discussions on reducing or phasing out the renewable energy investment tax credits have already commenced the “race” to install PV.

Hawaii's Energy Future

Last week's Asia Pacific Clean Energy Conference has focused the spotlight on Hawaii's energy future. Governor Abercrombie opened the conference with a strong commitment to installing an undersea cable between Oahu and Maui. The Blue Planet foundation unveiled their "Energy Report Card" during a keynote address by Henk Rogers. Meanwhile, recent coverage by NPR discussed switching to natural gas as an alternative to Hawaii's oil dependence. 

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative set the vision for the state to move toward renewable and cleaner sources of energy. There are numerous pathways and decision on the best pathway is fraught with debate.

The Governor's comments juxtaposed to strong resistance to the undersea cable suggests that there needs to be on-going discussion of what energy portfolios will likely emerge in separated versus linked islands scenarios - including environmental and economic impacts.

Moreover, there is also concern over the high cost of energy. As many renewable sources are still relatively costly (or difficult to locate) there is also consideration of switching to natural gas as a "bridge fuel." The future price of liquefied natural gas is uncertain and, while it is cleaner burning than oil, there is concern that its full environmental impact is not necessarily an improvement over the status quo.

In addition, environmental groups such as Blue Planet in their "energy report card" bring up concerns about the lack of guiding policy for the transportation sector. Policies that complement transportation as well as electricity have a place in the discussion as well.

UHERO's ongoing research is looking at ways to cost-effectively achieve GHG reduction and meet the state's clean energy goals.

---Makena Coffman

An Insight on the Cost of Paradise

Whether visitors or residents in Hawai‘i, we are all aware of the high cost of living in paradise. One major contributing factor is the cost of energy. Households in Hawai‘i pay 4 times more than the average US household and nearly 7 times the households in Utah, where the residential energy cost is the cheapest in the nation.* While the US average for April 2013 hovered at 12 cents/kwh, Hawai‘i paid 37 cents/kwh for electricity in the residential sector.**

Breaking down residential energy consumption by source provides more insight into the high cost of living in Hawai‘i. While households in Hawai‘i supply their energy needs mainly by electricity (90%) at $110/mmbtu (equivalent to 37 cents/kwh), the two major sources in the US—natural gas and electricity—each comprise 42% of energy consumption, at roughly $5/mmbtu (equivalent to 1.7 cents/kwh) and $35/mmbtu (equivalent to 12 cents/kwh), respectively (see Figure 1). Hence, Hawai‘i is not only consuming a larger share of electricity, but also at skyrocketing prices. In contrast, the US is consuming a smaller portion from electricity at significantly discounted prices compared to Hawai‘i. This, combined with a large share of cheap natural gas in the US household consumption portfolio explains the large disparity in the cost of energy—particularly in the residential sector—in Hawai‘i and the US. Note however that switching to natural gas in Hawai‘i is not straightforward because of the logistics and infrastructure costs (liquefaction, shipping, regasification) of bringing natural gas to Hawai‘i.


-- Sherilyn Wee



*http://www.eia.gov/state/seds/data.cfm?incfile=/state/seds/sep_sum/html/sum_pr_res.html&sid=US **http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a

The Challenges of EV Efficiency In Hawaii

Earlier this month, U.S. Department of Energy launched a website that calculates “the cost of fueling a vehicle with electricity compared to a similar vehicle that runs on gasoline”.

The mission of this gadget is to encourage consumers to switch to electric cars by:

• bringing greater transparency to vehicle operating costs

• helping drivers determine how much they might save on fuel by choosing an electric vehicle (EV)

• showing the low and steady price of fueling with electricity.

Announcing the launch of the website, the new Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, stated that EVs could not only save consumers on fuel, but also reduce the dependence of our nation on oil. Those goals may be harder to achieve in Hawai’i than in the rest of the nation.

First, according to the eGallon website, while it costs the average driver in the US less than a third to drive an EV than a conventional gasoline vehicle (saving them more than 68% on fuel cost*), Hawai‘i residents save only 5 cents per gallon on gasoline (less than 1.5%). That explains why the first goal (saving consumers on fuel costs) is harder to achieve in Hawai‘i.

Second, while less than 1% of US electricity is generated from oil, Hawai‘i currently generates 75% of its electricity from oil. This explains why the second goal (reducing dependency on oil) is harder to achieve through EVs in Hawai‘i.

Finally, an often-quoted goal of increased EV penetration is to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector—as the largest and fastest growing component of state GHG emissions. Achieving that goal is also currently easier in the rest of the nation where more than 40% of electricity comes from cleaner sources than oil and coal (i.e. renewables, nuclear, and natural gas).

Therefore, both of the objectives mentioned by the US Energy Secretary are harder to achieve in Hawai‘i, unless consumers charge their vehicles themselves, for example using their own rooftop PV systems. That way, they could save more on vehicle fuel costs and help the State reduce their reliance on oil.


---Iman Nasseri and Kimberly Burnett 


*It is worth mentioning that both this website and much of the media tend to examine “pump prices” for passenger cars. Although EVs show a lot of promise in much of the US in terms of fuel cost per miles compared with gasoline and other alternative-fueled vehicles, considering the higher capital cost of EVs than their similar class conventional gasoline vehicles (Please refer to section 2.8 of Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels), they may not look as promising in terms of overall cost per mile.

Investigating the Potential for Seawater Air Conditioning in Waikiki

Researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa recently concluded a study into the potential for seawater air conditioning (SWAC) in Waikīkī. The study was led by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) in partnership with the the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawai‘i (UHERO) to investigate various aspects of seawater air conditioning and its applicability to Waikīkī. In examining the appropriateness of SWAC technology, researchers compared SWAC with ‘business as usual’ and various renewable energy and other energy efficiency options. Each option was analyzed in terms of: 1) generation capacity; 2) applicability to existing policy standards; 3) economic factors; 4) environmental and social factors; and, 5) energy and supply security.


According to the findings of the report, while SWAC may be more costly than other efficiency/conservation options, its ability to provide an uninterrupted supply of cool air gives it a solid advantage over the use of more intermittent renewable energy technologies (such as wind and solar power) for air conditioning purposes. For Waikīkī, where demand for air conditioning is constant, SWAC has the potential to decrease the cost of air conditioning and reduce the amount of harmful emissions that are released as a by-product of generating electricity from fossil fuels.

Traditional air conditioning systems require large amounts of energy to cool air to the desired temperature. In contrast, SWAC technology harnesses the cooling properties of cold seawater to achieve the same purpose, reducing the amount of electricity required. SWAC is particularly relevant to Hawai‘i, where the close proximity of deep, cold, ocean water to areas of high population make it an ideal location to implement the technology. In addition, the first seawater air conditioning unit was invented by a UH Sea Grant researcher in the early 1980’s.

When surveyed, 62 percent of O‘ahu residents indicated support for SWAC development in Waikīkī, compared to 8 percent opposed and 30 percent neither supporting nor opposing. Individuals more familiar with SWAC technology were more likely to support its development than those who were not aware of the technology (69 percent in favor compared to 54 percent). Slightly less than half of O‘ahu residents, 46 percent, also supported the use of public funds to help develop SWAC in Waikīkī, versus 26 percent opposed and the remaining 28 percent neither supporting nor opposing.

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The University of Hawai’i Sea Grant College Program is part of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s prestigious School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. It supports an innovative program of research, education and extension services directed to the improved understanding and stewardship of coastal and marine resources of the state, region and nation. Science serving Hawai’i and the Pacific for over 40 years.

UHERO is a unit within the College of Social Sciences (CSS) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Established in 1997, UHERO is dedicated to informing public- and private-sector decision making through rigorous, independent economic research on the people, environment and economies of Hawai‘i and the Asia-Pacific region.

The College of Social Sciences (CSS) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa is engaged in a broad range of research endeavors that address fundamental questions about human behavior and the workings of local, national and international political, social, economic and cultural institutions. Its vibrant student-centered academic climate supports outstanding scholarship through internships, and active and service learning approaches to teaching that prepare students for the life-long pursuit of knowledge.




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