Solar Power as an Option for Renewable Energy in Hawaii

Cody Carlton
December 16, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Roof-top solar panels in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

For many residents of Hawaii energy cost is two to three times higher than the US average. [1,2] 70% of this energy is from coal and oil which needs to be shipped to the islands, raising the cost. In 2016 Hawaii imported 1,639 million gallons of foreign petroleum and 28% of this petroleum went to electricity production. Therefore, there is a need for energy that can be produced locally and renewably. Considering Hawaii's climate, with sunny days year-round, solar power is an option. Solar power provided 35% of Hawaii's renewable energy in 2015 and 8% of the state's overall electricity production. [1] The island of Kaua'i has gone as far as to set a renewable energy goal of 70% by 2030 and there are even plans to have the entire state of Hawaii meet this goal. [3,4]

The Benefits and Challenges of Solar Energy

As with any energy source, solar energy has benefits and drawbacks. Solar energy is secure in that it doesn't have the price volatility of fossil fuels, but it depends on the amount of sun on a given day. Environmental benefits include no greenhouse gas emissions while harvesting energy, but it does consume resources during manufacture and material harvest. [5]

In terms of economic benefit, solar power generated by a residence - but not used - is put back into the power grid, lowering the electricity bill. However, this can cause voltage fluctuations that the power grid is not equipped to handle, overloading circuits and disrupting the power grid. This creates a challenge for the utility company to adapt, causing money to be diverted to infrastructure.

Utility companies are also concerned because as home solar use grows, demand for electricity lowers. While seemingly good for the consumer, electricity companies may fight this through fees and lobbying. In 2013, Hawaiian Electric began preventing the installation of residential solar energy systems, and did not relent until ordered to by the state's public utilities commission. [6] Although the future of solar energy in Hawaii is uncertain, it may be a viable consideration for many residents.

© Cody Carlton. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Hawaii Energy Facts and Figures," Hawaii State Energy Office, 5 May 16.

[2] G. Lewis, "Powering Hawai'i," Physics 240, Fall 2016.

[3] "KIUC Board Sets Renewable Energy Goal of 70 Percent by 2030," Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative, 1 Feb 17.

[4] K. Anderson, "Wind Energy in Kauai," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[5] "Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy, 2014 Edition," International Energy Agency, 2014.

[6] D. Cardwell, "Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes," New York Times, 18 Apr 15.