In Sync with the Sun

In Sync with the Sun
By Janet Kass, Board of Directors

“How’s the weather today?” While this topic is an easy way to start a conversation, weather conditions play a big part in keeping the lights on every day on Kauaʻi.

For several years, KIUC has been running on 100% renewable energy for many hours on most sunny days. To accomplish this, we rely heavily on solar power, which is plentiful on most days. However, solar power is intermittent and can fluctuate when clouds pass overhead.

So how do we keep running at 100% renewable when the sun disappears and reappears? You may think you know the answer: batteries. That’s partly the answer. But the most important tool we have in running 100% renewable is our synchronous condenser, or “syncon.”

In 2019, KIUC’s largest generator, at Kapaia Power Station, was modified to add the syncon capability. That means the large generator—normally powered by a General Electric LM2500 gas turbine burning liquid fuel—can also operate like a motor powered by the electric grid without using a drop of liquid fuel. Having that generator providing inertia, voltage support and fault current when we’re using 100% renewable energy on sunny days is critical to maintaining reliability in our electric grid.

Brooks Braun, Kapaia Power Station manager, says, “This clutchless syncon is probably the only one of its kind in the world. It makes sense for an island grid.”

We’re really proud of this innovative accomplishment. And yet our board of directors set the goal to reach 100% all day, every day, by 2033. That means we need to find new ways to generate power overnight and when solar power is not the best option.

The development of the West Kauaʻi Energy Project and introduction of biodiesel (see page 28) are both important steps to achieve this goal. WKEP, once built, will help keep rates low and supply a quarter of Kauai’s energy needs, with most of it coming to the grid at night. This is important with the expected rise in electricity demand as more electric vehicles hit the road and require charging stations.

The next time someone asks you about the weather, you can provide them with this fun fact: “The sun is shining, and that means Kauaʻi’s probably at 100% right now!”