Kaua‘i is the only major island in the state that does not get its electricity from the Hawaiian Electric family of companies. The island relies on the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative—KIUC. Recently, the cooperative announced a partnership with California-based Solar City to develop a solar electricity farm that will be the first of its kind in the nation. HPR contributing reporter Scott Giarman has more from Kaua‘i.
The Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative has signed an agreement with SolarCity to construct the nation’s first utility-scale photovoltaic array with a battery storage system. It’s different from KIUC’s other two solar arrays. They each feed 12 megawatts of power directly into the electric grid with battery capability only to ensure a smooth flow of power, such as when skies are cloudy. The new project will generate 52 megawatts to charge a system of batteries which KIUC will then be able to turn on and off, just like a conventional generator. According to estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association, that should be enough electricity to power more than 2,000 homes.
The batteries will supply up to 13 megawatts of solar electricity into the grid at night. Currently, the utility must operate fossil-fuel generators to meet peak electric demand from 5 to 10pm.
KIUC spokesman Jim Kelly said, “For more than two years, KIUC has been looking for a solution to the growing problem of having too much solar online during the day and no way to … store it for use at night.” The problem has been price. Although KIUC has a goal of 50% renewable energy within the next two years, Kelly said “we will not pursue renewables at any cost. ”
This project is not expected to increase electric bills.
Kaua‘i does not use wind power, because it could risk endangered Shearwater birds. But KIUC will use solar, hydro and biomass to generate 38% of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of this year.