Texas Energy Grid Collapses. Is Hawai’i Prepared?

For some time, I have been alerting residents and public officials, such as Layla Kilolu, Mike and Tulsi Gabbard, that plans for 100% renewable energy Goal 2045 currently being implemented by Hawaiian Electric Industry CEO & President Connie Lau and Governor David Ige are dangerously flawed.

Energy experts from both FERC and NERC warn blackouts that shut down most of Texas for much of this week could be coming to other parts of the country in the future.

“Energy systems don’t do enough to prepare for extreme events. We need to do a lot better than we’re doing now. We can have systems a lot more resilient for single digit percentage increases in [electrical] cost.”
Daniel Cohan, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston.

Layla Kilolu, Mike Gabbard and Tulsi Gabbard

Hurricane Maria (2017) destroyed PREPA’s energy grid in Puerto Rico. Their systems are similar to Hawai’i as both are based heavily on diesel oil, while they migrate to renewable technologies. The storm shattered Tesla’s state-of-the-art solar array and backup system on Vieques island (below), which provided clean water.

tesla_pr

Scientists believe we will suffer similar problems with preparedness across the nation connected to extreme weather events associated with climate change. Hawai’i must prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Therefore, it’s critical we plan for super storms and hurricanes.

On Hawai’i, Maui Now reported there are 87,848 systems and 3.7 million solar panels, including rooftop and grid-scale facilities, producing electricity on the five island grids. These are not hardened for super storm winds. Wind farms, such as those near Kahuku, cannot withstand such winds. A hurricane will unleash massive amounts of rain, soaking the soil, and high-intensity storms are likely to topple 500’ wind turbines.

wind_farm

“Reaching 30% on Oʻahu is especially significant, considering there is less land available for grid-scale projects and more businesses and homes using electricity,” HECO Scott Seu said. “That’s why having 36% of single-family homes using rooftop solar is such an important element of the renewable portfolio.”

Quick math: 30% renewable energy requires approximately 3.7M solar panels

100% renewable energy will require some 12.3M solar panels. My estimates suggest this will consume about 5,500 football fields of green spaces to deploy these arrays. Some panels will be placed on rooftops, but not all roofs are capable of handling panels or oriented in a direction efficient for solar power generation.

This would be 100% at today’s population and energy needs. By 2045, we will need more energy. Extrapolating, we’ll need roughly 15M solar panels to account for growth.

Solar panels also don’t last forever. Degradation rate is the pace at which solar panels lose efficiency over time. A high quality panel promises no more than a 2% decline in year one followed by no more then 0.25% degradation per year. This means panels should have at least 92% of its nominal capacity after 25 years.

A lower quality panel allows for a 3% decline in performance in the first year followed by 0.7% a year after that with a minimum output of 80.2% after 25 years. This means after 25 years of use, about 4 out of 5 solar panels still operate at 75% efficiency or better.

Solar farm panels can expect to suffer from:

  • More dynamic mechanical loading from wind thanks to being in ground mounts that leave them more exposed and also generally windier locations.
  • Higher UV levels due to sunnier locations and better panel orientation, including the frequent use of trackers that allow panels to follow the sun through the day.

Rooftop solar can suffer from:

  • Higher temperatures due to poor air circulation at the rear of the panel. This can exacerbate thermal cycling.
  • Greater cloud cover resulting in more small thermal cycles during the day from intermittent cloud shading.
  • Humidity plus heat is a problem in tropical climates.

Due to increased population growth and energy use, as well as degradation of panels, these estimates are likely low.

Furthermore, these calculations do not include additional energy needed as residents transition to more electric vehicles (EVs). The EIA chart below shows energy needed for transportation is equal or larger than the combined energy demanded for residential, commercial and industry needs.

energy_consumption_HI

Will we need some 30 MILLION solar panels? This would be around 12,000 football fields of solar arrays. This will compete for residential and designated agricultural lands.

Let’s not wait until the lights go out to have these discussions. Please pray for those suffering in Texas and other parts of the U.S. mainland.


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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”

One thought on “Texas Energy Grid Collapses. Is Hawai’i Prepared?

  1. Aloha Scott,

    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this subject. I too have been deeply concerned about the situation in Texas. While I cannot speak on behalf of the PUC, I can share my own personal thoughts on the subject.

    1. Climate change is facilitating unforeseen events, such as this “polar vortex” in Texas. Thus, while it is understood that Hawaii is generally underprepared for natural disasters such as a hurricane, there is a possibility that we can experience something completely unforeseen. Which means that yes, our grid is vulnerable. We may want to think about preparing for things that we have never experienced before.
    2. There were communities that were disproportionately affected by the Texas storm, and some people were charged exorbitant amounts for electricity due to Texas’ deregulated market. So there appears to be a benefit of having rate stability and not having consumers absorb all of the risk.
    3. To the extent that we can prepare saving peoples’ lives during an emergency event, that’s where we should focus our efforts. Setting up resilience hubs, which I understand is an initiative that HECO is a part of, is a great start. These hubs will serve as disaster shelters and have standalone energy systems where people can take shelter. I recently learned of the Ko’olauloa Resilience Hub, which is currently being designed to be FEMA-approved, and will serve as both a disaster shelter and a community center.

    Mahalo for Scott’s efforts, and everyone’s efforts during this time.

    Best,
    Layla

    LAYLA M. KILOLU

    Ph.D. student
    Department of Urban & Regional Planning
    University of Hawaii at Manoa
    https://www.linkedin.com/in/laylakilolu/

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