The Big Island Wants To Go Big On Geothermal

More than 30 percent of electricity on Hawaii, the “Big Island” in the Hawaiian archipelago, is already generated from renewable resources, including hydro, wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrating solar and geothermal. But an influx of plug-in electric vehicles is expected to increase electricity demand on the island over the next several years. With all the volcanic activity going on at Kilauea and Mauna Loa (two of the world’s most active volcanoes), developing the island’s geothermal energy resources seems like an obvious way to tackle high fuel costs and electricity rates.

Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) began officially exploring its geothermal energy options last year; now it’s taking steps to expand geothermal energy on the island. The utility issued a request to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to open a docket to issue a request for proposals for geothermal energy projects in 2012.

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image via Puna Geothermal Venture

Puna Geothermal Venture, a subsidiary of Ormat Technologies, currently operates a 38-megawatt (MW) geothermal plant in the Puna District, 21 miles south of Hilo, and has received approval from the Hawaii PUC to add and additional 8 MW. HELCO is hoping to add up to 50 MW of new “fully dispatchable” geothermal power; that is, geothermal power plants that enable the utility to schedule and control the power output. This would help the utility integrate a geothermal plant with other power resources, such as wind, solar, biomass and hydro, while also maintaining grid stability and reliability.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).