Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: Energy Storage Front and Center; “I almost bought Hawaii’s Utility”

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Jun 6, 2014 10:26:00 AM


parkinglot2This week, the top story centered on EPA’s release of its draft carbon emissions rule for existing power plants. We have already covered that story in depth in this week’s Federal Update and last week’s News Update, and we will continue to follow media coverage. In the meantime, here are some of this week’s other top stories.


Energy storage showed up as a major story this week, as Tesla’s CTO and keynote speaker at an annual energy storage symposium described a bright future for the technology. "It's pretty amazing how much growth there will be in energy storage," JB Straubel said.


Little wonder. Tesla Motors announced Tuesday that its proposed energy storage Gigafactory will accept bids from three southwestern states. Originally, the company had planned to “pit two states against each other,” according to Forbes. The three states will participate in what Musk is calling a “bake off,” planning to break ground in all of them to “see which state offered the best opportunity for the company.” It’s an unorthodox move, sure, but Musk said Tesla Motors could not run the risk that the factory would not be ready in time.


California’s new policy mandating that utilities obtain 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020 is still top-of-mind for many in the energy storage world. The California Independent System Operator also has five energy storage pilot projects moving through to completion. Additionally, the San Jose Mercury News reports that a leading solar company, SunPower, is pivoting to become a “full-service energy service provider,” complete with battery-based backup storage systems for residential and commercial solar projects.


Moving now to Hawaii, this week we read Eric Wesoff’s piece in Greentech Media, “I Almost Bought Hawaii’s Electric Utility for $6B and Made It a Renewables Paradise. Really.” It is an incredible article that outlines a plan among several investors to buy out Hawaii’s electric utility, take it private, and shift the island’s energy mix to rely entirely on renewable resources.


Hawaii has the nation’s highest electricity prices, meaning that advanced energy technologies such as renewable generation and energy efficiency are even more attractive than they are in the lower-48. Wesoff’s reported “Kuokoa solution” would transition away from traditional sources of generation like imported petroleum and toward geothermal, solar, and wind power.


“The crazy part of this story is that the deal came pretty close to actually getting done,” Wesoff writes. “To recap, we had just sourced the debt and equity needed to make an offer to acquire HECO at a strong premium over its share price at the time. All that remained was to make an offer […], negotiate with Hawaii’s regulators and politicians, and liberate the Hawaiian Islands from their burden of oil. Cue rainbows and unicorns.”


Of course, the rainbows and unicorns never quite made it out of the gate. The offer, according Wesoff’s retelling, was turned down. (For a different version of events—i.e. “no offer was ever made,”—check out this article from Pacific Business News.)


That said, Hawaii is still a national leader in transitioning to advanced energy technologies, and is helping to write the book on what a 21st century utility will look like.


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Topics: News Update


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