HSI CEO Jim Whitcomb Interviewed by New York Times

Jim Whitcomb interviewed by New York Times about Hawaii Solar Industry

In a recent article, The New York Times focused on the current state of the solar industry in Hawaii. Taking note of the plight of many people who want to get solar, but find it very difficult due to delays by Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) for approval of their solar applications, the article revealed to the rest of the country what many people in Hawaii already know, solar energy is a hot commodity that is challenging for some to acquire.

Boasting the highest electrical rates in the country, solar photovoltaic (PV) has been a highly cost-efficient alternative to many homeowners in the state. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, roughly 12 percent of residential homes in Hawaii now have PV systems, the highest in the nation.

Haleakala Solar founder and CEO, Jim Whitcomb, who is often refreshingly blunt in his assessment of the state of affairs of solar in Hawaii was quoted with this perspective, “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

Whitcomb also makes a couple of appearances in a video produced by the Times that accompanied the article. He explains his advocacy of changing the utility company’s business model from energy generation to energy storage. He explains, “Their jobs becomes, store the energy, manage it, move it where it’s needed. Let the public create generation facilities, thereby benefitting everybody”.

To view the full article article and watch the video go here.

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/.

How Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels Work

It’s no small wonder that ancient civilizations worshipped the sun. The sun is amazing; providing energy, heat and light. It’s hard to imagine life on Earth without it. In modern times, we have found ways to harness the energy of the sun to create electricity. And not just a little bit of electricity… lots of it.

Solar Photovoltaic Systems In Hawaii

One technology that has developed to turn solar energy into electricity is called Solar Photovoltaics (or solar PV for short). It’s quite a popular way to harness solar energy and you’ve probably seen lots of PV panels popping up in your neighborhood on your neighbor’s homes, local grocery stores, etc. In fact, PV panels have been installed on many homes and businesses all over Hawaii for many years.

It’s a well-known fact that residents of Hawaii want to keep their islands as green, lush, and beautiful as possible, and one very good way to accomplish that is with the use of solar power through solar photovoltaics.

Solar PV Panels Can Now Harness Even More Solar Energy

Recent advancements in PV have greatly improved efficiency and amount of electricity solar panels can produce. Solar PV systems are now able to harness more of the abundant energy coming from the sun. There is so much solar energy coming from the sun. In fact, every hour the sun produces enough energy to power the planet for an entire year. Yes, that’s a lot of energy. So, it’s exciting that the newest break-throughs in PV allow for more gathering of the solar energy… which allows for creating more electricity to power our homes and businesses.

Here’s How It Works

Okay… guaranteed, you will feel like you’re back in your old Biology class in high school, but here we go…
Sunlight consists of tiny packets of energy called photons. These photos burst forth from the sun radiating out into space. The Earth is in prime location to these solar photons which hit the Earth after traveling a mere 93 million miles. It all happens very quickly, in the speed of light. These photons hit the surface of a semi-conductor on a solar panel and then the magic happens.

When you look at a photovoltaic solar panel more closely, you will find that each panel is made up of many individual cells. Each cell has a negative and a positive layer. This co-mingling with negative and positive creates an electric field, or electrons. So, the photons from the sun hit the panel and free some of these electrons in the semi-conductive field. The electrons then create an electric current which is then collected by wires that are connected to the negative and positive sides of the cell. The amount of electricity that is created is multiplied by the number of cells in each panel and the number of panels in each solar array. This creates a lot of electricity. Depending on the number of solar panels in a system, it could power your entire home or business.

From the solar PV panel, this DC (direct current) electricity then passes down to the inverter. The inverter changes the DC power into AC electricity which is needed for ordinary household uses.

For solar PV systems that have a battery backup (for those that want to be completely off the grid), the inverter has the special job of regulating the charge to the battery unit. The battery system is great since then the electricity stored in the batteries can then be used at night or during blackouts.

Advantages Of Using Solar Photovoltaic Energy

There are lots of advantages to using solar PV energy. The first one we have to mention is that it creates clean energy. How is that so? It has no emissions and no moving parts. It creates no pollution. It doesn’t even make any noise pollution. Solar PV doesn’t need any fossil fuels to run, or even water. And, it can be located right where the power is needed – right on the roof – or even out in the boonies. If you’ve dreamed of being completely off-the-grid, Solar PV is the way to do that, in combination with a good battery unit. Solar PV can also be tied into the power grid, allowing you to sell extra electricity that is not used back to the utility companies – a very valuable feature, indeed.

There’s no doubt that Solar Photovoltaic (solar PV) is growing fast and is an important element in our nation’s move toward a clean energy economy.

Hawaii’s Best – Haleakala Solar

Hawaii Business Magazine just recently published an article about Hawaii’s Best Founders and Visionaries of 2012, and guess who they featured in their article. Haleakala Solar was featured as one of the Hawaii’s best. You may read the article below:


2012 Founders and Visionaries – Hawaii’s Best

Haleakala Solar – Hawaii’s Solar Experts Since 1977

James Whitcomb, CEO, Haleakala Solar

James Whitcomb, CEO, Haleakala Solar

One day in 1976, Jim Whitcomb experienced the power of solar water heating while living in a home with a solar hot-water system. Sunny days back then meant plenty of hot water. “I decided this was so cool I better get into the business before everyone else discovered it,” says Whitcomb, the CEO of Haleakala Solar. “It only took 30 years for everybody else to figure it out.” 

Haleakala Solar, a licensed engineering, contracting and service company dedicated to the solar industry, began with just one man, Whitcomb, and installed its first solar system in March 1977. Now, more than 35 years later, the company proudly employs 172 people, and has expanded its offerings tremendously, adding engineering, financing and consulting services. Haleakala comprises three showrooms and two operations centers, with plans to open two additional showrooms and two more operations centers on Kauai and the Big Island. “We also intend on hiring another 60 employees to staff the expansion,” Whitcomb says.

Their secret to longevity? Whitcomb says it’s the employees and their dedication to the customer experience. “We provide high-quality workmanship, very competitive prices, and we are here to service our clients after the system has been installed,” he says. Haleakala’s ability to provide comprehensive service from the decision to install solar through the life of the system may be what customers enjoy most.

“We design and engineer the systems. We finance the systems. Then, we install and service the systems,” Whitcomb says. “All of these services are done with in-house, local employees.”

The company also refuses to settle and constantly strives for excellence. “We provide every customer with a customer satisfaction survey and use the comments to improve our installations and our operations,” Whitcomb says. “We also use it as a method to award bonuses and pay raises.”

Haleakala Solar has proven it can withstand the test of time, along with its products, many of which have been going strong for decades. Remaining dedicated to providing the best possible service to its customers, the company has been able to marry modern technology and traditional values in ways that resonate with their clients.

“We have been in business for over 35 years and have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau,” Whitcomb says.  “We provide long-term service and customer care to every client.  We have clients who have their children and their children’s children choose Haleakala Solar to take care of their solar needs.”


Please visit the Hawaii Business Magazine website to view the entire article.