HONOLULU - Hawaii and Japan signed off on a project Tuesday to build a smart grid on Maui to demonstrate how solar, wind and other renewable energy sources can be integrated into an electrical grid.
The project aims to overcome one of the obstacles that prevent communities from using more renewable energy and create a model for others around the world to follow.
The experiment will involve smart utility system controls in homes and businesses in Kihei, although some electric vehicle charging stations involved will be placed on other parts of Maui.
NEDO President Hideo Hata and Gov. Neil Abercrombie show copies of an agreement signed Tuesday at the state Capitol to build a $37 million smart energy grid in South Maui.
Governor’s Office photo
The Japanese-government-sponsored New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, or NEDO, will invest $37 million in the experiment. The state of Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric Co. and other companies are providing their experience and facilities.
NEDO is an arm of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and NEDO President Hideo Hata signed an agreement to build the grid in a ceremony at the state Capitol.
"This U.S.-Japan project will build the most advanced smart grid in the world," Hata said. "This project aims to be not just a model for the Asia-Pacific region but for the entire world."
It's challenging to bring wind and solar power into existing electric grids on a large scale because the amount of wind and solar power they generate varies depending on the weather. Existing grids aren't designed to handle fluctuating power supplies.
Solar power sources - panels on building roofs, for example - may also be dispersed across a wide area. This is in contrast to the power generating plants that utilities currently rely on.
The governor said the experiment will help Hawaii find ways to shift away from imported oil. He predicted the experiment would also give the state a head start on innovative energy technology.
"After the test is done, we'll have in place an alternative energy infrastructure that will be highly valuable to us now and on into the foreseeable future," he said.
The governor said the project will build on Hawaii's growing reputation for development of a clean energy industry.
"It is becoming a strong driver in our economy," he said. "This project will invest $37 million in the development of advanced smart grid technology and will further position Hawaii as an international leader in the clean energy space, serving as a hot spot for global investment and research and development."
Hawaiian Electric, which supplies power to Maui through its subsidiary Maui Electric Co., said that the project won't disrupt the flow of electricity to consumers.
The utility will be recruiting customers willing to participate in the experiment. Some participants may have electric vehicles or solar panels.
Engineering design for the experiment will begin now, while construction is expected to start at the end of next year. The parties will begin demonstrating their technology in 2013 and analyze their results in 2014.
* The Maui News contributed to the report.