Hawaii’s electric companies declared on Tuesday that they would triple rooftop solar by 2030.

As part of aiming for a minimum of 65% renewable energy generation and to cut electric bill costs by 20%, also by 2030, the electric companies, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light, collectively known as HECO, have released plans to upgrade the grid and boost solar. Utilities and grid firms will publish an annual limit for solar installs to ensure the grid can cope with demand.

The new plans are for the Oahu, Maui County, and Hawaii Island electricity systems, to form a foundation for the Oceania state to utilise more renewable energy and use less fossil fuels.

“Our energy environment is changing rapidly and we must change with it to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president of corporate planning and business development. “These plans are about delivering services that our customers value. That means lower costs, better protection of our environment, and more options to lower their energy costs, including rooftop solar.”

The announcement for change came after the number of solar permits issued plummeted by 44% over the last year.

In response to the spiralling permits, Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued an order on 28 April giving HECO 120 days to design plans to serve the public interest better; lowering rates and allowing more grid connected rooftop solar.

The order’s deadline was yesterday, 26 August. A group of 40 utility customers, solar advocates and industry members gathered outside Hawaiian Electric's Honolulu headquarters to demand the plan for increasing rooftop solar and hold the utility accountable to the PUC ruling.

According to the Sierra Club protesters hooked up a solar panel to an IV drip on a stretcher, lit candles, and wrote "get well" cards to the solar panel while singing an ancient prayer for sunshine.  

At the protest, Caitlin Pomerantz of the Sierra Club said: "There's no reason Hawaii`i needs to remain tied to dirty, expensive fossil fuel. We have abundant access to local, cheap, clean energy resources. Over 90% of the public wants to see more rooftop solar.”

The subsequent plans released by HECO are to work closely with the solar industry by opening up the planning process so solar customers and companies alike will know how much solar can be built and added to the grid each year.

HECO also plans grid enhancement and optimised control settings, an open generation docket for fair pricing for all grid customers and energy storage initiatives for Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island by 2017.

Smart grids are being tested in Oahu and planned to be complete by 2018. Smart grids are also being tested for Maui County and Hawaii Island to be complete by the end of 2017.

New products and services including community solar and micro grids have been announced by HECO as well as transitions from oil to natural gas.

“This plan sets us on a path to a future with more affordable, clean, renewable energy,” said Dick Rosenblum, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO.

“It’s the start of a conversation that all of us – utilities, regulators and other policymakers, the solar industry, customers and other stakeholders – need to be a part of, as we work together to achieve the energy future we all want for Hawaii.” 

Up front investments from utilities and solar companies will be required to meet the 2030 goals.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2012, Hawaii imported 93% of its energy so that by2013, the state had the highest electricity prices in the US, but Hawaii's utility-scale solar generation increased nearly six-fold in 2013.

Hawaii uses 18% renewable energy already, higher than its 15% by 2015 state goal, with more renewable energy projects under way including a 12MW solar project, located in Anahola, on the northeast side of the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii being constructed by US-based PV installer REC Solar.

And at the end of July the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Pacific was given a contract to procure solar energy projects from Pacific Energy Solutions who will design, build, own, operate and maintain 17MW of PV arrays, which will provide energy to both Navy and Marine Corps bases in Oahu, Hawaii.

An early August study by the Environment America Research and Policy Center found that in terms of solar installed per capita, Hawaii is the second top state, with 243W, just behind Arizona with 275W per capita.