Smart grid growing pains? Hawaii solar hits a snag

By Doug Peeples
Smart Grid News Editor

As Hawaii’s solar installations approach mandated limits in several areas, more and more home and business owners are backing away from plans for solar projects because they could be required to pay for an expensive study to determine if the increased solar load would affect grid stability.

The solar business is booming in general, with Q1 2011 growth at 66% over the same time last year, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. But Hawaii’s dilemma is a perplexing example of how smart grid technologies are struggling to cope with the growing popularity of solar power, and how utilities are trying to deal with the significant challenges of constantly fluctuating amounts of PV power being pumped into the grid.

The Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has established a 15% threshold (set by the Hawaii PUC) for the amount of solar power than can be added to a single circuit to help ensure electric grid stability, as many other U.S. utilities have done. But Hawaii has the highest per capita quantity of solar power connected to its power grid. And when the 15% percent threshold is reached on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii island, Molokai and Lanai – HECO’s customers there can be required to pony up for an expensive study before they can link their solar systems to the grid, reports the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper….

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