Hawai‘i’s Solar Customers: Left in the Dark?

Nov 3, 2016

Credit David Goehring / Flickr

Over the years, solar energy has become part of the landscape of Hawai‘i. But contraction in the industry has left some customers in the lurch. From Pacific Business News, Editor in Chief A. Kam Napier has the story.

The Hawaii Solar Energy Association reports that employment in the sector is down 40% since last fall. We’ve seen entire companies go under, including Hawaiian Island Solar, Sopogy, Lumen Solar and Bonterra Solar.  It’s all part of the contraction that’s been happening since the end of net-metering, which paid homeowners retail prices for the excess energy they sold back to the utility. That’s not the only change — some 30% of Oahu homes either already have solar or approval for a solar system. The initial solar gold rush on Oahu is over.

One of the side-effects of this contraction is that some customers have been orphaned, left with unfinished installations or no one to turn to for maintenance. The Better Business Bureau Hawaii has seen a noticeable bump in complaints. It advises solar customers to dust off their contracts and see if their warranty is with the manufacturer or with the installer.

Solar companies that have survived the downturn are adopting some of these customers wherever possible. HECO itself has gotten involved, too, working with solar trade organizations to help match up orphaned customers with new vendors.

The solar companies having the most success right now are the ones like REC Solar, which moved away from residential rooftop installations toward commercial installations. As for the residential market, HECO and the PUC are working now on new incentives they hope will boost rooftop solar and get Hawaii closer to its 100% renewable energy goal.