Tesla is expected to make a major announcement next Thursday about a new battery that can store energy from rooftop solar systems instead of dumping it back into the grid, which can overwhelm old utility infrastructure.
All eyes are on Hawaii, the nation’s leader in solar energy with 12 percent of homes having some type of system.
Everyone from Gizmodo to the New York Times have featured the islands and Hawaiian Electric Co. in recent stories about the problem of so much solar energy being produced that the utility can’t handle it.
Solar panels on a parking structure in Kakaako.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
“The absolute best idea is for homeowners to start installing batteries that can store the power for later use instead of giving the power back to the utilities, something called peak load shaving,” Alissa Walker wrote in a piece for Gizmodo on Thursday.
Tesla Motors, which produces those fancy yet relatively affordable electric cars, hasn’t revealed much about its new home battery or the utility-scale one it’s also making. The batteries could store solar as well as energy from other renewable sources like wind and waves.
Hawaii would top the list of places that could benefit from the new technology.
A front-page NYT story Sunday neatly laid out the problem the state is facing as residents, struggling to afford among the nation’s highest electric bills, are having trouble installing rooftop PV systems because HECO can’t handle the load. The utility was designed to send power to homes, not receive it.
“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association, told the newspaper.
“When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”
Hawaiian Electric has approved thousands of applications in recent weeks thanks to the Public Utilities Commission ordering the company to reduce its backlog.
As NYT’s reporter Diane Cardwell recognized in her piece, Hawaiian Electric Industries is under the gun with the pending $4.3 billion deal to sell to Florida-based NextEra Energy. Plus, Big Island and Maui are trying to secede and form cooperatives like Kauai did years ago.
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