Hawai'i: Leading the World in Solar Energy

Evan Enriques
November 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Solar panels on the roof of Ala Moana Shopping Center on the island of O'ahu. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Solar energy is a rising industry in the state of Hawai'i. Rooftop home solar systems currently sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawai'i homes, according to the Federal Energy Information Administration. [1] Solar energy has become so popular that one of the leading electric companies in the islands, Hawai'i Electric Light Company (HELCO), is struggling to keep up with the demand for home solar systems. [1] Residential and commercial solar installations have not only become a way for residents to lower their monthly electric bill, but also a way to support renewable energy efforts in a place where most of the electricity is generated from imported petroleum. [2]

High Costs

Being that Hawai'i is one of the most expensive states to live in, it's no secret that residents continue to pay the highest electric rates in the country. In fact, Hawai'i's electricity prices are nearly double the U.S. average with residents paying approximately 0.28 cents per kWh in 2016. [1] However, solar energy efforts are gaining popularity due to the financial benefits of installing a residential/commercial solar system. The United States Energy Information Administration shows a 28.3% increase in Hawai'i's residential solar PV generation from 46,000 Mwh in 2016 to 59,000 Mwh in 2017. Similarly, commercial solar installations (as seen in Fig. 1) yielded a production increase of 52.1% having gone from 23,000 Mwh in 2016 to 35,000 Mwh in 2017. [3] Yet despite these increases in solar production, the price of electricity will remain high as long as the state continues to heavily rely on imported petroleum. This is why many residents have been turning to home solar which is proving to offer a more immediate solution to saving money on monthly electric bills.

Encouraging Solar

There are a handful of community and state programs that incentivize the proliferation of renewable energy technologies. Among these programs are the Customer Self-Supply (CSS) Program which allows customers the use of an energy storage device that is designed to not export electricity to the grid. [2] However, the program requires customers to pay a minimum monthly fee of $25, as well the cost of any electricity used from the grid at any point. In 2015, Community-Based Renewable Energy (CBRE) laws were passed in an attempt to lay the foundation for a Hawai'i CBRE Program that would make the benefits of renewable energy generation more accessible to a greater number of Hawai'i residents. [2] To help businesses implement energy and resource efficiency practices, the state has also set up the Hawaii Green Business Program which allows businesses to not only enjoy utility cost savings, but also contribute to Hawaiis collective energy independence goals and, ultimately, a more sustainable environment. The up-to-date savings from the Hawaii Green Business Program are upwards of 18 million kWh of energy (equivalent to powering 2,940 homes for one year in Hawaii). [2]


Hawai'i residents pay a steep price to live in what many refer to as "paradise". State organizations and electric companies are working to help individuals and businesses combat those steep prices through community and state programs as well as easy-to-install residential solar systems. [1,2] If the Hawai'i State Energy Office and companies, like HELCO, can continue to incentivize and promote the benefits of renewable energy sources like solar, Hawai'i can rely less on imported petroleum and make a push towards lowering the cost of electricity.

© Evan Enriques. 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] D. Cardwell, "Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes," New York Times, 18 Apr. 2015.

[2] "Hawaii Energy Facts and Figures," Hawaii State Energy Office, May 2017.

[3] "Electric Power Monthly with Data for July 2017," U.S. Energy Information Administration, September 2017, p. 51.