Hawaii Solar Blog

Brief History of Solar and Hawaii Photovoltaic Highlights

Humans have been harnessing the sun’s power since the beginning of time. Due to our limited resources, Hawaii has always been a leader in clean energy and advances in solar power. Here is a brief history of solar energy and photovoltaic highlights in the 50th State.

700 BC – Sunlit Fires
The sun was used to start fires by concentrating sunlight with a magnifying glass.

1767 – First Solar Oven
Swiss physicist Horace de Saussure invented the world’s first solar oven. Today, there are many different types of solar cookers that allow those without access to electricity to prepare their meals.

1839 – Discovery of Photovoltaic Effect
Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist who was only 19 years old, found that certain materials produced little amounts of voltage when exposed to light.

1876 – Electricity from Light
Professor William Grylls Adam and his student Richard Evans Day were the first to observe an electrical current when selenium was exposed to light. Although it wasn’t efficient enough to produce energy on its own, it proved the phenomenon can occur naturally and could be reproduced without heat or moving parts.

1883 – First Design of a Photovoltaic Cell
Charles Fritts, an American inventor, made simple plans for solar cells based on selenium wafers.

charles-fritts-1883 First Design of a Photovoltaic Cell

1954-60s – Birth of Photovoltaics
In 1954, David Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson of Bell Laboratory patented the first solar cell capable of converting enough of the sun’s energy into power to run everyday electrical equipment.

The Hoffman Electronics-Semiconductor Division announced the first commercial photovoltaic product in 1955. It was 2 percent efficient and priced at $25 per cell, or $1,785 per watt (in 1955 dollars).

By 1960, solar efficiency levels had grown to 14 percent. Due to space exploration in the 1960s-70s, PV development increased dramatically.

1976 – Hawaii Enacts Tax Credit for Solar Power
Hawaii’s first tax credit legislation was signed into law to promote the purchase of solar energy systems and reduce the importation of fossil fuels. Although it was designed to be a “limited-time-only” incentive for homeowners and corporations, Hawaii’s solar tax credits have never left.

1977 – Birth of Haleakala Solar
Jim Whitcomb officially started his solar company on Maui, called Haleakala Resources at that time.

1978 – Energy Tax Act (ETA)
The ETA (Pub.L. 95–618, 92 Stat. 3174, enacted November 9, 1978) was passed by Congress as part of the National Energy Act in response to the energy crises of the 1970’s – the Arab Oil Embargo and the taking of U.S. hostages in Iran. The bill included a 40% tax credit for solar space and water heaters, and a $2,000 tax credit for installation, which were phased out in the mid ’80s.

1996 – Hawaii Solar Water Heating Rebate
Since the rebate has gone into effect, over 50,000 systems have been installed, making Hawaii a national leader with an estimated one out of three single-family homes equipped with solar water heating.

2001 – Biggest Hybrid Power System in the World
The world’s largest hybrid power system, combining wind and solar, is installed at Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii. The grid-tied system is unusual in that its solar energy capacity of 175 kilowatts is actually larger than its wind energy capacity of 50 kilowatts.

2006 – Federal Government Issues Renewable Energy Tax Credit
In addition to the state credit, homeowners are given a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government for solar electric systems. This tax credit is currently slated to run until the end of 2016.

2008 – Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative
The State of Hawaii and the Department of Energy announced the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative to meet 70 percent of our energy needs through energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2030.

2008 – Solar Approval in Hawaii Legislature
Hawaii focused on bills that contribute to an energy-independent future.
– The approval of House Bill 2502 allows solar energy facilities to be located on less-productive agricultural lands.
– Governor Lingle signed Senate Bill 644 which prohibits the issuing of building permits for new homes without solar water heaters as of 2010. The bill excludes homes located in areas with poor solar energy resources, homes using other renewable energy sources, and homes employing on-demand gas-fired water heaters.
– SB 988 allows the Hawaii Public Utility Commission to establish a rebate for solar photovoltaic electric systems, and HB 2550 encourages net metering for residential and small commercial customers.
– In July 2008, the governor approved three energy bills, including HB 2863, which provides streamlined permitting for new renewable energy facilities of at least 200 megawatts in capacity. HB 2505 creates a full-time renewable energy facilitator to help the state expedite those permits, while a third bill, HB 2261, will provide loans of up to $1.5 million and up to 85% of the cost of renewable energy projects at farms and aquaculture facilities.

2009 – First Photovoltaic Plant with Battery Storage
Dedicated in January 2009, La Ola Solar Farm on Lanai was the first photovoltaic power plant in the world to include battery storage and, at 1.5 megawatt (MW), the largest solar facility in Hawaii at the time.

2009 – Largest Roof-Mount Solar Installation
Installed on the island of Hawaii at Kona Commons Shopping Mall, the 804-kilowatt system generates over 1.1 million kilowatts of electricity, enough to power almost 130 homes and eliminate 959 tons of carbon emissions annually.

2010 – Solar Power Reaches Grid Parity
Hawaii reaches the break even point for solar power, with the average price for electricity at $.25 per kilowatt-hour and the average resident price at $0.28 per kWh.

2011 – Largest PV System in the State
With 5,376 solar panels and the capacity to produce 1.21 MW of electricity, the Kapaa Solar Farm becomes the largest in Hawaii, and the first on the island of Kauai.

2013 – Solar Energy for Underserved Markets
Governor Abercrombie signed SB 1087, which creates the framework for the Green Energy Market Securitization program (GEMS), a financing model that will make solar more accessible for lower-income homeowners, renters, and non-profits. GEMS is targeted to be launched in 2014. You can read more here: http://www.haleakalasolar.com/hawaii-solar/solar-energy-savings-for-hawaii/.

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