By Colin Yost, Chief Operations Officer of RevoluSun
As state law requires, Hawaii will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy in 2045, or perhaps much sooner (San Diego recently set a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2035). Because the sun shines so brightly on our state, and for a number of other reasons, solar systems are likely to ultimately produce most of our renewable power. However, solar is only available during the day and fluctuates depending on the weather and season. Many questions remain about the best ways to integrate solar into each island’s electric grid.
The HECO Companies’ default preference is the centralization and utility control of all generation sources, but there is no persuasive technical or policy reason to pit big, industrial solar against residential rooftop solar. Statewide, we still produce approximately 80 percent of our electricity from fossil fuels, and we must take advantage of every available resource to reach 100 percent as soon as possible. It’s important to remember the over arching, urgent purpose of our 100 percent renewable law: to address the increasing threat of climate change and our remote islands’ special vulnerability to rising temperatures and sea level.
Smaller, rooftop solar remains renewable energy’s “low-hanging fruit” due to strong consumer demand, improved technology and affordable prices. The latest solar systems are so sophisticated that they render moot most of the utility’s traditional concerns about excessive amounts of solar in certain neighborhood circuits. And to the extent saturation concerns are legitimate, they can be solved by grid upgrades or variable rate structures that encourage the export of solar electricity in the evening period of highest energy demand. For example, a substantially higher “time-of-use” rate for peak evening hours that applied to both usage and exported power would encourage the installation of battery storage that supplies solar electricity to the grid when it needs it most.
A diverse renewable energy industry is also more likely than a monopoly to foster innovation and accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels. The proof is in the recent past: prior to the middle of the last decade, Hawaii generated nearly all of its electricity from non-renewable sources until government policies and creative entrepreneurs promoted the growth of hundreds of small renewable energy companies.
Whatever we do, we should not support new policies that slow us down — as the elimination of Net-Energy Metering has done and the 25 MW interim cap on the new grid-supply program threatens to do. It is clearly in Hawaii’s best interest to continue pushing the envelope of solar energy integration so that communities on the Mainland and internationally may learn from our experience and take action to more rapidly reduce CO2 and methane emissions. Let’s work together to overcome the challenges ahead. The future of our state depends on our success.