SMART GRID GURUS: Paul Fetherland

HECO AMI director taking careful, measured approach

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine March/April 2010


WHILE PAUL FETHERLAND HAS ONLY worked as AMI director at Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) since 2007, he is no stranger to the industry, or to HECO.

Fetherland joined HECO in 1992, and directed its customer technology applications division for 13 years before stepping outside the company for a year in the software development world, and then returning to HECO to head up its AMI work.

''During the bulk of my career at HECO, I have worked on the customer side of the fence, researching and implementing a range of electro technologies, from ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to ice thermal energy storage, as well as advanced heat pump water heating systems and Web-based control systems,'' he said. ''This was the fun part of working at the utility-helping customers to make the best use of our product and being able to better understand our customers in their real-life operations.''

That's not to say that he's not having fun now in the AMI role, too. With a pervasive AMI network in the planning stages, FetherIand's division is responsible for all aspects of the future AMI program for HECO, Maui Electric Company and Hawaii Electric Light Company, including the operation of a pilot network of 9,000 AMI meters on Oahu. HECO's AMI division is also participating in the Smart Grid Roadmapping process.

''As in a typical utility AMI project, my team and I are responsible for program definition, front-end (AMI system) and back-end (meter data management system) software implementation and overall project execution as well as providing support in areas such as regulatory approval, financial analysis, contract management, pilot scale testing, and integration with the customer information system,'' Fetherland explained. ''The HECO companies are at the early stages of their Smart Grid Roadmap development, documenting the 'as-is' state, working towards the definition of a 'future' state and performing the traditional gap analysis.''

Historic path to energy sustainability

To better understand the smart grid path HECO is embarking upon, a bit of history is in order to set the stage. In late October 2008, an historic agreement was signed between the state of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Electric companies. This energy agreement, part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, sets Hawaii on a path to supply 40 percent of its electricity needs and 70 percent of overall energy needs (including transportation) using clean sources by 2030.

For a state now more than 90 percent dependent on imported fossil fuels, this is a monumental shift in energy focus, with only 20 years in which to make an epic change. In 2009, the Hawaii State Legislature moved to etch this goal into law, and established a renewable portfolio standard of 40 percent, and an energy efficiency standard of 30 percent, by 2030.

The connection of renewable energy to Hawaii's electrical grid is obviously going to play a huge part in the shift. ''Hawaii is experiencing an increasingly rapid penetration of renewables throughout the state, including distributed generation sources such as photovoltaic and wind energy systems,'' Fetherland said. This pace will only be further hastened by the feed-in tariff guidelines established by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission in 2009.

''Compared to many parts of the mainland United States, the penetration of renewable systems in Hawaii is already proving to be a challenge to grid operations,'' he said. ''From that perspective, smart grid applications can serve an immediate need at the HECO Companies.''

The challenge, Fetherland said, is to develop a comprehensive, multi-phased plan over the short, immediate and long term. ''The short-term plan would be designed to maximize the return on existing assets, while the intermediate term would focus on how to transition from the current state to a future state with increasing numbers of smart grid devices and software tools to help utility operators manage the grid safely and effectively in the face of distributed energy resources,'' he noted. And, with a pervasive AMI network deep into the planning stages, it's also imperative to understand the manner and extent to which this network can play in the Islands' smart grid future.

Opportunities and challenges on the road

Each of the HECO companies has a unique grid, with varying degrees of renewable energy on each. ''This presents some unique opportunities amongst the three operating companies, as well as some unique challenges,'' Fetherland said. ''As many utilities have also discovered, the HECO companies have identified a core need to develop a detailed communications network to support the smart grid, and we are working to assess the manner and extent to which an AMI network can play in this area as part of its Smart Grid Roadmap and subsequent efforts.''

Looking ahead to 2020, Fetherland says the HECO Companies' goals are likely to include the ability to incorporate large, variable generation into its grid; model and manage dynamic stability issues; integrate significant levels of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles into the utility's grid; and provide widespread sensing and control functions using pervasive and secure communications.

''The large potential investments in smart grid technologies, and the competition for capital, makes it important to take a careful, measured approach to their planning and implementation,'' he said.

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