It will now be faster and simpler for many residential and some small commercial customers to receive approval for on-site solar photovoltaic installations without worrying about the need for a possible interconnection study, Hawaiian Electric announced Tuesday.
As of Oct. 1, most residential and some commercial customers of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light Company can install single-phase PV systems up to 10 kilowatts on single-phase transformers and participate in Net Energy Metering with no interconnection study. These smaller systems have less potential to impact service reliability for customers, according to HECO.
In addition, any customer of the three companies who previously paid for an interconnection study and system upgrades to install a 10 kilowatt or smaller single-phase PV system will be refunded the cost of the study and any upgrades.
"This change should make the move to PV for many customers simpler and faster," said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric vice president for system operation and planning.
"Every year since 2008, customer-sited PV has at least doubled over the year before and we’re on course for the same in 2012. Operating experience with some of the highest PV penetration in the nation on our companies’ grids has made this new approach possible. This experience, coupled with technical studies conducted with other experts, gives us confidence that we can make this change and still ensure reliable service for our customers," Ching said.
"This is a step in the right direction and the timing could not be better," said Brad Albert, co-owner of Rising Sun Solar on Maui and founder of the Hawaii PV Coalition. "We enjoy a very good working relationship with the utilities, and appreciate their continued support for renewable energy. This shows they are listening to the concerns of their customers and the solar industry."
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a national non-profit that monitors renewable energy progress and collects data for the federal government, also applauded the move.
A customer, or contractor on the customer’s behalf, must still provide to the utility a signed Net Energy Metering application with all supporting paperwork before installing the PV system and the county building permit must be closed before the Net Energy Metering agreement can be finalized for the customer to begin receiving full retail credit for all excess renewable electricity sent to the grid in the next billing cycle.
For single-phase 10 kilowatt or smaller systems, a new checkpoint before a possible interconnection study may be needed will be 75 percent of the minimum daytime electrical load. This 75 percent checkpoint will allow more PV installations without interconnection studies than the previous 50 percent of minimum load threshold for small installations approved last November by the Public Utilities Commission. The new standard will increase the capacity for added PV without further interconnection studies on the majority of circuits in the Hawaiian Electric Companies' service territories.
On a few circuits, an interconnection study may still be needed because a high level of intermittent renewable energy like PV on a neighborhood circuit can result in service disruptions and safety hazards. The study can determine what upgrades are needed to ensure that safe, reliable service and power quality is maintained for all customers on that circuit, whether they have PV or not.