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September 24, 2013

Maui High Performance Computing Center Plans Solar Farm

Tiffany Trader

The Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) is eager to proceed with the Maui Solar Initiative, since it was determined that the 1.5-megawatt solar farm “would not have a significant impact either by itself or cumulatively (with other nearby projects) on the quality of the natural or human environment.”

The Maui Solar Initiative calls for a 1.5-megawatt solar farm to be located on 13 acres of land leased from Haleakala Ranch about a mile from the Kihei coastline. The impetus for the proposed construction is to reduce the center’s electricity costs and secure renewable energy in line with federal requirements.

The center’s draft environmental assessment, published in June under the National Environmental Policy Act in the state’s Environmental Notice of the Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control, was met with a finding of no significant environmental impact.

The planned photovoltaic facility will enable MHPCC to reduce electrical costs, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and comply with the federal goal that DOD centers use a minimum of 7.5 percent renewable energy sources. MHPCC’s annual electricity costs currently exceed $3 million, paid by the U.S. Air Force with Army Research and Development funds.

The Proposed Action calls for the MHPCC to work with Maui Electric Company (MECO) to sign a Utility Energy Service Contract (UESC), and, under the UESC, obtain a contractor to build and operate the PV system.

The design for the 1.5 MW field is based on SunPower 238-watt PV panels and the SunPower T0 (“T-zero”) Tracker Ground System. This single‐axis, horizontal solar tracking system is configured to optimize energy capture by following the path of the sun throughout the day. Compared to fixed‐tilt systems, Tracker typically provides 15–30 percent higher energy output from the same size array or number of modules. Specifically designed for large‐scale deployments of more than 200kW, the system is said to “combine substantial energy output with high system reliability and low operating costs.”

Established in 1993, the MHPCC Defense Supercomputing Resource Center is one of five HPC centers in the DoD’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP). The MHPCC’s high-performance computing systems provide 70 million computational hours annually to the HPCMP Research, Development, Test and Evaluation community.

Located within the Maui Research and Technology Park in Kihei, Maui, Hawaii, the MHPCC continues to be managed and operated by the University of Hawaii, despite that institution losing the contract to Virginia-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. in August 2012. The University of Hawaii, which has run the center since 2001, protested the decision, and the contract continues to be debated.