Power payback

More consumers in sunny Hawaii are turning to solar panels to help curb their electrical costs<br/><br/> (via StarAdvertiser)<br/>

At a little more than $8,000 per kilowatt installed, the Robinsons’ project comes with a hefty price tag of about $60,000. But the state and federal tax breaks brought the cost down to about $21,000, an amount Robinson figures he can recover in five years by cutting the electric bill on his two homes.

Sunetric, which installed the system, said the Robinsons can conservatively expect to cut the monthly electrical bill for the two homes by $290 with the system.

Installation of photovoltaic systems has exploded in the past five years, providing a boost to the local solar industry that was previously limited largely to installing solar hot water systems.

A record of 7,300 kilowatts of photovoltaic power was installed in Hawaii last year, compared with just 167 kilowatts in 2005, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. Installations are on track this year to easily surpass 2009, said Mark Duda, association president and one of the founders of Distributed Energy Partners.

Installations or planned installations on Oahu through this month totaled 4,650 kilowatts, up from 2,849 kilowatts for all of 2009, Duda said.

Food wholesaler Y. Hata is preparing to install a 600-kilowatt system on its Sand Island warehouse, the largest such project on Oahu this year.

The economics of photovoltaic power makes more sense in Hawaii than just about any place in the nation, Duda said.

The state gets high ratings for insolation, a measure of solar radiation used in the energy industry to determine the size of a solar collector that is required. Advanced Energy Group, a mainland energy consulting company, calculated Honolulu’s average sun hours per day at 6.02. Besides Hawaii, most of the cities that were rated higher than 6 sun hours per day were in the Southwest. Phoenix, for example, was rated at 6.58 sun hours, while Chicago was rated at 3.15.

However, many photovoltaic installers in Hawaii use a more conservative estimate of sun hours when projecting how much electricity a PV panel will produce. Several companies use models assuming 5.2 sun hours a day.

“We have microclimates in Hawaii that you don’t have in other places,” said Alex Tiller, Sunetric’s chief executive officer.

“In a place like Death Valley, you get more consistent solar output with less cloud cover. But our Leeward Coast is on par with any of those areas. In areas like the Windward side, it will be less.”

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