A new kind of rooftop solar system that enables households to generate their own electricity and to potentially store energy for use after the sun goes down is now being approved by the Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) and installed on island homes.
The new systems, believed to be the first of their kind in the U.S., are being installed under Hawaiian Electric Companies’ Customer Self-Supply Program, an alternative to the popular Customer Grid-Supply Program. The systems are being developed specifically for the Hawai‘i market and use new inverter technology to provide power to the home but prevent any excess electricity from being exported to the grid.
That’s important because, unlike the interconnected power grids on the mainland, there’s a physical limit to the amount of electricity that can be put on island grids at any given moment. A growing number of these self-supply systems, including products sold by SolarCity, Sunrun, Vivint Solar and RevoluSun, now meet the specifications set by the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Hawaiian Electric has been working with these companies to develop standard technical specifications that will qualify systems for an expedited approval and potentially faster installation.
The PUC created the Customer Self-Supply Program as an alternative to the grid-supply program, especially once the grid-supply capacity limits established by the commission were met.
Roll-outs of the approved self-supply rooftop systems were recently turned on at a homes in O‘ahu. Additional installations have been approved in Maui. Electric and are awaiting installation.
“Generating electricity, storing it, and using the energy on-site is the new normal. This product will help make the grid stronger and more reliable,” said Jon Yoshimura, director of policy and electricity markets for SolarCity, which recently installed a self-supply system with batteries at a home in Mānoa. “Hawaiian Electric has been an effective partner, working with us to streamline the approval process for this new product. We look forward to bringing more Smart Energy Home solutions to Hawai‘i, which will help the state achieve its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.”
Self-supply solar is a new option for homeowners. The Customer Grid-Supply program, which credits customers for the excess electricity they send to the grid, is still available on O‘ahu, though space is going fast. Maui Electric recently reached the capacity limit set by the PUC and Hawai‘i Island is nearing the limit, but self-supply is available.
For O‘ahu customers who choose the grid-supply program, Hawaiian Electric recommends a “right-sized” system calculated for the household’s actual energy use rather than an oversized system designed mainly to sell electricity to the grid.
Oversized systems cost more and can potentially export more electricity than the homeowner will receive credit for on their electric bill, since credits expire at the end of each month. Also, the more large systems that are installed on each island, the less room that will be left on the grid for customers who may want to install solar in the future.
“It’s been five years since rooftop solar really took off in Hawai‘i and more than 77,000 customers have made the choice to use it,” said Jim Alberts, senior vice president of customer service at Hawaiian Electric. “The shift to self-supply is an important evolutionary step to ensure that the rooftop solar option remains sustainable, cost-effective and available to some of the 85 percent of customers who don’t have it.” ** (See footnote),
** [Editors note: Overall, the customer base, when combining all subsidiaries of the Hawaiian Electric Companies, is 400,000 residential electric customers, and a total of 458,000 electric customers overall.]