Hawaiian Electric to Speed up Solar Interconnection Based on Study Results

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Utilities have become fond of saying how much high penetration of distributed solar will strain the electric grid. While this is much talked about, it has yet to be properly researched to see at just what level distributed solar actually starts to have an impact on grid reliability.

SolarCity is looking to find answers to this by partnering with the Hawaiian Electric Company and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Together they will study issues related to interconnecting solar into electrical grids.

The cooperative research agreement aims to analyze high-penetration solar scenarios using advanced modeling and inverter testing at NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility, in Golden, Colorado.

Testing will cover the dynamic of inverter-based assets on a grid system, voltage regulation, and bi-directional power flows. Engineers from SolarCity and Hawaiian Electric were at the energy laboratory’s campus in September to kick off the research project, and in October for a follow-up meeting.

“This is an excellent opportunity to utilize ESIF’s unique capability to evaluate system-level issues such as anti-islanding, and help reduce risk and minimize the R&D challenges a power distributor or producer may face,” Martha Symko-Davies, director of partnerships for energy systems for NREL, said in a statement.

Hawaiian Electric is providing technical input on testing and setup throughout the process, as well as feedback on results.

“We know how important the option of solar is for our customers. Solving these issues requires that everyone — utilities, the solar industry, and other leading technical experts like NREL — work together. That’s what this work is all about,” Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery for HECO, said in a statement. “With the highest amount of solar in the nation, our utilities are facing potential reliability and safety issues before anywhere else.”

Hawaiian Electric said it has already seen such promising initial test results that it recently announced a plan for approving net-metered customers who are waiting to interconnect their rooftop solar systems in neighborhoods with high amounts of solar already installed.

Applying the preliminary results of NREL and SolarCity’s research with Hawaiian Electric, the utility expects that it will approve, during the next five months, almost all customers who have been awaiting interconnection.

The research is supported by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy with funding equally shared between SolarCity and the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative.