Rooftop Solar & Grid-Scale Storage Move Forward In Hawai’i

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Hawai’i has the most aggressive zero emission electricity policy of all US states — 100% by 2045. Lots of states like to talk about their low carbon goals, but Hawai’i is walking the clean energy walk. It’s possible it could reach its zero emissions goal ahead of schedule.

One of the factors driving renewables forward in the islands is the high cost of electricity. Coal and diesel fuel have to be shipped thousand of miles, which makes them very expensive. Utility rates in Hawai’i are among the highest in the nation. That makes the investment needed to design, build, and activate renewable energy projects more palatable.

Expediting Rooftop Solar

Hawaiian Electric renewable sources
Image credit: Hawaiian Electric

Rooftop solar is an important source of solar energy in Hawai’i. According to Hawaiian Electric, almost half of its solar power came from roof mounted systems in 2019. Thanks to prodding by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, HECO and the solar industry have come up with a package of new policies that will make getting rooftop solar faster and easier. According to a company press release, those changes include:

  • Customer systems smaller than 25 kilowatts with proper activated protective equipment can now turn on as soon as the building permit closes.
  • When an application is conditionally approved, Hawaiian Electric will start the meter change process. Previously, the meter was changed after final approval. Solar contractors are being asked to help prioritize these new meter installations.
  • Contractors may now install a temporary second meter for new Customer Grid Supply+ customers instead of awaiting the permanent meter installation. The utility will later install a permanent meter to complete the system.
  • The company is working on ways to expedite the process for rooftop solar customers who are also upgrading their electricity connection as a part of their installation.

“We’ll continue to look for ways to smooth and speed up the application process, in consultation with the PUC and solar contractors,” says Lani Shinsato, HECO’s customer energy resources co-director. “We’ll also review changes in six months to make sure they are effective in helping our customers go solar more easily and support the solar industry.”

These changes are effective immediately but safety procedures dictated by the coronavirus pandemic may delay implementation. “We understand we all need time to get used to the ‘new normal,’ especially with regard to our online Customer Interconnection Tool, which has been upgraded but may not reflect these new processes,” Shinsato says. “As these processes mature and we get a feel for their permanence, we will update the online tool.”

Plus Power 185 MW/565 MWh Battery For Oahu

Plus Power battery storage Oahu
Image credit: Plus Power

Hawai’i officials announced a bold new initiative in early April to install nearly 1 gigawatt-hour of new battery storage at locations around the state. One of those installations will be a 185 MW/565 MWh battery storage facility from Plus Power, a San Francisco based startup headed by Bob Ruud. He is well known in Hawai’i for his role as a leader of the Tesla team that installed the first solar plus storage system on the island of Kaua’i several years ago.

The Kapolei Energy Storage project will be located on 8 acres of land on the west side of Oahu, a mile and a half from the AES generating station, the last coal-fired thermal generator in the state. The battery is scheduled to be online in August of 2022 while the AES facility is scheduled to close in September of that year. The site is situated 55 feet above sea level to protect it from tsunamis, storm surges, and rising sea levels.

“The grids in Hawaii have always been out in front in terms of renewable energy,” Rudd tells Greentech Media. “A battery of this scale is going to have a direct impact on an island grid such as this in allowing the transition away from conventional generation to more renewable energy. What I’ve learned working in Hawaii is that community engagement and local support and collaboration is critical to project success. We made every effort early on to engage with local community members.” As a result, the project has already won approvals with the local Neighborhood Board as well as the City and County of Honolulu.

Hawaii is not pussyfooting around with this renewable energy stuff. It is striding boldly into the future and setting an example for other states to follow.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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