The Solar Coaster Rides Through Hawaii – Top Tips to Consider Before You Buy
Solar power – also known as photovoltaic power, or PV – has been on the forefront of many Hawaii homeowners’ minds for years. Some residents have already pioneered solar and had panels installed when solar first hit the market, and others are waiting for the potential of new technology. Solar power is a great way to save the environment by going green, and to save money on electric bills. Many people moving to Hawaii do not consider that we truly have the highest electricity cost in the nation. The shock of bills in the $200-$700 range often drives homeowners to seek other options.
A Good Place to Start
With all of the different solar providers island-wide, constant changes, and every option under the sun available (pun intended!), where do homeowners start when looking into solar?
First, interested parties need to know the facts of Hawaiian Electric’s Grid Supply program:
- Homeowners can no longer sell their excess power back to Hawaiian Electric, so systems should be sized as close as possible to their exact electrical usage
- Solar users must buy their power at night for 0.15 cents/kWh versus the regular rate of 0.26-0.37 cents/kWh
- Homeowners pay a base interconnection fee of $24
- Application approval waiting time is anywhere from 3-4 months
Need-to-Know Hawaii Solar Tips
Below are my top 6 tips to consider before going solar in Hawaii:
1. Choose a company that is large enough that it won’t be going out of business. Many small companies out there are great; however, with the constant changes in this industry it is hard to keep up with the requirements of Hawaiian Electric. The price overhead of solar panels, sales people, engineers and installers, and the wait to see a profit margin, can make it very hard for smaller companies to last in Hawaii. The competition is thick and the larger companies can get the cheaper price and best equipment because of their wholesale relationships and buying in bulk. Also, you do not want to be left without warranties if the company goes under.
2. Remember that no matter what company you choose, Hawaiian Electric has the final say. The solar company cannot build or allow you to turn on your system until you receive approval. Many homeowners feel once they’ve applied that the solar company is dropping the ball and not moving fast enough. Approach solar with the expectation that you won’t be approved, installed, and turned on for at least 8 months. Installing solar is a construction job with strict regulations and a dozen moving parts. When the job gets done faster, consider yourself very lucky!
3. Choose panels with at least a 25-year output guaranteed. The best solar panels for Hawaii are German, Canadian, or Japanese-engineered. There are different brands of panels, but they are all the same shape and size. The wattage ranges from 260 to 310 Watts per panel. Keep in mind that the inverter is a very important piece of the puzzle.
4. Prior to the appointment with the solar company, add up the amount of Kilowatts you use per year by looking at your electric bills. Also, add the dollar amount you spend on power per year. You can find this on the front page of your electric bill. Make sure the solar consultant zeros out your current kilowatt usage by offsetting with panels. If you want to add an electric car, hot tub, or AC, make sure they build the system out 30-50% larger. Speak to your CPA to make sure you can qualify for the solar tax incentives before making a purchase. If you don’t qualify because you are military or retired, there are still 2 other options to go solar and save money!
5. Always keep in mind that solar is worth the wait! Some solar is better than no solar even if your roof can’t fit the number of panels you need. You and your roof are becoming your own power company! You are generating clean electricity for you and your family for at least the next 25 years. It is also very attractive to future buyers if you want to sell your home. If you are looking to buy a home in Hawaii, look for homes with PV already installed, which will save you hundreds on your future electric bills!
6. After the Customer Grid Supply program is capped by Hawaiian Electric (coming in Fall 2016 for Oahu and Big Island) batteries such as those made by Tesla will be entering the market and making it attractive to homeowners to be more independent from the electric utility. Maui’s grid is already capped as of June 22, 2016. Stay tuned for more info on the battery movement in Hawaii!