Hawaiian Electric at the VERGE Hawaii 2017 Conference: Working with our communities and new technologies to better serve our customers

Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric Senior Vice President of Customer Service (left), participating in a panel discussion at the VERGE Hawaii 2017 conference.

June 27, 2017

“We know leadership can start at home. We here in Hawaii can make a statement and lead the world.” — Hawaii State Gov. David Ige’s address at VERGE Hawaii 2017, referring to Hawaii’s goal of 100% renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2045.

VERGE Hawaii, also known as the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, is an annual conference with presenters and attendees from government, the military, real estate, and transportation, as well as technology innovators and leaders from research and academia. Together, organizations explore innovative clean energy policies, models, technologies, and infrastructure, and work to identify the immediate actions needed to deliver on Hawaii’s renewable energy goal. VERGE Hawaii also serves as a platform for Hawaii’s energy leaders and stakeholders from around the world to engage with and learn from one another.

In his “VERGE Talk” presentation, “The Utility’s Story — How It Works and What’s Changing,” Hawaiian Electric President and CEO Alan Oshima shared that the Hawaiian Electric Companies are working to better understand “who our customers are, what their needs are, and how do we serve those needs.”

Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric President and CEO

“For that, we really are embarking on a new way to approach how we get to 2045,” Oshima said.

“It’s not ‘one size fits all’ — beyond wind and solar renewable energy resources, we are agnostic as to which technologies can help us get to our 100%. We have to be. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace, we have to be open to emerging technologies,” Oshima added.

“Energy storage is huge — we all know that. Prices are decreasing, largely as a result of the uptake in electric vehicles,” Oshima said. He also noted demand response as an ongoing initiative and having “huge potential.”

On hydrogen fuel cells, Oshima said, “While we are bullish on electric vehicles, and autonomous driving and how that will completely change the way we look at the energy landscape, we also realize that hydrogen fuel cells are another alternative that we have to pay attention to. Unfortunately, right now the balance of energy to production of hydrogen does not make it economical but technology changes, and we may be able to get there as well.”

Oshima also noted the possibility of using flywheels in place of some smaller pumped-storage hydroelectricity projects as another example of technology that would help in the “100% by 2045” effort. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is a type of hydroelectric energy storage used by electric power systems for load-balancing. Flywheels are mechanical devices specifically designed to efficiently store rotational energy.

Oshima shared the “planning principles” that Hawaiian Electric used as a guide in developing its latest Power Supply Improvement Plan.

Hawaiian Electric Planning Principles

  1. Renewable energy is the first option.
  2. The energy transformation must include everyone.
  3. Today’s decisions must not crowd out tomorrow’s breakthroughs.
  4. The power grid needs to be modernized.
  5. The lights have to stay on.
  6. Our plans must address climate change.
  7. There’s no perfect choice.

Reflecting on principle No. 3, Oshima noted, “that’s a tough decision — how much do you go for now, versus keeping some room for newer technologies and price reductions.”

“While we do this, we have to protect our customers’ interests,” he said, referencing principle No. 5. “We, as the regulated utilities, are obligated to serve all. And that’s the difference. We take that obligation very, very seriously. And we have to protect our employees and customers from a safety perspective. These are all things that we think about all the time.”

“As part of our transformation, we are trying to stay true to what I call the left brain, where we do everything with precision, safety, reliability, and provide resilient electric service — of quality — to all of our customers,” Oshima said. “What we’re trying to do now, is more fully develop our right brain: Be creative. Be innovative. Look out for our customers’ needs, by finding different ways to do things.”

“We’re taking some measured risks,” Oshima said.

To those ends, Oshima noted three new areas in the company:

1. New Products and Services: “We need someone who’ll look for different ways to serve our customers — not merely providing solutions that they may not want, but actually trying to engage with our customers about what they want and what they need.”

2. Marketing: “Really getting the true data that can inform our decisions as to what we provide.”

3. Electrification of Transportation: “Provides a big opportunity for us to absorb the abundant solar we have during the day, and provide our customers value. Substituting dirtier gasoline with a clean electron.”

In summary, Oshima emphasized the different, more collaborative approach the company is taking:

“For this, we’re really going to engage with our customers first; instead of only providing solutions, we’re dedicated now to working with our communities to seek community input, so that we understand what our customers want. We’re going to do it together. And that’s really the transformation of Hawaiian Electric.”

A “smartflower” array of solar panels helping to power the microgrid at the VERGE Hawaii 2017 conference.

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Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.

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Hawaiian Electric

Hawaiian Electric

Established in 1891, Hawaiian Electric is committed to empowering its customers and communities by providing affordable, reliable, clean and sustainable energy.

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