Hawaiian utility experts describe the islands’ fast-growing solar market as a postcard from the future
K Kaufman is communications manager and John Sterling is senior director, research and advisory services, at the Solar Electric Power Association. John Pang and Chris Vlahoplus are partners at ScottMadden. The authors thank Bob Gibson at SEPA and Paul Quinlan at ScottMadden for their input, insights and feedback.
The changes underway in Hawaii today are sending a clear message to the rest of the United States on what to expect tomorrow: As distributed and renewable energy choices become widely affordable and accessible, the status quo in the electricity market can change quickly. Utilities and regulators can either get ahead of the wave, with a focus on customer expectations and new ways to manage the grid, or risk the wave getting ahead of them.
In late September 2015, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) and the energy consulting firm, ScottMadden, led a group of 20 utility and solar industry executives on an industry fact-finding mission to Hawaii. With leaders from mainland investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities, and electric cooperatives, the group spent four days immersed in Hawaii's dynamic solar market, listening to and learning from the experiences of the islands' utility executives, policy makers, and solar and clean tech market players.
Hawaii's Unique Electric System
An overview of the unique characteristics of the islands' energy system and solar market is important for a better understanding of the Hawaiian experience. Key characteristics include the following geographic isolation, high energy prices, and high penetration of renewables.