Viewpoint: Maui could be a leader in sustainable off-grid technology

Energy has been an eminent topic for Maui residents. Big Wind, geothermal and solar photovoltaic are just a few of the technologies that will help Maui Electric Co. meet the goal of reduced fossil fuel by the year 2030.

However, green technology is developing at a rapid pace, perhaps even threatening how MECO operates today. Is it possible that in the very near future MECO will no longer produce energy but be a manager of energy? Is it possible for a utility to become obsolete because of the advancement in technology? Will the MECO of the near future be like the pay phone on the corner – everyone knows it’s there but nobody uses it?

In the early 1970s, the cost to produce 1 watt of power using solar photovoltaic was estimated at $60. Today’s cost is about 69 cents per watt. With the use of optics that separate the spectrums of light and infrared solar tracking devices that attach to the solar panels, cloudy days are a problem of the past.

While working in Palo Alto, Calif., I was assigned to a team of engineers doing research and developing superconducting magnets used in spectroscopy and magnetic imaging. The task at the time was to create a magnetic field that would last forever. By placing the superconducting magnet core in an R2D2-type enclosure and by applying certain cryogens, along with a mille tore vacuum, superconductivity was accomplished. A one-shot small amount of current delivered to the core of magnet would create a magnetic energy field that would essentially be eternal. I am going to date myself by saying this technology is at least 20 years old. The race is on, for the first company to develop this technology for home energy applications. The first to go would be the electrical power lines, the second to go would be the meter reader that shows up once a month.

Thin-film solar technology will begin an evolutionary phase in the upcoming year. These systems will have a higher output and be much more portable. As a hurricane approaches, you roll up the thin film blanket and store it in the garage – much like how you would roll up your beach blanket after a beautiful Maui sunset.

How does a utility regulate technology? How will the Public Utilities Commission of the near future regulate an ever-growing entity? Will it be the local utility of the future raising our rates or the one holding all of the technology raising the rates?

In the near future, off-grid technology will play an integral part in the development of Maui subdivisions. Developers will offer free electricity for one or two years with the purchase of a lot. This would be an attractive selling point, not to mention a boost to affordable housing.

You may ask what all of this technology has to do with me. The time is at hand for off-grid power systems. Born and raised on Maui, I have experienced three phases of Maui’s growth – the sugar plantation phase, the tourist phase and the present technology phase. We are the state closest to the equator. Our sun shines 95 percent of the year. So much sun that the early Hawaiians gave the sun a place to stay. Cool mauka and makai winds are ideal for the vertical windmill operation. Maui is the only place in the world where you can go from sea level to 10,000-foot elevation in about an hour. With all of this going for us, Maui should be leading the world in sustainable off-grid technology.

* Moses S. Medeiros Jr. has worked in the electronics/engineering industry for more than 30 years. He is the owner of Applied Technical Services.

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