Hawaiian Utility Opens Floodgates for Solar Installations

HONOLULU, Hawaii — The Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), the local utility that serves 95 percent of the state’s 1.2 million residents, recently turned heads with its proactive approach to upgrading its grid to better facilitate the integration of large solar arrays. The company’s actions earned it the approval of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a non-profit based in Latham, N.Y., that strives to increase the use of renewable energy sources across the country.

While attending a working group meeting held by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, representatives of the electric company explained their new tactic of preparing their grid to optimize solar energy installations, instead of waiting until after arrays appear in a specific area to target it for upgrades.

“HECO’s proposed proactive approach puts Hawaii on the cutting edge of accommodating high levels of solar energy on the utility grid,” IREC’s attorney Tim Lindl told EcoWatch, an environmental news source.

“Few, if any, utilities in the country have taken such a progressive stance on this issue, and this program will position Hawaii as the nation’s leader in the integration of small-scale solar resources,” Lindl added.

Most utilities cap the amount of renewable energy, somewhere near 15 percent of the grid’s total energy capacity, that they will accept into their grid at any given time and wait for a significant amount of arrays to be installed in an area before determining if more capacity should be allocated for those sources.

The new stance on this issue represents a quick about-face from when the utility reacted to a rapid increase in solar arrays with a proposed moratorium on new installations of renewable power sources. The resulting public outcry led the company to quickly retract its proposal and tack in the other direction, raising the limit on solar power generation multiple times, reaching a new limit of 23 percent of its grid’s peak lode by October of 2012. The company hasn’t experienced any problems so far, despite fears by many utilities that this type of action could create spikes in energy input that could damage their grids.

“Hawaii is a national trendsetter for renewable energy, and timely and efficient implementation is going to be key for this proactive approach to succeed,” Lindl added. “We will continue to track its progress to help keep up the momentum.”

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