People who visit Hawaii are typically struck by the same things that every other tourist is: crystal clear water, epic surf and lush landscapes. What many people fail to realize is that the tiny little state of Hawaii is one of the national leaders in solar energy.
For starters, Hawaii is the largest state market for solar water heaters. In fact, prior to 2006, about half of the solar hot water heaters sold in the United States were installed in Hawaii. And in 2010, Hawaii ranked the second highest in the U.S. for installed solar water heaters.
Furthermore, the total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity installed in Hawaii increased by 48% from 8.6 megawatts in 2008 to 12.7 megawatts in 2009 making Hawaii the sixth fastest solar power growth state over this period. Hawaii continued to see consistent growth throughout 2010 as it increased its total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity by 46% from 12.7 megawatts to 18.7 megawatts with a total grid capacity of 45 megawatts ranking it 9th in the U.S. Hawaii actually ranks 2nd in the U.S. with 32 watts installed solar power per person which is more than California, showing just how widely solar power has been accepted throughout the state. In 2010, Hawaii solar installations increased almost 100% over 2009, according to Hawaiian Electric Co. A total of 3,967 solar power systems were connected to the grid on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, compared to 1,916 installations in 2009. The installations added 13 megawatts of capacity to the Hawaii grid.
But why solar in Hawaii…why has the solar industry seen such growth here? For starters, Hawaii has the highest electricity rates in the country, partly due to the fact that 90% of Hawaii’s energy comes from imported petroleum. $7 billion annually flows out of the state to meet Hawaii’s energy needs. Because of this, Hawaii residents pay, on average, $0.285 per kilowatt-hour which is extremely high as compared to the rest of the country. And as the price of oil fluctuates, so does the price for electricity in Hawaii. And on the solar thermal side, installation costs are relatively low because Hawaii solar installers do not have to worry about the effects of freezing on installed solar systems equipment. However, the true reason for the success of Hawaii’s solar power market is due to tremendous government support.
In 2007, the legislature adopted the Hawaii Global Warming Solutions Act which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and sets a goal of meeting 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs through clean energy sources by 2030. In addition, the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative has been working to develop the state’s local resources and meeting the 70% goal. As a result of these macro energy goals, Hawaii has strongly committed itself to a path where renewable energy sources must be developed and promoted.