Fukushima Jumpstarted Hawaiian Solar Explosion

Markets – with a kick from Japan’s Fukushima accident - forced Hawaii to the forefront of American states embracing solar energy.

The Fukushima nuclear accident five years ago forced Japan to shut its nuclear generation fleet and to import a tidal wave of oil to run electric generators, Constance Lau, Hawaiian Electric Industries chairman and chief executive, told a recent executive energy conference in San Francisco.

That spiked global oil prices – and the cost of electricity in Hawaii, largely reliant on oil-fired generation, soared, Lau told the California Renewables Rush conference organized by The Energy Times.

Rates jumped 55 percent from 22 cents a kilowatt-hour to 34 cents, she said.

Today a stunning 30 percent of single-family homes in the state have solar panels planted on their roofs, which is among the highest penetrations of photovoltaics in the world.

“If you were a homeowner, wouldn’t you do the same thing?” Lau asked. With robust state and federal tax incentives, some homeowners saw their solar investments fully paid back in a mere two or three years, she said.

The surge in renewables has set off a sweeping revolution, with homeowners and third parties getting increasingly involved in energy markets, Lau said.

“The utility no longer controls all the resources,” she said.

With stunning vistas and environments, Hawaiians are eager to get ever greener in their energy use, as the state hopes to become fully reliant on renewables by 2045, Lau said.

The new grid that is emerging on the island state is being designed to be ever more resilient and secure, she said.

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