Hawaii Solar Blog

What Is Photovoltaic?

ten seconds of sunlight provides enough energy

Enough sunlight falls on the earth’s surface every hour to meet world energy demand for an entire year. This sunlight can be converted into electricity through a method known as the photovoltaic (PV) effect.

Solar panel history

Although solar technology was used as far back as 7th century BC and there are records of ancient Romans utilizing the sun to warm their houses in the 6th century AD, nineteen-year old French physicist Alexandre Edmund Becquerel is credited with discovering the photovoltaic effect in 1839 while experimenting with a solid electrode in an electrolyte solution. Silver chloride was placed in an acidic solution and illuminated while connected to platinum electrodes. During the experiment, Becquerel found that certain materials would produce small amounts of electric current when exposed to light. The word “photovoltaic” was formed by combining light (photons) and electricity (voltage).

How do solar photovoltaic panels work?

The basic unit of a solar photovoltaic panel is a solar cell (aka PV cell). Each photovoltaic cell is made up of at least two layers of semi-conducting material, usually silicon, one of the most common elements on earth. Boron is added to one layer of silicone, resulting in fewer electrons and a positive charge, while the other layer is dosed with phosphorous, which adds extra electrons creating a negative charge. These positive and negative layers create an electric field.

Sunlight is composed of packets of energy called photons. These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to various wavelengths of light. When photons strike a solar cell, they may be reflected, absorbed, or pass right through. When enough photons are absorbed by the negative layer of the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the atoms in the negative semiconductor material. These freed electrons naturally migrate to the positive layer creating a voltage differential.

If electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current, forming electricity. Since the electricity generated by solar cells is direct current (DC), it is then sent to an inverter that converts the power into the same alternating current (AC) used by the appliances in your home and the local distribution grid.

Each individual solar energy photovoltaic cell produces only 1-2 watts. To increase power output, photovoltaic cells are electrically connected to each other and mounted in a weather-tight support structure called a solar module. These modules are then wired up in serial and/or parallel with one another into a solar array to generate the desired voltage and amperage output required to meet the business or home’s energy needs.

Solar power can be used to lower your electric bill or, with battery backup, even enable you to get off the electric grid and not have to depend on the utility company. The size of the solar photovoltaic array, inverter, and battery required for a PV installation depends on a number of factors, including the amount of electricity you use, the amount of sunlight received, and peak electricity demand at any given time. Contact one of our friendly associates at Haleakala Solar to determine the right photovoltaic system for you.

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A Fresh Look At The Progress of the GEMS Program

GEMS solar loan program

A while back, we reported about the creation of the state’s Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) program, and we thought it was time to circle back and take a current look into the program’s status.

GEMS was enacted under Act 211, Session Laws of Hawaii 2013, as a financing program that would provide low-cost capital to make solar photovoltaic systems and other clean energy improvements more affordable and accessible to underserved communities including non-profits, renters, and lower-income homeowners who may not qualify for a loan to install solar. The program is considered a key component of reaching Hawaii’s clean energy goals, currently 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 (previously 70 percent clean energy by 2030 when GEMS was passed), and 30 percent reduction in 2008 electrical energy consumption by 2030.

In its first phase, GEMS is concentrating on solar PV technologies because of the islands’ strong solar market and low technology risk. Nine companies have already been approved to work on installations for GEMS program solar projects. Eleven companies are pending approval, one company was denied, and another company withdrew its application.

As of November 2015, there have been a total of about 150 applications received since the program first began accepting applications in March 2015 for nonprofits and June 2015 for individuals. Twelve applications were submitted from non-profits and small businesses, of which five have been pre-qualified, four are pending review, and three have been denied. GEMS is working on evaluating over 2.3 megawatts of solar project leads for pre-qualified nonprofit loans. Out of 106 consumer loan applications, 47 were pre-approved, 18 pending, and 35 denied.

In a new report, the United States Department of Energy recognized Hawaii, along with seven other states, for “choosing to develop and grow their clean energy markets, despite the ongoing pressure to reduce government spending.” Hawaii was specifically praised for its efforts to shift away from its dependence on oil as part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and its plan to bring clean, affordable energy to a broader demographic through the GEMS program.

Some have criticized the program for being slow (since no solar systems have been installed yet) and complained that the program is funded by the “Green Energy Infrastructure Fee” paid by all utility ratepayers. However, the DOE pointed out that the charge is less than $1.50 a month and is offset by lowering the existing public benefits fee.

Ultimately, GEMS is capable of financing the installation of over 44 MWs of energy, helping up to 30,000 underserved Hawaii consumers reduce their energy expenses, and supporting Hawaii to achieve its clean energy mandates.

To find out more about the GEMS program, click here.

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Federal Solar Tax Credits To Be Extended

solar tax credits extended

On Friday, December 18, 2015, right before lawmakers adjourned for the holidays, Congress passed a spending bill making the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) available for several more years and extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power and other renewable energy technologies. President Obama has voiced support of the extensions and is expected to sign the bill into law.

The solar Investment Tax Credit, which was scheduled to step down to 10% on January 1, 2017 and expire entirely for individuals, was extended for as many as eight years as part of a $1.15 trillion spending bill. The solar tax credit for utility-scale and commercial solar projects was extended until 2024 with a gradual phase out starting in 2020. The solar tax credit for residential rooftop solar will stay at 30% for three more years, and then decline incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022. The bill also allows for solar PV projects to claim the solar tax credit for the year in which they begin construction.

“By extending the solar investment tax credit for five years with a commence construction provision and a gradual ramp down, bipartisan members in both Houses have reestablished America as the global leader in clean energy, which will boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across America,” said Solar Energy Industries Association president and CEO Rhone Resch.

The 2.3-cent wind PTC will also be extended through 2016. Projects beginning construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive, and the PTC will continue to fall 20 percent each year through 2020.

Geothermal, landfill gas, marine energy, and incremental hydro will all receive a one-year PTC extension and, if developers choose, the technologies will also qualify for a 30 percent ITC. The bill expanded grants for energy and water efficiency as well.

In exchange for the tax credit extensions that Democrats wanted, Republicans got what they hoped for with an end to a 40-year ban on the export of crude oil.

“While lifting the oil ex­port ban re­mains atrocious policy, the wind and solar tax credits in the Om­ni­bus will eliminate around 10 times more car­bon pollution than the ex­ports of oil will add,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

According to GTM Research, the solar ITC extension will help the U.S. have a 20-GW annual solar market and propel nearly 100 cumulative gigawatts of solar installations by 2020, resulting in $130 billion of total investment. That’s enough to power at least 19 million homes and represents 3.5 percent of U.S. electricity generation, which is up from 0.1 percent in 2010.

Article Source:
Green Tech Media

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Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose Time-of-Use Rates For Customers

hawaiian electric proposes time-of-use ratesHawaiian Electric Co. filed proposals seeking to change power rates, encouraging customers to use more energy during off-peak hours when solar power is strongest. One proposal was specifically aimed toward the Hawaii Department of Education, while other rate changes target residential customers and EV owners.

Department of Education
Each of the 240 public schools in HECO territories of Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai would be given the choice of using the new rates, which would vary depending on the time of day.

– From 8am to 4pm (super off-peak hours): About 25 percent less than the recent average effective energy charge
– From 12am to 8am (off-peak hours): A rate equal to the existing energy charge rate
– From 4pm to 12am (on-peak hours): A rate higher than the existing energy charge rate

Although actual savings will depend on how much each school is able to change its use to fit the time-of-use rate periods, compared to 12 months of energy usage ending June 2015, HECO estimates that the Department of Education would have saved about 9 percent on electric bills if the proposed rates been in effect.

“At the Hawaiian Electric Companies, we know the challenges in providing a comfortable learning environment for our students and teachers. There’s been a big push for air conditioning and fans in our public schools so we wanted to find a way to assist in controlling their energy costs as they add this equipment,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for customer service.

Hawaiian Electric is requesting the PUC to make these rates effective by January 5, 2016 and stay in place for ten years, through four to five of the DOE’s two-year budget cycles, to ensure proper evaluation.

Residential Customers
Voluntary time-of-use rates were also proposed for residential customers of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company. Current residential rates are 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour on Oahu, 30.3 cents per kilowatt hour on Big Island, 26.3 cents per kilowatt hour on Maui, 30.7 cents per kilowatt hour on Molokai, and 32.2 cents per kilowatt hour on Lanai. Based on current fuel prices and other surcharges, if the proposed rates were effective today, they would be as follows:

rate table

Customers with energy storage systems would be able to store lower-priced energy generated by their rooftop PV systems during the day and then use some of that stored power to offset some of their energy needs during the evening peak period, maximizing their investment in their rooftop solar and energy storage systems.

Electric Vehicle Owners
Customers that own an Electric Vehicle would also be given the opportunity to select from the rate that would best suit their needs. EV rate options are as follows:
– A revised “whole house” rate that would include EV charging along with all of the electricity use measured by a single electric meter at a customer’s home
– A revised rate for customers who have a separate electric meter just for charging electric vehicles.
– For both EV rate options, there is a proposed mid-day period of 9am to 3pm, an on-peak period of 3pm to 9pm, and an off-peak period of 9pm to 9am.

Time-of-use proposals were submitted as part of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s ongoing review of distributed energy resource programs. Before any of these rates are made available to customers, they must be reviewed and approved by the PUC, with input from the Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy and other parties in the distributed energy resources proceeding.

If new rates are approved by the PUC, customers and public schools will be able to choose whether they want to switch to the time-of-use rates or remain with the flat rate.

“We want to give our customers options to help them manage their bills and encourage the use of more low cost renewable energy. Rate options like these can give customers choices and help us collectively achieve our state’s 100 percent renewable portfolio standards goal,” Alberts said.

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Solar Hot Water Benefits

solar hot water

Solar water heating dates back to the nineteenth century using tanks that were painted black and filled with water. In 1891, Clarence Kemp patented a new system that improved the solar water heater’s ability to retain heat, and the first commercial solar water heater was born.

Large advancements have been made in solar technology over the years, while the need for hot water has grown. Heating water for common household tasks like laundry, washing dishes, cooking, showers and baths accounts for around 30% of a home’s energy usage.

The good news is that switching to solar hot water is one of the easiest ways to reduce your electric bill. In fact, a solar water heater can cut your annual hot water costs by at least half. How much you actually save depends on the climate where you live. In Hawaii, where the climate is pretty sunny year-round, a solar hot water system can end up paying for itself in as little as 3 years. See how solar hot water works.

Not only do you save money on your energy bill that can be put towards other expenses, but a solar water heater also helps the environment by decreasing harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are released into the atmosphere.

According to mechanical engineers at the University of Wisconsin’s Solar Energy Laboratory, an average four-person household with a standard electric water heater requires approximately 6,400 kilowatt hours of electricity to heat their water annually.

Assuming the electricity is generated by a typical power plant with an efficiency of about 30 percent, the average electric water heater will contribute about eight tons of CO2 every year, which is almost double that produced by a car. The same family of four is responsible for around two tons of CO2 emissions annually if they heat their water using either a natural gas or oil-fired water heater.

Researchers believe that the annual cumulative CO2 emitted by residential water heaters throughout North America is roughly equivalent to that produced by all of the cars and light trucks driving around the continent. In other words, if half of all households converted to solar water heaters, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be the same as doubling the fuel-efficiency of all cars.

Having 50% of all homes use solar water heaters might not be an unrealistic goal. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), there are 1.5 million solar water heaters already installed in the U.S. Solar water heater systems are able to work in any climate, and EESI estimates that 40% of all U.S. homes have adequate access to sunlight where an additional 29 million solar water heaters could be installed right now.

Most people don’t give a lot of thought to hot water when they turn on their faucet, but as you can see, how you get your hot water can make a big difference. Use the unlimited power of the sun with a solar hot water heater and both your wallet and the environment benefit.

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World Solar Challenge 2015

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

solar car

The World Solar Challenge is a competition that seeks to inspire some of the brightest young minds on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport by designing the world’s most efficient electric car. The sun-powered vehicles compete in a 3,000 kilometer (1,864 mile) race across central the desert of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. This year’s race on October 18-25 was the biggest to date, involving 46 cars from 25 countries and sponsored by Bridgestone.

In 1982, solar pioneers Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins, journeyed from west to east Australia in a home-built solar car named Quiet Achiever. Motivated by this feat, Hans urged others to explore the boundaries of sun-powered transport, and the first World Solar Challenge began in 1987 with the help of the South Australian Tourism Commission as a sponsor.

The World Solar Challenge continues to highlight the progress of energy efficiency and promote alternatives to conventional vehicle engines, often influencing the technology in electric cars. Teams from top universities develop the most energy efficient vehicles possible using no more than six square meters of solar panels, and come together every two years to see whose solar vehicle will win the race in one of the world’s harshest environments.

Based on the calculation that a 1000W car would finish the journey in 50 hours, solar cars are allowed a nominal 5kW hours of stored energy, which is 10% of that theoretical figure. All other energy must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle. Once teams have started the race, they travel as far as possible until 5pm, where they then make camp in the desert and must be fully self-sufficient.

To showcase the diversity of solar EVs, this year’s competition included three distinct classes of vehicles: the Challenger Class, Cruiser Class, and Adventure Class.

Cars in the Challenger Class are aerodynamic, visually stunning masterpieces built for sustained endurance and total energy efficiency. These cars are smaller vehicles that carry only the driver and are timed in a single stage between the two destinations. They must travel the full length of the race with just one charge of their battery. Solar power provides the rest of the energy needed to power the vehicle’s trip. Reigning Dutch champions Nuon Solar Team won the Challenger Class competition with Nuna8, finishing the race in 37 hours 56 minutes to claim its sixth World Solar Challenge.

The Cruiser class was introduced in 2013 to bridge the gap between high end technology and everyday driving practicality. Contestants in this class are timed in two stages, from the starting line in Darwin to Alice Springs (the half-way point) and then again from Alice Springs to Adelaide. Once contestants in this class reach the midway point, they can recharge their batteries from the grid. However all extra energy needed to power the second half of their 932 mile journey must come from the sun.

With a time of 48 hours and 7 minutes, the Japanese Kogakuin University team finished the race first with OWL. However the competition also included scores based on the key criteria of solar kilometers traveled, passenger kilometers, speed, energy efficiency, and a subjective element of design and practicality. With a score of 97.77%, Dutch team Eindhoven took top honors with their four seater family car Stella Lux just edging ahead of Japan’s Kogakuin University with an overall score of 93.92%.

The Adventure Class allows cars built for previous editions of the event that do not comply with the latest requirements to compete again, usually with new team members. This class is also run in two stages with an overnight stop in Alice Springs. The US team of Liberty Christian School of Fort Worth, Texas finished the race first in 45 hours and 37 minutes with Solis Bellator, while the Houston Solar Car team had the most solar car distance, 2,795 solar car kilometers or 1,736 miles, with Sundancer. Sundancer is the first high school vehicle to complete and win the World Solar Challenge Adventure Class.

We love that the World Solar Challenge encourages creating innovative designs for a more sustainable future! We can’t wait to see how the designs, energy efficient technology, and practical features become part of mainstream motoring.

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NEM 2.0

new net metering guidelines

On Monday, October 12th, 2015, the Public Utilities Commission issued Decision & Order 33258 which ended the net energy metering (NEM) program for new Hawaii solar customers. What does this mean for solar customers?

For existing NEM customers and those who submitted applications postmark dated 10/12/15 or earlier, net-metering guidelines will stay the same.

For all others, there are two current options for home solar, Self-Supply and Grid-Supply:

This option is designed for customers who intend to use all of the electricity produced by their PV systems, and do not need to export excess energy to the grid. Under this policy, limited electricity will be sent back to the grid and no compensation will be given for these exports.

These systems will typically be designed to use energy management and energy storage systems. With these advanced features, these systems will have less impact on the grid and will receive fast-track interconnection review. At this time, there is no cap on the number of Self-Supply systems that may be installed.

This option allows solar customers to export electricity back to the grid and provides compensation at the wholesale rate, which varies on each island.

PV customers on Oahu and Big Island would be credited at approximately 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, customers on Maui would be credited at approximately 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, Molokai at approximately 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and Lanai at approximately 28 cents per kilowatt-hour.

There is a cap of 5MW (equivalent of about 1,000 single family homes) on the total capacity of Grid-Supply systems in Maui County and the same in Hawaii County. City and County of Honolulu has a new grid supply cap of 25MW.

A Third Option
The PUC has also instructed HECO to create “Time-Of-Use” rates within 90 days, which would allow customers to save money by shifting energy usage to the middle of the day to take advantage of lower-cost solar energy.

Time-Of-Use (TOU)
In this system, a tariff would also be available to encourage solar customers to invest in home energy storage systems. This would allow solar users to store solar power generated by their PV systems that could then be fed back into the grid during periods of highest demand (5-9pm).

New Expansion to Current Systems
If you’re thinking about expanding your current solar system, two words, BE CAREFUL. New applications to expand existing NEM systems received after 10/12/2015 will probably not be grandfathered in and the expansion of an existing NEM system may void your previous NEM agreement. Before making plans to expand your current PV system, contact Haleakala Solar to get the full facts and make sure you have all the information necessary to make the best choice for you and your family.

Change of Ownership/Utility Account Holder
One of the great news to come out of the new PUC ruling is that NEM customers that have been grandfathered in are allowed to transfer the existing NEM agreement in the event of an ownership transfer, tenant change or account name change. What does this mean? If you sell your home or change tenants, the new owner, tenant or utility bill account holder will still benefit from the old grandfathered NEM program.

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Solar Hot Water Troubleshooting

Solar Hot Water Tips

Troubleshooting When There is No Hot Water

During times when there is a lot of wind and rain, you may experience a loss of hot water from your hot water system. Here are a few tips that may get your system back on track again.

The reset button needs to be reset if system overheats and/or to get the electrical element to work again. Here are instructions how to do this:
a. Turn OFF “Water Heater Breaker” located inside of main electrical breaker panel.
b. Remove cover plate where the electrical thermostat is located (see diagram below) by using a Phillips screwdriver.
c. Press “Red Reset Button” on the electrical thermostat. Place cover plate back on with the Phillips screwdriver.
d. Turn main breaker panel back ON.
e. Make sure timer is switched to the ON position. Water will take approximately 30 minutes to heat.
f. You may turn timer on as you please, as this is what the electrical back up is for.

solar hot water reset

Here are a few other tips:
1. You may have used your supply of sun-heated water. Wait for system to restore supply, or turn on the electrical timer for an hour or so. If this happens constantly, you might want to resize your tank. Call us to get more information.
2. Check all plugs and breaker switches to make sure they are ON or plugged in.
3. Make sure all valves are turned ON. ON is signified on the pipe or the handle points in the direction of the flow of the water.
4. Check for leaks, which could cause pressure to drop.
5. Make sure timer is set for correct time of day.

If you have any questions about your solar hot water system, call Haleakala Solar at 643-8000 for service, Monday to Friday, 7:30 am to 3:30 pm. For your convenience, you may also contact us through email using our contact form.

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Haleakala Solar Ranked #1 Solar Company in Hawaii

14th Overall Top Solar Company in the Country for Residential Solar and 3rd in the country for Solar Hot Water

Haleakala Solar ranked best solar company in Hawaii

Solar Power World, the industry’s leading source for technology, development and installation news, ranked Haleakala Solar top solar company in Hawaii for residential solar contractors AND solar hot water contractors!

Perhaps even more amazing, Haleakala Solar was ranked 14th overall residential solar contractor in the entire country. For solar hot water we ranked 3rd overall in the entire country. An incredible achievement considering the market sizes of the competition on the mainland.

While the output of many other solar companies in Hawaii decreased over the last year, Haleakala Solar’s output actually increased, a testament to the strength of this company.

thank you

A big mahalo to all the workers, staff and sales consultants of Haleakala Solar who without your dedication, hard work and efforts, this would not have happened!

To see the full listing for top solar residential contractors, click here.

To see the full listing for top solar hot water contractors, click here.

making the world a better place one roof at a time

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Hawaiian Electric’s Community Solar Program

solar community program in hawaii

Oahu residents who can’t have rooftop solar installed on their home may soon be able to reap solar benefits due to HECO’s recent proposal for a community solar pilot project.

In June, a bill was passed to make renewable energy benefits more accessible to a greater number of Hawaii residents. “As of March 2015, there are about 56,000 PV solar systems on rooftops. These folks are saving tremendously on their electricity bills. That’s great, but what about the 44 percent of Hawaii residents who don’t own their homes? And those without roof space?” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, co-author of the community solar bill.

Under SB1050, electric utilities in Hawaii are required to establish a community-based renewable energy program, with a deadline to send a proposal to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by October 1, 2015.

On July 15, Hawaiian Electric Company proposed a pilot community solar program that would provide about 50 Oahu utility customers the opportunity to take advantage of a lower energy bill without having to install a rooftop solar system.

If the plan is approved, the average residential customer who uses 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month and buys the largest available community solar share will pay $5,711 upfront along with a $200 enrollment fee and a small monthly maintenance fee. Each month, this customer will receive a credit, based on the current fair market rate for utility-scale solar power, resulting in a 45 percent bill reduction (with current rates). As an incentive, HECO will guarantee an 80% reduction in participating customers’ annual electric bill.

The community solar pilot program will run for up to 17 years, but participants may choose to leave the program at any time. If a customer moves, the community solar credit continues as long as they still have a Hawaiian Electric account.

To get the pilot running as soon as it is approved by the PUC, HECO plans to use 260 kilowatts of existing combined solar capacity from Waiau and Campbell Industrial Park power plants. Hawaiian Electric will remove the power plants from the calculation of electric rates that all customers pay and will subsidize many costs associated with the pilot as part of the learning experience.

“Large-scale community solar would offer value to all customers through its operational efficiency and our ability to monitor and dispatch solar generation for safe and reliable service. Community solar will be an important part of our transformation to expand options for customers, achieve 65 percent renewables by 2030 and lower costs for all customers through equitable rate design and low-cost renewable resources,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president for corporate planning and business development.

HECO is upgrading their electric grids to accept triple the amount of distributed energy resources over coming years, including rooftop and community-based solar projects. Community solar will help to keep some of the $3-5 billion Hawaii spends every year on fossil fuels within the state. In addition, the community solar pilot program will not impact customers’ ability to gain approval for the interconnection of rooftop solar systems. If the PUC approves the pilot, Hawaiian Electric will announce how customers who wish to participate in the pilot can apply. For more information, visit hawaiianelectric.com/communitysolar.

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