Maui residents get ready to hit the smart-grid highway

Some residents on the Hawaiian island of Maui will soon have a chance to test-drive the smart grid.

The Maui Smart Grid Project is one of several demonstration projects across the US being supported by the Department of Energy (DOE) through federal stimulus funding. The Hawaii test is aimed not only at finding ways to help residents better manage their energy use, especially during times of peak demand, but at helping the state meet its goal of obtaining 70 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2030.

“Improving each island’s electricity grid through new smart grid technologies is a key element of Hawaii’s landmark clean energy goals,” said James Griffin, project director for the HNEI. “Through the experiences of Maui residents in this project, we will learn valuable lessons about the best ways to modernize Hawaii’s electricity system.”

Between now and December, Maui Electric Company (MECO) and the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) at the University of Hawaii are recruiting volunteers in part of the South Kihei region of the island to take part in the project. Starting early next year, those volunteers will then receive a smart energy meter and access to a personalized and secure website with data on their individual energy consumption. Some participants will also receive smart thermostats, smart water heater control systems and — if they already have solar panels installed — a photovoltaic monitoring system.

The project has brought on Silver Spring Networks to develop a customer engagement and education program for the test. Silver Spring will also provide a platform to support a web-based energy management portal, advanced metering, demand response and distribution automation.

Once all the technologies to be tested have been installed, data will be gathered for at least a year to help evaluation which strategies prove most effective at managing consumption, controlling peak demand and integrating renewable energy sources into the grid.

Hawaii currently has the highest gas prices and electricity rates of any state in the US. It produces no oil domestically and uses about 30 percent of its oil imports to generate electricity.

“We want to add as much clean energy as possible to our stand-alone island grid as quickly as possible,” said Ed Reinhardt, president of MECO. “So we’re looking to initiatives like the Maui Smart Grid Project to help us ensure our customers continue to receive reliable service while benefiting from increased use of solar and wind power.”

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