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Gregg Kresge of Hawaiian Electric: Profile of an Energy Central Innovation Champion

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This item is part of the Innovation in Power - Special Issue - 03/2020, click here for more

Starting towards the end of last year, the Energy Central team put out a call to the community to nominate the leaders in their companies and networks who were forging new ground on innovation. After receiving over 100 nominations and tasking a select committee of Energy Central Experts to score the nominations, we’ve chosen 5 as true leading Champions in Innovation (more details on this process can be found here).

Gregg Kresge is the Manager of Electrification of Transportation – Maui County for Hawaiian Electric, and in this role, he has been an innovative problem solver for years. Working in the utility industry in Hawaii especially requires an innate eye towards innovation, as fuel costs are higher, resources aren’t always as readily available, and the grid isn’t connected as in the rest of the country. With that in mind and with a goal of electrifying transportation across Hawaii, Gregg found a creative solution to overcome one of the state’s biggest problems towards electric vehicle (EV) adoption: lack of auto repair shops with experience in EV repairs.

Keep reading on to see an overview of the solutions Gregg brought about, in his own words, as well as further recognition of his leadership in innovation for the utility sector. And when you’re done, please join us in thanking him for his work and even leave a comment for him below (where you’re also invited to ask him questions or just leave him a comment with your thoughts).

 

Gregg’s history in the utility industry:

“My first dive into the utility sector was back in 1992. After getting my Masters of Science in Environmental Management, I became an environmental planner for the Common Utilities Corporation, the semiautonomous government agency utility for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. After a contract with them, I opened my own environmental consulting business. After gaining experience there, I then moved to Maui where I started out as an Assistant Environmental and Natural Resources Manager for the Kaho`olawe Island Clean Up Project.

Next, I went to work for Mayor Charmaine Tavares as Deputy Director for the Department of Environmental Management on Maui.  During my time with the County of Maui, I started moving educationally towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, attaining my LEED GA (Green Associate), my LEED AP (Accredited Professional) in Building Design and Construction, and certification as a Residential Home Energy Survey Professional.

After Mayor Tavares lost her reelection bid, I went to work for the local utility, which was Maui Electric at the time, as an Environmental Compliance Engineer supervising Maui Electric’s Power Supply environmental compliance team.  

Over a seven-year period from 2009 to 2016, I augmented my formal education with an MBA in Sustainability and a PhD in Sustainability and Green Buildings. In January 2017, I applied for a vacant position for Maui Electric’s Director of Renewable Energy Projects for all renewable energy projects for Maui County.”

 

Involvement with Transportation Electrification

“I started driving my first electric vehicle in January of 2013 after taking part in a program called JumpSmart Maui. The program was a pilot to look at the potential for  a virtual power plant utilizing vehicles to be used under managed charging scenarios where they would take the extra wind generation on the island’s electric grid during the evenings to fuel these electric vehicles. They installed over 40 DC fast chargers (DCFCs), 200 Level II residential chargers, and 80 Level II Power Conditioning System (PCS) vehicle-to-home chargers across the island to promote EV adoption to test the concepts. I was part of that program as a volunteer and had both the Level II residential and PCS chargers installed in my house. That program spurred electric vehicle adoption to approximately 200 additional vehicles per year. Today Maui County has over 1,000 registered EVs, which is pretty high penetration given our population of around 140,000.  

Because of my passion for EVs, as part of my responsibilities at Maui Electric, I also oversaw electric vehicle initiatives for the company, which included a workplace charging pilot.  

In the transition of Maui Electric to being one company - Hawaiian Electric - I now solely focus on electrification of transportation (EoT), which includes the expansion of electric buses,fleets and charging infrastructure.”

 

Importance of EV Innovation on the Island of Moloka’i 

“If done right, EVs can play an important role in incorporating more renewable energy on Moloka‘i and further cut our dependency on imported fossil fuels. In serving about 3,200 customers on the island, the average minimum daytime load is about 1.6 megawatts (MW), peak load is about 5.6 MW between the hours of 5 PM and 9 PM, and private rooftop solar installed or approved is about 2.7 MW.

This exhibits a perfect example of a “duck curve,” with higher demand in the morning before the solar peak, then dropping drastically in the middle of the day, and finally soaring to even higher in the evening. What drives the middle daytime demand down so low is the large amount of uncontrollable PV coming onto the grid from private rooftop installations.

With such an abundance of solar energy during a time when the island’s energy demand is fairly low already, if EV adoption is increased on Moloka‘i and more EVs are charging during the day then it’s a perfect marriage of displacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The other thing about Moloka‘i is that it’s more of a rural farming community compared with the more tourist-heavy industry in Maui. Moloka‘i doesn’t have car dealerships either; if you buy a car it has to be shipped over. And then there are only a couple of on-island repair shops for cars. Many people wanting EVs may also opt to buy pre-owned vehicles that are outside of the manufacturer’s warranty.

So, putting all that together, and that fuel prices often exceed $5 per gallon, EVs just make sense. If we can do a really good job on Moloka‘i then there’s potential for us to develop more load in the middle of the day, displace high-cost fossil fuel, and have a place for extra renewable energy to be utilized. It would also allow us to offer more renewable energy programs to homeowners.”

 

Issue with Getting EV Penetration on the Hawaiian Island of Moloka‘i

“We went through a bunch of stakeholder engagement events, asking customers what renewable energy looks like for them. We heard previously from the community that they don’t want big wind turbines, and they don’t want to send their energy off-island for the benefit of somebody else. They wanted to produce their own energy and to be self-reliant. As these discussions went on, it became clear that if you’re going to move away from fossil fuels for energy generation, you’d do the same for transportation. So, we had good feedback from these sessions that indicated an interest in getting more EVs to Moloka‘i. 

Through that, I saw that there could be incredible potential for Moloka‘i for EVs, but we had the challenge of no on-island auto dealer and no certified EV technicians. I found it extremely important to engage the existing auto mechanics first so as not to take precious business away from them in lieu of new EV technicians. And one of the on-island auto repair shops is also a gas station, so I went and had personal conversations with them about the issue, because obviously more EVs would thus mean less business for gas sales at this station. When I asked the owners of the existing auto-repair shops if they’d be interested in training on EV repair, they all resoundingly said yes, recognizing it was the future.

I teach an adjunct class at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College (UHMC) for their Sustainable Sciences Management Program. Using this existing relationship, I talked to the chancellor of UHMC and pitched the idea of an EV repair technician program. The chancellor recognized the looming importance of the need and directed his staff to apply for a grant to fund such a program to add to their existing automotive program.  They were successful in their request and ended up getting an $800,000 grant that covered three years of instruction. The grant funded the first course of the program with 100% subsidized training for the Moloka‘ i mechanics for three weeks, with classes held all day on consecutive Fridays and Saturdays. The subsidization covered the course fee, flights to and from Moloka‘i, hotel stay, and meals during their stay.”

 

Lessons in Innovation

“EV auto repair training is not really an area that utilities usually dive into. Traditionally, utilities are in the business of producing power and getting it where it needs to go. So as more utilities transition their renewable energy mix, they must think outside the box with projects like this for how they engage their customers. For Hawaiian Electric, we want to project to our customers that they can rely on us as a trusted advisor and give them as many options as possible. We also need to ask ourselves, if certain options are not in place, how can we utilize our existing relationships with other businesses and agencies to produce what is needed for the communities we serve?”

 

The Future of Utility Innovation

“One of my other big pushes right now is to get charging infrastructure installed in condominiums, because Maui is a huge condominium environment. We have about 22,000 separate units. If we’re forecasting by 2030 to see potentially 30% of personal cars being electric, there’s going to need to be a lot more charging infrastructure in workplaces, homes, and public areas.

In addition, we must plan for that increase in demand as well. If we can do that in a very planned way with a lot of community partners and a lot of outreach and education, then our chances for success are that much higher. Ideally, the majority of that charging will be networked and manageable so that we promote through mechanisms like time-of-use (TOU) rates. Currently, our newest TOU rates incentivize charging during the solar peak, utilizing the abundant renewable energy from PV. Managed charging in this way makes EVs grid assets rather than liabilities with added load adding to the peak demand.

Lastly, it used to be that over one-third of the fossil fuel use nationally went to the utilities and another third went to transportation. Recently, the utility sector has decreased its use of fossil fuels to such an extent that they’re no longer the largest user; now it’s transportation. When looking at the overall carbon footprint of an EV, we’re in a really incredible time where the utility is going to play a very important role in making adoption of EVs possible. We’re going to have to supply the electricity, and we’re really looking to do that renewably and reliably in a very planned and adaptable manner.”

 

Energy Central thanks Gregg Kresge for his valued contributions to the utility industry and for his leadership in the area of innovation. Please leave a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.

Greggory Kresge's picture

Thank Greggory for the Post!

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Discussions

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Mar 27, 2020 5:57 pm GMT

Well deserved recognition for his innovations, drive and successes. Well done!

FYI: I'm always happy (and eager) to work with Hawaiian Electric (after the COVID-19 travel ban is lifted). I'm guessing you hear that a lot :)

Greggory Kresge's picture
Greggory Kresge on Mar 30, 2020 6:38 pm GMT

Aloha Richard,

Thanks for the compliment. We are very lucky to live in a place where people like to do business and to visit. It helps that we are also seeing incredible levels of renewable energy generation that present new and unprecedented challenges that we are working so hard to solve. I hope travel is restored soon and we can meet in person!

Mahalo,

Gregg

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Mar 31, 2020 4:45 pm GMT

That would be great, Gregg. Mahalo.

Louis Brizzolara's picture
Louis Brizzolara on Apr 2, 2020 9:53 pm GMT

Greg,

 

Great article and story. I never realized what an extensive backround you have.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Apr 2, 2020 10:40 pm GMT

Greggory,  I love the EV program idea and implementation.  Congratulations on this recognition.  I hope you will continue to share your stories and successes with the community in the future. 

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