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Pan-Pacific Smart Grid: Japanese Giants Move to Maui

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The island of Maui is set to become a smart grid showcase, courtesy of Japanese giants like Hitachi (s HIT), Sharp and Hewlett-Packard (s HPQ) Japan. These companies are among the partners that signed on to a long-range project announced Tuesday, aimed at integrating the Hawaiian Island’s 15-percent-and-growing share of renewable power, as well as plug-in vehicles to come, into a stable grid.

The joint Japanese-U.S. project will take a while to build: A feasibility study is due out in September, and implementation could be as far away as 2015. That gives the partners time to figure out how to link up power distribution controls, demand side load management, multiple types of rapid chargers for electric vehicles, and the information and telecommunications technologies to manage it all.

Maui is ripe for smart grid projects. Hawaii actually gets most of its electric power from diesel-fueled power plants — a dirty and costly way to make electrons. But wind power, solar power and biomass projects could play a major role in reducing that diesel dependence. Maui has a lot of wind and solar power to manage, and several projects are already underway, including Xtreme Power’s project with Maui Electric Co.

Japan leads the world in terms of battery-coupled wind power, with more than 100 megawatts of high temperature sodium sulfur (NaS) batteries. Hitachi has its own big NaS battery-wind power-home energy-plug-in car pilot project underway. But building batteries that can actually justify their costs in energy delivered over time against traditional power sources remains a challenge.

As for hooking up utility customers, Hitachi has a partnership with Panasonic, which provides smart appliances and home management systems to complement Hitachi’s big grid systems. HP has devised in-home energy management software that runs on the cloud, and Intel (s INTC), Cisco (s CSCO), Google (s GOOG), Microsoft (s MSFT) and many others are in the home energy IT business.

At the same time, Hawaii is a great place for electric vehicles, since range is less of an issue on an island. Several pilot projects are underway to install hundreds of charging points, both public and private, from Aerovironment (s avav) for the Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts (s gm) of today and plug-in cars of the future. Better Place was also having talks with Hawaii on building a network there, but we’re not sure how far along that went.

Hitachi’s role as project integrator for the Hawaii project also gives it a chance to compete with the likes of IBM (s IBM), Oracle (s ORCL), Accenture (s acn), CapGemini and other big-system integrators in the smart grid space.

At the same time, pan-Pacific partnerships are crossing the international dateline from the U.S.’s side as well. Meter data management software vendor eMeter announced a new partnership with Samsung on Tuesday, giving it entrée into South Korea’s cutting-edge smart grid pilots in places like Jeju Island.

Image courtesy of tata_aka_T via Creative Commons license.