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How to Profitably go Solar in 2017: Tips from Hawaii


What comes to mind when you think about Hawaii? It’s likely a combination of ocean waves, palm trees, blue skies and sun. If your mind also moves in the direction of abundant solar energy, you wouldn’t be wrong. Hawaii’s climate and location makes the island a perfect place to collect and apply solar energy. Given this environment, plus high costs of electricity generated by imported fuels facing all island communities — which soar to rates of up to 37.6 cents per kWh — it’s clear why individuals in Hawaii are highly interested in alternative energy options. It’s something literally and figuratively in their nature — Hawaiians share an ethic of independence, one that extends to not being dependent on the grid.

However, in order to reduce fossil fuel reliance and gain energy independence, consumers in the Hawaiian market need to adhere to utility regulations in order to ensure alternative energy use remains profitable. Below are three tips solar users around the world can take from Hawaii’s push to profitably leverage solar energy.

Know the Regulations — and Restrictions — Surrounding Alternative Energy in Your Area

Last year, the Hawaiian Electric Company eliminated net energy metering (NEM) and pushed to instill an interconnection policy that would create certain roadblocks on the journey to grid-connected solar energy. As a result, solar energy risked appearing to be more trouble than it was worth for new investors, despite Hawaii leading the nation for solar penetration rates. In any location, it’s critical for solar users to remain aware of local legislation surrounding alternative energy use, as well as any solutions that can help overcome obstacles.

For example, intelligent inverters and energy storage can help Hawaiian residents — and others around the globe in similar situations — to increase solar power value, avoid the grid’s common problems and reap the benefits of self-generation. Since certain batteries no longer require frequent maintenance or replacement, users can store solar energy during peak hours and apply that power after the sun goes down. With this in mind, the recent HECO changes have resulted in encouraging electricity consumers to consider adding energy storage to realize the best economic payback for their solar investment.

Utility Companies and Consumers Should be Ready to Adapt

When choosing alternative energy sources, consumers are first and foremost interested in reliable, consistent power at economic prices. This intersects with a utility company’s perspective, which sees the entire industry’s delivery dynamics changing.

Previously, utility companies’ revenue came from investments in physical infrastructure — literally putting more steel in the ground. Solar energy decreases the need for such infrastructure while decreasing load growth. In response, utilities are learning new ways to adapt, such as instating metering charges, monthly minimum bills and additional fees. To find a sustainable compromise, utility organizations and consumers should be flexible and prepared to adapt to new systems of energy measurement and billing.

Remember that Energy Independence is Possible with the Right Tools

Alternative and renewable energy is attractive for residents and business owners in cities and rural areas around the globe. It doesn’t matter if an area is rich in solar resources, such as the case in Hawaii, or if most days bring rain instead of sun, such as in Seattle — reducing dependence on fossil fuels and the grid can be a compelling prospect. It’s also a viable option with the use of solutions such as intelligent inverters combined with energy storage.

Consumers should also remember that the best option usually involves teaming up with the grid and not sever relations with it. In many cases, a happy medium, made possible by modern technology, can offer increased independence and improved performance without the hassle of attempting off-grid energy management.

For example, intelligent inverters can charge and maintain batteries while managing grid use, keeping users off the grid for long periods of time and drawing from its resources in order to meet spikes in demand. This process, called “zeroing out,” is a solution to achieving greater independence without the inconvenience of going off the grid. Utility companies remain open to working with consumers to help them achieve their energy goals, and new solar and storage technology is there to help both sides.

Photo by Pixabay/Blickpixel

Eric Hill is senior strategic platforms manager at Alpha Technologies, parent company of OutBack Power. He has 8 years’ experience in energy storage focusing on renewable energy, telecom, wireless, industrial utilities, and broadband cable TV. Connect him on LinkedIn, and find OutBack Power on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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