Hawaii Front and Center in Ongoing Solar War with Utilities

Hawaii truly is a paradise, especially if you’re talking about solar. The state is thriving — except for the fact that utilities are standing to stand in its way. Despite being one of the leading states when it comes to solar power, Hawaii is becoming the face of the solar energy battle between rooftop solar for homeowners and large utility companies unequipped to handle solar. In an article from The New York Times, Hawaii’s growing population of wannabe solar power uses continue to be barred from installing solar rooftop panel systems, leading to frustration and anger over their less than sunny situation.

Hawaii’s Influx of Solar Energy

The Energy Information Administration says that Hawaii’s utility-scale electricity generation from solar energy increased nearly six-fold in 2013. Additionally, around 12 percent of Hawaiian homes feature solar rooftop systems. It’s definitely the highest in the nation, beating out other solar powerhouses like Arizona and California. Yet the popularity of self-generating electricity via solar panels has put a tremendous strain of existing infrastructure. That’s why Hawaii utility companies stopped homeowners from installing rooftop solar. Old power lines and circuits are having trouble handling the influx of energy.

However, there’s an even bigger cause for concern: home-powered solar cuts into utility companies’ bottom line. Many utilities are trying to stop solar from getting too big by reducing incentives or adding fees. Then solar companies fight back through the legal system. In the meantime, homeowners wait for months and months until their applications for rooftop solar are approved.

How Hawaii’s Solar Problems are Our Problems

On the mainland as well as Hawaii, solar-generated electricity goes into a power grid that should carry it in the other direction. But voltage fluctuates and circuits become overloaded, leading to brownouts and blackouts. Given that the Solar Energy Industries Association approximates that there will be well over three million solar systems installed by 2020, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed swiftly.

“When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly…there’s going to be problems,” said Massoud Amin, a chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

This shift in how to develop and distribute electricity — that is, creating it at home via solar panels and selling it back to utilities — still clearly needs more work. Not only are homeowners frustrated by the process, but installers lose business and solar companies have to argue their case in court. There’s also the idea of taking down the grid completely and having homes generate their own power, but that’s a long way off from becoming a true reality. So while utilities upgrade meters to regulate the flow of electricity more easily, it looks as though Hawaiian homeowners may face more challenges as they attempt to lower their electric bills.

Do you live in Hawaii? Are you an advocate for completely dismantling the grid altogether? Tell us in the comments!


Image Credit: Didier B via Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license

  • by Nadia Osman
  • |
  • May 13, 2015

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