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Big Island Has State’s Highest Renewable Energy Percentage

The Hawai‘i Electric Light Company announces that the companies achieved a consolidated 27% renewable portfolio standard in 2017, up from 26% the year before. The increase was achieved primarily by the addition of new grid-scale and private rooftop solar systems.

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawai‘i Electric Light are well on their way to achieving the next mandated RPS milestone, 30% by 2020.

RPS represents the renewable energy used by customers as a percentage of total utility sales. Hawai‘i Island, with a mix of geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectricity, had the highest renewable percentage at 57%, up from 54% in 2016. Maui County was at 34%, compared with 37% in 2016, and O‘ahu was 21%, up from 19% in 2016.

Maui saw a decline due to a decrease in the available wind energy. Maui Electric used 95% of the total wind power available, the highest percentage ever accepted from the island’s three wind farms.

The three companies also track the peak renewable energy production for the year. These peaks are typically achieved on sunny, windy days when demand for electricity is low and renewable production is high. The peak on Hawai‘i Island was reached on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 when 83% of electricity demand was met by renewables. The peak was 77% on Maui on Sunday, June 4, 2017 and 53% on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 on O‘ahu.

On O‘ahu, the 27.6-megawatt Waianae Solar project began operation in early 2017 and is the largest solar installation in the state. Private rooftop solar accounted for more than 70% of the 109 megawatts of new PV generation that came online on the five islands of the companies’ service territory last year. Annually, those new resources will displace more than 350,000 barrels of oil used for power generation.

The next milestone on Hawai‘i’s path to 100%, renewable energy will be in 2020 when the renewable portfolio standard requirement is 30%. The companies expect to integrate hundreds of megawatts of new renewable generation by mid-2019. There are four grid-scale solar projects and a biofuel-capable power plant under construction on O‘ahu and two grid-scale solar projects close to completion on Maui. Continued growth of private rooftop solar is expected on all islands.

In addition, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawai‘i Electric Light intend to issue requests for proposals in two stages over the next two years for renewable resources planned through 2022. Those include:

  • 220 megawatts (MW) of renewable generation for O‘ahu
  • 100 MW for the island of Maui
  • 50 MW for Hawaii Island

Interest in Next Wave of Solar Power Rising in Hawaii

Applications for the next generation of private rooftop solar energy systems have surged in recent weeks, showing growing customer interest in the program and this new technology.

solar-panel-in-hawaiiAs of Nov. 1, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company received 234 Customer Self-Supply applications, up from approximately 50 applications in early October.

So far, nearly 100 applications have been approved and are ready for installation, with the rest going through the standard technical review.

“Things are just getting started. Solar power is still a viable option and we expect more customers to install self-supply systems as they learn more about the program,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service.

Customer Self-Supply represents the evolution of solar energy systems. These systems enable households to generate their own electricity and to potentially store energy for use after the sun goes down.

The Hawaiian Electric Companies lead the nation in the adoption of solar power. Nearly 79,000 customers have been approved on Oahu, Maui County, and Hawaii island. To date, 15 percent of all residential and commercial electric customers have PV systems – nearly 20 times the national average. Approximately 29 percent of all single family homes have been approved to install a PV system.

Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose Plan to Sustainably Increase Rooftop Solar

As part of its transformation to deliver a more affordable, clean energy future for Hawaii, the Hawaiian Electric Companies are proposing a new program to increase rooftop solar in a way that’s safe, sustainable and fair for all customers.

In conjunction with this “Transitional Distributed Generation” program, the utilities expect to be able to help the growth of solar by more than doubling the threshold for neighborhood circuits to accept solar systems. This would eliminate in most of those cases the need for a longer and costly interconnection study.

Sustainable Solar

Under the proposal, existing Net Energy Metering (“NEM”) program customers and those with pending applications would remain under the existing NEM program. Any program changes from this proposal would apply only to new customers.

The initiative is part of the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ clean energy transformation to lower electric bills by 20 percent, increase the use of renewable energy to more than 65 percent, triple the amount of distributed solar by 2030, and offer customers expanded products and services.

“We want to ensure a sustainable rooftop solar program to help our customers lower their electric bills,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO. “That means taking an important first step by transitioning to a program where all customers are fairly sharing in the cost of the grid we all rely on.”

Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service, added, “At the end of 2013, the annualized cost shift from customers who have rooftop solar to those who don’t totaled about $38 million. As of the end of 2014, the annualized cost shift had grown to $53 million – an increase of $15 million. And that number keeps growing. So change is needed to ensure a program that’s fair and sustainable for all customers.”

New Transitional Program

Currently, NEM customers use the electric grid daily. Their rooftop solar systems send energy into the grid, and they draw power when their systems do not provide enough for their needs, including in the evenings and on cloudy days. However, many NEM customers are able to lower their bills to the point that they do not help pay for the cost of operating and maintaining the electric grid.

As a result, those costs are increasingly being shifted from those who have solar to those who don’t.

The new transitional program would create a more sustainable system and ensure the costs of operating and maintaining the electric grid are more fairly shared among all customers.

Under the current NEM program, customers receive credit on their electric bills at the full retail rate for electricity they produce. This credit includes the cost of producing electricity plus operation and maintenance of the electric grid and all other costs to provide electric service.

The Transitional Distributed Generation program would credit customers at a rate that better reflects the cost of the electricity produced by their rooftop solar systems. This is consistent with how Kauai Island Utility Co-Op compensates its solar customers.

Increasing PV Integration

If this transitional program is approved, the Hawaiian Electric Companies expect to be able to modify their interconnection policies, more than doubling the solar threshold for neighborhood circuits from 120 percent of daytime minimum load (DML) to 250 percent of DML. In many cases, this will eliminate the need for a longer and costly interconnection study.

To safely integrate higher levels of solar, rooftop systems will need to implement newly developed performance standards, including those established using results of a collaboration among Hawaiian Electric, SolarCity and the Electric Power Research Institute. Through this partnership, the performance of solar inverters was tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. These standards can reduce the risk of damage to electronics in a customer’s home and to utility equipment on the grid, safety hazards for electrical line workers, and even widespread power outages.

The Hawaiian Electric Companies will also make strategic and cost-effective system improvements necessary to integrate more rooftop solar. They will work with the solar industry to identify areas where demand for upgrades is highest. Planning for these upgrades will also consider the needs of the State of Hawaii’s Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) program, which will make low-cost loans available to customers who may have difficulty financing clean energy improvements like solar.

To further support even more customers adding solar on high solar circuits, Hawaiian Electric will also be doing several pilot projects for “Non-Export/Smart Export” solar battery systems with local and national PV companies in Hawaii. These projects will provide real-world operational experience on their capability to increase solar interconnections on high-penetration circuits.

The company is also developing a community solar program as another option to help make the benefits of solar available to all customers, including those who may not be able to install rooftop solar (for example, renters or condo dwellers).

Hawaiian Electric is asking the PUC to approve the new program within 60 days. Under the utilities’ proposal, the Transitional Distributed Generation program would remain in effect while the PUC works on a permanent replacement program, to be developed through a collaborative process involving stakeholders from across the community, including the solar industry.

The PUC has stated it believes programs designed to support solar energy need to change. In an Order issued in April 2014, the PUC said:

“It is unrealistic to expect that the high growth in distributed solar PV capacity additions experienced in the 2010 – 2013 time period can be sustained, in the same technical, economic and policy manner in which it occurred, particularly when electric energy usage is declining, distribution circuit penetration levels are increasing, system level challenges are emerging and grid fixed costs are increasingly being shifted to non-solar PV customers.”

Across the three Hawaiian Electric Companies, more than 51,000 customers have rooftop solar. As of December 2014, about 12 percent of Hawaiian Electric customers, 10 percent of Maui Electric customers and 9 percent of Hawaii Electric Light customers have rooftop solar. This compares to a national average of one-half of 1 percent (0.5 percent) as of December 2013, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.

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Solar Photovoltaic Installations in Hawaii Continued to Grow in 2013

Solar photovoltaic installations in Hawai‘i continued growing at a strong pace in 2013. A total of 17,609 solar installations with more than 129 megawatts capacity were added to the Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company grids in 2013. This is 39 percent more than was added in 2012.

The total of solar photovoltaic systems interconnected on the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ grids as of Dec. 31, 2013 is 40,159 with a total capacity of 300 MW. Of those installations, 96 percent take advantage of net energy metering, a program that began in 2001 to encourage the adoption of rooftop solar. With net energy metering, customers with rooftop solar receive full retail credit for electricity they generate and send to the utility grid. They use that credit to offset the electricity they take from the grid when solar power does not meet their needs at night or on cloudy days.

More than 70 percent of rooftop systems are on Oahu.  With 29,558 PV systems and 221 MW as of Dec. 31, 2013, 10 percent of Hawaiian Electric customers now have rooftop solar, a higher percentage than any mainland utility. On Hawaii Island, 7 percent of Hawaii Electric Light customers have rooftop solar. And 8 percent of Maui Electric customers have rooftop solar.

This unprecedented rapid growth in rooftop solar in Hawai‘i has resulted in some neighborhood circuits reaching extremely high levels of photovoltaic systems. An increasing number of distribution level circuits have rooftop PV capacity exceeding 100 percent of the daytime minimum load, the trigger for interconnection studies and possible implementation of safety measures or upgrades before new PV systems on that circuit can be interconnected to the grid. This condition slowed the pace of rooftop solar growth in the last quarter of last year.

“Our first priority is the safety and reliability of service to all our customers,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for customer service. “At the same time, we remain committed to a strong, sustainable solar industry in Hawaii. We continue to approve new solar systems for interconnection daily. And we are working to find ways to add more solar power, including on circuits that already have large amounts of PV installed.”

Solar installations and capacity by utility as of December 31, 2013

  Solar Installations Capacity in MW
Hawaiian Electric 29, 558 221
Maui Electric 5, 246 41
Hawaii Electric Light 5,355 38
TOTAL 40,159 300

Cumulative solar growth in Hawaiian Electric Companies service territories, 2005-2013 (Data subject to change)