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India and Hawaii – A Tale of Two Solar Markets

Dec 11, 2017

India and Hawaii – A Tale of Two Solar Markets

First, let’s look at India.

Powered by a single national grid, India boasts a vast land mass with millions of small villages, often long distances apart. With an estimated 300 million people living without power, energy is at the top of India’s national agenda. The Indian government’s “Power for All” policy promises to supply electricity to all 18,452 villages by May 2018. From this number, 14,204 villages have been identified as viable for inclusion into an extension of the existing grid, and 3,449 villages are to be electrified through off-grid power projects.

As a credit to India’s bold electrification targets, and the suitability of solar as a distributed generation source, the country has gone from having a nearly non-existent solar market within two short years to having approximately 16.5 GW of installed capacity. Nearly 7 GW of that have been installed in 2017 alone.  Much of this solar generation capacity has come in the form of large, utility-scale solar installations; however, electrifying rural India will require the installation of thousands of small-scale micro- and mini-grids. To wit, each of these new installations will feature a unique mix of generation sources – intermittent and firm, as well as storage.

Now, let’s look at Hawaii.

The island state of Hawaii is powered by four separate electricity grids with no interconnection between the islands. Therefore, Hawaii must achieve its goal of supplying affordable and reliable energy within the confines of its current grids. With a long history of using diesel generation capacity for power, Hawaii’s transition to renewables came largely out of necessity. Geographic isolation and the absence of alternative local energy resources meant that Hawaii had to either import energy in the form of petroleum and coal, or build out its own renewable energy sources. In 2016, approximately 26% of Hawaii’s energy came from renewable sources.

Hawaii had to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels to provide its residents an affordable and reliable energy supply. Distributed generation in the form of a mix of residential solar, community solar, wind, and storage provided the solution.

In 2015, with more than 500MW of solar coming online in just 5 years, Hawaiian Electric (HECO) became concerned about the stability of Oahu’s grid. HECO engineers considered the prospect of having to manually reprogram 800,000 solar microinverters across 51,000 homes, a task which was estimated to cost in the tens of millions of dollars. In working with Enphase, the two companies’ engineering teams could remotely connect to and adjust inverter settings. So, literally with the push of a button, Enphase upgraded 800,000 of its microinverters remotely, roughly 60% of Oahu’s distributed solar capacity at the time. No truck rolls. No field calls. In terms of Oahu’s total energy mix, these microinverter systems provide up to approximately 140MW, or nearly as much power as the state’s largest conventional power plant.

“Enphase Energy successfully upgraded the operating behavior of approximately 154 MW of its smart microinverter capacity installed in Hawai'i to achieve interim ride-through settings for customers on the islands of O’ahu, Hawai’i, Moloka’i and Lana’i". - Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.

The unprecedented event made headlines  around the world.

What happened in Hawaii was made possible by our built-in, proprietary two-way data-over-powerline connection used to monitor every one of our microinverters. In 5-minute increments, Enphase Microinverters send data to our powerful bi-directional communications gateway, the Envoy. This device communicates not only to our microinverters, but also sends and receives data to and from the grid to ensure that voltage ranges are adhered to. With the power of a software-defined inverter, Enphase can ensure the overall stability of the grids in which they operate - now and in the future. This is how you future-proof your solar investment. Applying the same technology in India, with its thousands of commercial and large-scale projects, means that solar asset managers who choose Enphase will minimise their operations and maintenance costs, while local utilities will benefit from smart devices that can adapt to what the future might demand. We think this is a smart approach.

India is approaching an inflection point

It is indeed an exciting time as India hurtles toward its renewable energy targets. But such a massive endeavor does not come without risks:

  1. How will India’s grid/s and microgrids cope with various new types of energy generation sources?
  2. How can grid stability be ensured over time?

These are not simply questions for utilities. These are also questions for the electricity generators, and ultimately, for the companies that produce the equipment that interacts directly with the grid. There is no question that those technologies must be adaptable over time.

As solar becomes a larger part of India’s energy mix, it is essential that its grid is equipped with higher-functioning solar systems; solar must be easy to manage and be managed remotely.

At Enphase, our technology is designed from the ground up with this big picture in mind. Enphase systems are designed to be good neighbors in an ecosystem that includes utilities and the grid. We also know that demands and requirements change over time, so we don't just develop products that are currently state-of-the-art - we build products that are flexible enough to be effective for decades of service. That’s how we define the term ‘future-proofing.’

India now has an opportunity to future-proof its own grid by integrating intelligent and flexible technologies into its portfolio of distributed generation assets. It is entirely possible that India will not only reap the economic benefits of a modern, distributed, remotely managed grid, but also could quickly become a global leader in renewable energy and smart grid management.

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