Hawaii Drives Past Solar Power Cost Barrier, Surprised by Additional Roadblocks

Date: 30 Jul 2012 | posted in: Energy, Press Release | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Contact: John Farrell, ILSR, jfarrell@ilsr.org

July 30, 2012 | Minneapolis, MN — Solar power, without subsidies, can cut electric bills for Hawaii homes and businesses.  But a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance suggests that cheap solar is not a panacea.  Hawaiian Sunblock: Solar Facing Unexpected Barriers Despite Low Cost provides important lessons for states like California and New York, where the coming of cheap solar energy may not unleash an immediate solar revolution.

Read the executive summary and download the report

An island state reliant on imported oil for 83% of its electricity generation, Hawaii is fertile ground for solar power.  The recent combination of rising oil prices and falling solar prices created a dramatic shift toward people generating their own electricity.  With solar economics virtually unmatched in the U.S., Hawaii’s situation begs this question: when unsubsidized solar competes favorably with grid electricity, can anything stand in its way?

“Unfortunately, yes,” says ILSR Senior Researcher and report author John Farrell, “Hawaii residents and businesses have unearthed the complexities of shifting from an electricity system where everyone is a consumer to one where many people are self-reliant energy producers.”

The report finds that while the economics of solar continue to improve, a number of unexpected barriers have arisen.  Homes often need electrical upgrades and local governments struggle to keep up with permit requests.  Utilities are also reluctant to give up their market dominance, enforcing antiquated rules about grid interconnection that can add significant expense, delay, or even kill projects entirely.

“As many as 90% of commercial solar projects have been told by the islands’ utilities that they face a costly and lengthy interconnection study to come online,” said Farrell, “That takes the shine off solar in a hurry.”

The lessons from Hawaii will be crucial for cities and states on the mainland from San Diego to New York City to Phoenix, all of which ILSR forecasts will reach solar grid parity (along with many other metropolitan areas) in the next decade.

Will cheap solar open the floodgates or will poor policies and reluctant utilities hold it back?  The Aloha State provides the answers, and ILSR’s new report shares them at www.ilsr.org.

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John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.