March 16, 2014—A friend of mine has a son that has worked in the solar industry in Hawaii for several years. About a month ago he was laid off. Up until several months ago, the solar industry in Hawaii was booming, so why the lay offs?
Since December 31, 2013, there have been approximately 40,159 solar systems connected to Hawaii’s grid on Oahu and Maui.This has made Hawaii 7th on the list of top solar states. In grid-tied solar, electricity is generated when the sun is shining and sends the electricity to the home generating the electricity, with excess power going back into the grid. Under a program that connects customers to the electrical grid in Hawaii, households with solar have recieved full credit for electricity they generate and send to the grid. The credit offsets the electricity they need to take from the grid at night or on cloudy days.
Solar Slow Down in Hawaii
So why has the solar industry slowed down in Hawaii? According to an article by Martin Lamonica at Greenbiz, “The solar industry in Hawaii has slowed down because of concerns that more solar may destabalize power delivery to neighborhoods.” The system is putting more energy into the grid than it is designed to deal with–the electrical system is saturated. “The excess energy can backfeed into the grid, causing over voltage and power problems and creating a danger for utility crews and customers,” says Peter Rosegg of Hawaiian Electric. A contractor must now get verification that the utilities circuit the solar is connected to, can handle the extra load before tying a solar system into the grid . Recently, the electrical company has started charging $500 for solar permits and requiring approval for each installation of solar. This has lead to a 30% drop in permits on Oahu.
The solar industry in Hawaii has hit a wall and other states are observing to see the outcome, as the same thing is likely to take place elsewhere. Some in Hawaii think this slow down in solar is profit motivated. In many neighborhoods the public utilities is telling people with newly installed solar that they can’t connect to the grid. William Walker, who has a new solar system with no connection, states, “Everyone is on board with getting solar, but the utilities company has put up a wall. The only reason we can see is profit motivation.”
Public Utilities: Drenched In Oil Mentality
Public utilities are in threat of losing billions of dollars throughout the U.S. with the installation of solar. In California and Arizona, the public utilities are pushing for “grid fees” to offset their losses. Lyndon Rive of Lolar Cito Corp says it’s “crazy for a utility to charge for services they didn’t deliver.” One state representative pushing for solar says, “Public utilities have a drenched-in -oil mentality and will someday be obsolete unless they change their practices.” An overhaul is needed to update our grids.
Off Grid or Tied to Grid Solar
Why not be independent of the utilities company and remain off grid? Off-grid is a choice. In an off-grid system, excess energy is stored in a battery bank, which can be drawn from at night or on cloudy days. The negative side of this is that off-the-grid solar is more expensive due to the batteries and other gear necessary to function. If you choose to connect to the grid, you will be able to use electricity when solar isn’t producing enough energy, but, on the other hand, grid-tied solar will not supply power when the grid fails, unless it has an inverter connected to a battery bank where energy is stored. Otherwise, during a power failure, your solar must shut down immediately for safety reasons, as it could put utility workers repairing equipment in harms way by sending electricity back into the grid. Another negative of grid connection is what has happened in Hawaii if the claim is true. Sending excess solar power back into the grid will create grid overload.
Here’s a final comment from OffTheGridNews, “Solar power is still a fantastic choice for alternative energy needs, For as long as the planet has existed, reliably and without fail, that hot yellow ball of gas has risen every morning on the horizon packing enough energy to meet our power needs consistently. The sun is a a remarkable, free, silent and clean form of energy.”