Hawaii ranks high in solar use


Hawaii Electric Light Co. ranked 12th highest in the country for the number of watts of electrical power provided by solar electricity, a solar industry group said Tuesday.

The Solar Electric Power Association ranked Kauai Island Utility Cooperative second, Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu fourth and Maui Electric Co. sixth for adding new solar power on a per-customer basis. HELCO, HECO and MECO are owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc.

Curtis Beck, HELCO’s energy services manager, said the company has 24 megawatts of photovoltaic power tied in to its system. He said it’s hard to say what percentage of HELCO’s overall energy output solar power creates because the systems are primarily tied into individual homes and businesses, and much of the power generated with the panels is used to offset what the customer would be buying from HELCO. Depending upon the weather, HELCO could get 16 to 20 megawatts at a time of solar power.

Geothermal makes up 23 percent of HELCO’s power production, wind power makes up 13 percent and hydropower makes up 2.5 percent, he added.

Increasing access to photovoltaic systems doesn’t automatically alleviate HELCO’s need for other fixed power sources, Beck said. The company must have reserve generation, usually running about about half the needed output, to make up for when solar power production dips, or when a large power consumer, such as a water well, goes online.

HELCO is able to monitor the likely solar output fairly closely, Beck said. The company uses solar irradiance sensors to get information about what kind of solar output is available in different areas.

“We integrate that in our own system,” Beck said. “We do that literally minute by minute and get a real-time output.”

Solar Electric Power Association officials praised Hawaii’s electric companies for the solar power added last year.

“Hawaii has long been a leader in solar water heating as well as solar photovoltaics,” officials said in a prepared statement. “In 2012, the Hawaiian Electric companies passed 22,000 solar (photovoltaic) installations with a total of 172 megawatts of solar capacity. According to Solar Electric Power Association calculations, Hawaiian Electric last year added 219 solar watts of capacity per customer. Maui Electric added 198 solar watts per customer. Hawaii Electric Light Company added 134 solar watts.”

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council also ranks the state of Hawaii as a whole third in the nation for solar watts per customer, and the Vote Solar Initiative named Hawaiian Electric Company a “solar champion” for 2012, HEI officials said.