Kauai has a long history of using energy from the sun to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, and this tradition continues to evolve as technology becomes cost effective.
Unlike solar water heating—which uses the sun’s heat—photovoltaic panels generate electricity from the protons within the sun’s rays. The output from a photovoltaic panel will fluctuate when the sun is blocked by clouds, resulting in localized and system-wide effects on the power grid.
Heat absorbed from solar water heater panels is not likely to be used as it is generated, so the heat is stored in a tank for use when needed. Photovoltaic electricity can be stored in batteries, which can manage the fluctuation of power. To facilitate member and cooperative expansion of photovoltaics, investments need to be made in batteries and the smart grid.
Significant tax subsidies provided to for-profit entities enables KIUC to negotiate long-term fixed price purchase power agreements under attractive terms. Kapaa Solar LLC began commercial operation in 2011, and Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. and KIUC jointly announced plans for a 6 MW utility-scale solar PV facility on Kauai’s south shore.
KIUC is actively negotiating additional agreements to ensure the best possible terms for the members, and looks forward to integrating many more megawatts of solar electricity into the power grid during the next two years.
Solar electricity holds great potential for Kauai today, but we must recognize the challenges and limitations of this resource.