“We are completely independent of any changes in policy or whatever the utility company may throw at us. We are independent. We’ve become our own utility company and we control our energy consumption and our energy production, and we couldn’t be happier with this system – it’s amazing.” —Homeowner JD Duch
Haleakala Solar recently installed a solar/battery system that allowed Maui homeowners to become the first in Maui to disconnect from the electric company and run their own fully self-sufficient solar and battery energy system.
JD Duch and Jona Oana weren’t trying to accomplish anything groundbreaking when they started researching solar companies three years ago. Like many Hawaii residents, they were simply searching for a way to lower their electric bill, which cost between $550-600 every month.
JD and Jona began by researching different solar companies, eventually narrowing down to three choices. The two other solar companies provided quotes that were very similar, while Haleakala Solar Representative Anselm Pauls presented the homeowners with a quote that was actually higher than the other two. JD and Jona thought Anselm’s customer service stood out and didn’t want to make their decision solely based on price, so they asked Anselm to explain the difference between the systems being quoted. Anselm explained that Haleakala Solar could get them the same type of system the other two companies had offered for a similar price, but he had recommended a more efficient system that would better meet their energy needs.
After deciding to work with Haleakala Solar, the next step was to apply for approval from Maui Electric (MECO) and wait. First, they were told that circuits were full. Then they were told they would have to pay for an impact study and even with that they could be waiting another year and a half. This situation is nothing new for the people of Hawaii*. However, this time, the waiting period inspired a new idea.
A thought came up: What if they got completely off MECO’s grid? Then they wouldn’t need the utility company’s approval to get a solar system. But how? During the day, when there is lots of sun, the PV can provide all the electricity the home needs. But what happens when the sun goes down, or if it’s an extremely cloudy day? This is where the electrical grid comes in, providing energy when the photovoltaic system lacks the sunlight to do so itself. The answer was fairly simple: a battery could store energy and a 30kW propane generator would automatically turn on to charge the batteries on cloudy days. This system, charged by the PV panels, could provide electricity to the house when the PV panels weren’t. In essence, the battery storage system would simply replace what MECO was doing.
This is where things got interesting. You see, in the history of Hawaii, a customer has never gotten a new photovoltaic system with its own self-sustaining battery back-up unit and then disconnected from the utility grid. Also, home battery systems are still a fairly new developing market. In fact, the batteries they finally decided on, from a company in Pennsylvania called Aquion Energy, were going to be the first ever to be installed in a residential home in Hawaii. In many ways, this was going to make JD and Jona true pioneers and one of the first early adopters of home battery technology in the state.
When JD and Jona first looked into getting a solar photovoltaic system, the goal was entirely about saving money. During the process of waiting to get their system and then discovering the alternative solution of a battery storage unit, this goal evolved. It became bigger than saving money… bigger than even themselves. It was about doing what was right. They readily admitted, when first looking into solar, issues with climate change and reducing carbon emissions weren’t originally in their thought process, since they would still be hooked up to a grid that burned oil. Getting the Aquion battery back-up system, though, changed that picture. They learned the Aquion Energy battery has no hazardous materials in its construction, making it truly “clean” energy. It is also maintenance free and has a useful life of 20 years. In the end, they decided even though their initial investment was going to be nearly twice what they originally were going to spend, it was well worth it.
Calculating how long it would be to pay off the system, if JD and Jona made monthly payments based on what they had been paying to MECO every month, coupled with government tax credits, they estimate they will pay off their system in 6-1/2 years. If it were just a photovoltaic system without the battery back-up unit and propane generator, the pay-off time would be closer to 3-1/2 years. Considering the system is warranted for twenty years, they would be getting roughly 13-1/2 years of electricity for free. Even if the electricity company never increased their rates during that span, their savings (calculated at $575 per month) would be roughly $93,150! Of course, if electricity rates go up, those savings go up even further.
Roughly a little over one year and one month after they decided to hire Haleakala Solar, JD and Jona’s self-sustaining system was installed. They tested their energy limits and reliability, running various appliances at the same time, and are confident that their system can handle their maximum energy needs, no problem. Jona said, “We didn’t have to change our lifestyle very much. We make more conscious decisions about when we use energy, but other than that, it’s fascinating that the system that we have in place can provide everything that we need to live comfortably. It’s also a great feeling to know that in the event of a natural disaster such as a tsunami or a hurricane, my family can feel comfortable and safe here in the home, knowing that we have power.”
If you are interested in finding out more information about the Aquion Energy battery system click here. If you have questions about a self-sustaining energy system and how you can get off the grid, call Haleakala Solar at 1-800-643-8000.
“Just want to say something about Jim [Whitcomb, Haleakala Solar CEO] and his crew from Haleakala Solar. When we first started this process, you know, we shopped around and met with different companies. From the moment we met Jim’s salesperson, it made a huge difference in our decision on which company to go for. Jim’s an amazing man. He’s very committed and passionate about what he does, and it’s from his sales team to his electrical engineers who have spent countless hours installing our system to the different crews that came to put the panels on the roof, I mean, everyone was very professional and you could see that they have a passion for their work and the job that they do. He’s an amazing guy, and for the CEO of a company to personally come and meet with us, what 6, 7, 8 times, at night, to answer questions that we had for him, he always made us feel secure and assured us that everything we were doing would work and was the right thing to do.” —Homeowner, Jona Oana
*As of late October, there are 4,807 customers waiting for solar on Oahu. Hawaiian Electric recently announced that they are in the process of approving over 2,000 customers with another 2,500 to be approved by April 2015 and the remaining to be approved by December 2015. Its subsidiary MECO has an estimated 330 customers in the queue and most should be approved within the next five months.