Honolulu, Hawaii: Top “Solar Superstar” in the USA

Guest “Book’em, Danno!” by David Middleton

9 U.S. cities now produce more solar power than the entire U.S. did 10 years ago
Ben Adler · Senior Editor
Thu, April 21, 2022

American rooftop solar power is growing at a stunning rate, a new study finds, with solar capacity increasing 19% in 2021.

The United States now has 121.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, enough to power 23 million homes, up from just 0.34 gigawatts in 2008, according to the Department of Energy.

[…]

“The amount of solar power installed in just nine U.S. cities exceeds the amount installed in the entire United States 10 years ago,” the report, titled “Shining Cities 2022,” found. In fact, 15 of the 56 cities included in the study increased their solar capacity tenfold since 2014.

[…]

Yahoo!

Ben Adler is the Senior Climate Editor for Yahoo! News. He has a BA in government. Apart from not actually being able to edit the climate, Mr. Adler also doesn’t seem to grasp a few simple concepts:

  1. Cities don’t produce solar power, the Sun does. Solar panels convert it to electricity.
  2. Installed capacity isn’t generation.
  3. The cited EIA link puts the capacity at 97.2 GW, not 121.4 GW.
  4. The most recent Electric Power Annual 2020, published last moth puts solar PV at 73.9 GW (75.6 if you count solar thermal), including small-scale installations.
  5. Rooftop solar accounts for only about 1/3 of the 121.4 97.2 75.6 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity.
  6. 121.4 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity would be “enough to power 23 million homes” for 6-8 hours per day, when the Sun is shining.
If it looks like a duck curve, swims like a duck curve, and quacks like a duck curve, then it probably is a duck curve.
“On a clear day you can” generate 8-9 hours’ worth of solar PV electricity.

Let’s assume that the aforementioned 9 US cities now have more solar PV capacity than the entire US did 10 years ago… So what? As of 2019, three states (TX+FL+CA) had more natural gas generation capacity than the current total US solar PV capacity.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Generator Inventory
EIA

Based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) annual survey of electric generators, natural gas-fired generators accounted for 43% of operating U.S. electricity generating capacity in 2019. These natural gas-fired generators provided 39% of electricity generation in 2019, more than any other source. Most of the natural gas-fired capacity added in recent decades uses combined-cycle technology, which surpassed coal-fired generators in 2018 to become the technology with the most electricity generating capacity in the United States.

EIA

Capacity vs. Generation

Generator capacity:  The maximum output, commonly expressed in megawatts (MW), that generating equipment can supply to system load, adjusted for ambient conditions.

Generator nameplate capacity (installed):  The maximum rated output of a generator, prime mover, or other electric power production equipment under specific conditions designated by the manufacturer. Installed generator nameplate capacity is commonly expressed in megawatts (MW) and is usually indicated on a nameplate physically attached to the generator.

EIA

Actual generation, commonly expressed in megawatt-hours (MWh) is the actual electricity output that the generating equipment delivers to the grid. This varies widely by generation source. Nuclear power plants require very little downtime and routinely deliver 95% of their rated capacity. Natural gas combined cycle and coal-fired power plants can theoretically deliver 80-90% of their rated capacities, but usually only realize 40-50% because they react to demand and economics. They ramp up and down in response to demand. They also react to natural gas prices. Higher natural gas prices reduce natural gas utilization and increase coal utilization. Wind and solar power only deliver electricity to the grid when the winds and Sun cooperate. Wind generally ranges from 20-40% of rated capacity. Solar is generally in the 20-30% range.

Using data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy and the EIA’s Electric Power Annual 2020, we can see that, nationwide, solar actually fell below 20%.

 2020 Petroleum  Natural Gas  Coal  Nuclear energy  Solar PV 
Gigawatt-hours (GWh)         18,812      1,738,439      844,072            831,493          108,000
Gigawatts (GW)           27.57            485.81        215.55                 96.50              73.89
Realized Capacity Factor7.8%40.7%44.6%98.1%16.6%

I didn’t include wind, because it isn’t relevant to this post. I did include petroleum, because it is relevant to the next section of this post.

“Solar Superstars”

In his Yahoo! News article, Mr. Adler referenced this report: Shining Cities 2022, The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy. Oddly enough, the report doesn’t seem to mention actual electricity generation and focuses exclusively on capacity. The report highlights a group of cities that they call “Solar Superstars”.

Some of these cities make a lot of sense: Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, etc. It’s not unusual for solar PV installations in these sorts of places to realize 40% capacity factors during summers. However, the superstar of superstars, Honolulu HI, struck me as “funny.”

Hawaii State Energy Profile

Hawaii Quick Facts

  • Hawaii was the first state to set a deadline for having 100% of its electricity sales come from renewable energy, which is required to be achieved by 2045. In 2020, the state’s power suppliers met the interim requirement that 30% of electricity sales come from renewables.
  • Despite being among the five states with the lowest total energy consumption, Hawaii uses about 12 times more energy than it produces. More than four-fifths of Hawaii’s energy consumption is petroleum, making it the most petroleum-dependent state.
  • In 2020, solar power provided almost 17% of Hawaii’s total electricity, primarily from the increase in generation from small-scale, customer-sited solar panel systems that nearly doubled since 2015.
  • In 2020, the amount of Hawaii’s coal-fired generation was the lowest since 1992, and coal fueled 11% of the state’s electricity generation. The state’s single coal-fired power plant is scheduled to close in 2022.
  • Hawaii has the highest electricity retail price of any state and it is nearly triple the U.S. average rate, in part because the state relies on imported petroleum for 60% of its electricity generation.

Last Updated: February 17, 2022

EIA

Solar power might actually make sense for Hawaii… But…

“In 2020, the state’s power suppliers met the interim requirement that 30% of electricity sales come from renewables…”

January 2022

Generation SourceThousand MW% of Total
Petroleum-fired54077%
Coal-fired619%
Nonhydroelectric Renewables10315%
Total704100%

In 2020, the state’s power suppliers met the interim requirement that 30% of electricity sales come from renewables.

  • 15% < 30%

What happened since 2020? Or was January just a bad month for solar? There are no accessible data for rooftop solar performance in the Honolulu area, but the data for utility scale solar are easily accessible. Let’s look at one of the larger facilities in the area:

Plant Name: Waipio Solar
Plant Code: 60024
Utility Name: Waipio PV, LLC
Utility ID: 59764
City: Waipio
County: Honolulu
State: Hawaii
Sector: IPP Non-CHP
Technology: Solar Photovoltaic
Data Period: 202108
Primary Fuel: solar
Total Nameplate Capacity: 45.9 MW
Total Net Summer Capacity: 45.9 MW
Net Summer Capacity by Energy Source: Solar = 45.9 MW

EIA

Waipio Solar has a net summer capacity of 45.9 MW. It is located in the best solar resource area on Oahu:

https://solargis.com/maps-and-gis-data/download/usa

Yet, Waipio’s average annual capacity factor is only 20%, with winter being the worst wind season.

That said, Hawaii has very few choices when it comes to electricity. Petroleum, natural gas and coal all have to be imported. While they have significant geothermal resources, the only active geothermal power plant is on the Big Island and provides about 30% of Hawaii island’s electricity:

Hawaii Island purchases 38 MW of power from the Puna Geothermal Venture plant.  PGV has permits allowing it to expand another 22 MW in the future at its current location. Learn more about Puna Geothermal Venture.

Possible geothermal energy resources may exist in West Hawaii and on the island of Maui.

No geothermal resources have been identified on Oahu that could be tapped for electricity.

Hawaiian Electric

Hawaii has an abundant wind resource and actually pioneered wind power back in the 1980’s…

Hawaiian Electric Pioneered Wind Energy Development

A primary reason for the formation of Hawaiian Electric’s parent company, HEI, in the early 1980s was to develop wind energy. HEI invested more than $25 million through a non-regulated subsidiary to develop a 9-MW wind farm at Kahuku. HEI invested another $7 million in a 3.2 MW wind turbine at the same location — the 360-ft. MOD-5-B – which was then the world’s largest horizontal axis wind turbine. The Kahuku wind farm experienced winds that were more turbulent than expected and mechanical problems with the first-generation turbines, resulting in low energy production. In addition, a dramatic drop in the price of oil made the wind farm too costly to operate. It was later sold to New World Power and has since been closed and the turbines dismantled, but the operations provided useful research information.

In the mid-1980s, Maui Electric hosted a 340-kW wind turbine demonstration unit for several years at its Maalaea facility. Maui Electric later purchased this wind turbine and operated it until the end of its useful life.

Hawaiian Electric

However onshore wind projects have faced considerable opposition and significant offshore wind power projects are many years down the road… So it looks Hawaii will be mostly stuck with imported petroleum and intermittent solar for the foreseeable future.

Conclusions

Irrespective of how many US cities become “solar superstars,” petroleum and natural gas will continue to kick solar’s @$$ well into the future.

Is there any other way to close out a post on Hawaii other than with Steve McGarrett’s classic line from Hawaii Five-O?

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Scissor
April 26, 2022 6:08 pm

Tom Halla
April 26, 2022 6:12 pm

PV. mostly produces power when not really needed, and is unreliable even then.

Derg
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 27, 2022 2:45 am

When the sun is shining can a household run an air conditioner, washer, dryer and dishwasher at the same time?

Lrp
Reply to  Derg
April 27, 2022 11:57 am

You’d need 11-12kW, including fridge and tv, to run them all at the same time, but sizing the solar system for peak load would be a waste.

mal
Reply to  Derg
April 27, 2022 9:48 pm

Hawaii does not need air-condition or for that mater heat. Trying to do everything midday is insanity.

Gerald Hanner
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 27, 2022 11:58 am

I’ve lived on most of the bigger islands for short periods (less than a year). Because of the location and situation of the islands air conditioning is not really needed, especially if you live on the windward side. I’ve done that quite comfortably. Even on th4 leeward side of the Big Island lack of air-conditioning is not a problem. Humidity can get to be a problem.

Larry Hamlin
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 27, 2022 12:19 pm

In 2018 Hawaii used fossil fuels to provide about 90% of the islands total energy use. The claims of 100% renewable by year 2045 are a joke as noted in the WUWT article noted below. Just more renewable & climate idiocy by the states Democratic Party.
https://wattsupwiththat.com/2021/06/21/hawaii-renewable-electricity-claims-unsupported-by-eia-data- emissions-unchanged/

Ron Long
April 26, 2022 7:00 pm

Good Reality Check on bogus solar claims. I wonder why the Big Island doesn’t take advantage of geothermal potential? I mean, they let that lava flow unused into the Pacific ocean, where it is cooking our swimming friends.

PCman999
Reply to  David Middleton
April 26, 2022 9:00 pm

But that’s only 38MW – 38,000 frugal homes?

With all the greenwashing hype, not a peep about running cables under the sea to feed Oahu with GW class power from geothermal power from other islands.

DonK
Reply to  PCman999
April 27, 2022 6:00 am

I’m sure that thought has been given to a power cable across the channel between the big island where the lava is and Oahu where most of the people are. The problem is that the strait between Hawaii and Maui is not only 50km wide. It’s also nearly 2km deep, 50km is not that big a deal. The Bass Strait between Tasmania and Australia proper is five times that wide. The run power across it. But while wide, it’s shallow. 2km is a problem. How do you fix the thing if it breaks?

There’s also the problem of lava flows eating all or part of your power plant, That actually happened a few years ago.

dk_
Reply to  Ron Long
April 27, 2022 12:28 am

There are engineering technology scale limits on what can be gained from geo-thermal power. It would be nice if that technology was better developed, but it is hard to tell the scammers from the projects that might show real promise.

With Hawaii, I thought I’d read that there were indigenous culture issues with tapping into the power of the more active and available volcanic sites.

I wonder what cultural issues will become apparent when the world’s largest (or is it second) lithium battery site melts down…

Charles Higley(@higley7)
April 26, 2022 7:05 pm

“On a clear day you can” generate 8-9 hours’ worth of solar PV electricity.”

Sounds good until you realize that this depends, in most parts of the world, on your latitude and the time of year. Canada is a lose-lose, the top half of the US is a simple lose, and the bottom half a lose most of the time. Heaven forbid a hurricane wipes out solar production for a week or more at a time. By the way, clouding up occurs a day or three BEFORE a hurricane and can persist for a week after the hurricane. Try to store energy for that. Not going to happen.

John Garrett
Reply to  David Middleton
April 27, 2022 3:59 am

Ah, yes. Burlington VT— home of the uber-nutcase, multi-millionaire socialist, multiple home-owning, hyper-hypocrite, innumerate dimwit “Bug-eyed” Bernie Sanders.

Any state that is dumb enough to elect that charlatan and phony deserves to freeze in the dark. The credulous fools in Vermont who vote for him would end up burning wood for heat were that latent dictator in charge.

DonK
Reply to  David Middleton
April 27, 2022 6:23 am

By all means do. Among other things, Burlington built a 25mw wood powered electric plant back in the 1970s. That may sound dumb, but wood chips from scrap timber from lumber operations in Northern Vermont were actually the cheapest fuel source available at the time. Some of the analysis papers regarding the McNeil plant make interesting reading. You know what a pile of rain soaked wood chips does in mid-Summer heat and humidity? Neither did they. It ferments and some of the fermentation products are fairly unpleasant. Their bottom line was interesting also. They should have built the plant where the wood was and run a power line to Burlington. It’d been cheaper and less of a nuisance than hauling the wood down by rail.

By the time they needed additional capacity, natural; gas had reached Burlington. They used that for their next plant.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  David Middleton
April 27, 2022 6:25 pm

Yes, please do! We have got to show how stupid this all is.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Mickey Reno
April 27, 2022 6:32 pm

David, don’t you just love when people ask you to do all the work for free and somehow claim that ‘we’ did it? Anyway, I love your common sense posts. That’s all I really meant.

Ted
Reply to  Charles Higley
April 27, 2022 3:13 pm

On the plus side, there are usually very clear skies for a week or so after a hurricane, so that should help recovery efforts.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Charles Higley
April 27, 2022 6:23 pm

“By the way, clouding up occurs a day or three BEFORE a hurricane and can persist for a week after the hurricane. Try to store energy for that. Not going to happen.”

Remember this video taken after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico a few years back? The windmills and the solar panel fields were all totally destroyed. Costs a lot to build, is more expensive when it’s running, and is wiped out by a big storm. Great investment, Green idiots!

It’s about 12 minutes long. Wind Turbines seen at 2:02 and Solar Farm at 4:30.

https://mashable.com/video/puerto-rico-maria-aerial-video-shocking-widespread-damage

Doonman
April 26, 2022 7:09 pm

“The amount of solar power installed in just nine U.S. cities exceeds the amount installed in the entire United States 10 years ago,” the report, titled “Shining Cities 2022,” found.

Not mentioned in the report is that the cost per kWh of solar power in the nine US cities exceeds the cost per kWh of all electricity generated in the United States 10 years ago. But the good news is that the cost per kWh of solar power at night is zero because there isn’t any.

PCman999
Reply to  Doonman
April 26, 2022 9:05 pm

Wouldn’t the cost be infinite?

(Fixed costs + maintenance + staff + consumables)
———————————————————————————–
Number of KWh actually produced or sold

Dividing by zero gives infinity.

PCman999
Reply to  PCman999
April 26, 2022 9:06 pm

Actually it would be the cost of the power the supplier would have to buy from other sources to meet the terms of the contract, but I digress…

Doonman
Reply to  PCman999
April 27, 2022 10:25 am

Dividing by zero is not defined.

Steve Cushman
April 26, 2022 7:13 pm

All the small, rooftop solar in HI is a problem for the island utilities. They have to install voltage regulators in many locations to prevent large voltage swings on their distribution lines. Otherwise customer equipment would be damaged or the output of the small solar will be less due to non-islanding inverters shutting off because line voltage exceeds their overvoltage trip setpoint.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Steve Cushman
April 26, 2022 7:47 pm

Quote:”inverters shutting off because line voltage exceeds their overvoltage trip setpoint.

Isn’t that just crazy?

….that the inverters on the small rooftops are designed, built, programmed, mandated to have all sorts of safety features…
yet nobody thought of building them so that, if the line voltage started rising and got close to an agreed limit, the inverter ramped down its power output.
Likewise the frequency – rising frequency means too much juice is being pushed into the grid

iow: as line voltages rise or frequency rises, the inverters should remain connected and working but limit their output power.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to program that into them.

But no, they keep pumping flat-out until line voltage reaches its limit then they shut off completely. Then typically wait a few minutes and if the voltage and frequency fall back into the safe band, they’ll attempt to re-connect
It’s akin to driving your car with the engine either switched off or your foot to the floor
And by the time all the small solar inverters are programmed with the same trip points, it’s nothing less than a disaster in the making = that sort of behaviour will crash the grid.

And ain’t that just fantastic, the small solars are programmed to crash the system while being similarly set up so as to be utterly incapable of picking the grid back up, of effecting a ‘cold’ or ‘black start’

Q. Who said that that is how things should be, who created those regulations?
A. Exactly the same scientifically/technically illiterate and panic-stricken muppets who know what trapped heat is – who only go to increase their own levels of panic with every move they make

Interesting Times‘ has to be one of the biggest understatements anyone could make in any of this climate madness

Iain Reid
Reply to  Peta of Newark
April 26, 2022 11:21 pm

Peta,

programmed inverters as you suggest would be detrimental to Solar’s already very poor availability, making it an even worse way to supply the grid

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Peta of Newark
April 27, 2022 6:11 am

A central Texas owner had recently installed solar panels that were put in to pay for all electricity by selling it back to the grid. Both on the intake pole and the house connection there were signs– “Shock Hazard.”  Owner did not seem to understand their purpose beyond the sign. Is there some ground system or other magic to take care of the daytime generation when the grid is down?

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Peta of Newark
April 27, 2022 6:46 am

There is a huge IEEE standard (IEEE 1547) that governs how distributed generation sources must be connected to the grid, to which PV inverters have to adhere. Gas turbines are also distributed resources.

If the grid goes down, inverters must disconnect themselves within one cycle. There are a lot of reasons for this.

Inverters also have input voltage windows, outside of which they don’t connect to the grid. If the solar array voltage is too low or too high, for whatever reason, the system produces no power.

Bob
April 26, 2022 8:38 pm

Lies, half truths and BS, when are these scoundrels going to be held to account?

Disputin
Reply to  Bob
April 27, 2022 3:31 am

When Hell freezes over?

Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  Disputin
April 27, 2022 8:54 am

But that won’t happen because CAGW.

Chris Hanley
April 26, 2022 9:44 pm

In 2020, solar power provided almost 17% of Hawaii’s total electricity, primarily from the increase in generation from small-scale, customer-sited solar panel systems …

What percentage of the owners of those small-scale systems have gone off-grid, that is the 55,000 dollar/25 year question.

Last edited 23 days ago by Chris Hanley
Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Chris Hanley
April 27, 2022 6:50 am

The amount of standalone PV power generation is very small compared with grid-connected.

Years ago there was a distance-from-the-grid calculation that indicated when a standalone PV system was less expensive than paying for a line extension to a remote site/location.

Matthew Sykes
April 27, 2022 1:45 am

So where is the storage? Without storage this is useless energy.

Gordon A. Dressler
April 27, 2022 7:57 am

Title of the quoted text from Ben Adler, Senior Climate Editor for Yahoo! News, as cited in the introduction to the above article:

“9 U.S. cities now produce more solar power than the entire U.S. did 10 years ago.”

Well, I can confidently state that a single solar PV installation on any home residence now produces more solar power than the entire world did 140 years ago.

Ref: https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/solar/history-of-solar-power/

So, what’s the point?

Duane
April 27, 2022 8:26 am

A whole lotta yammering here trying unsuccessfully to obfuscate the fact that the media writers post was essentially correct.

The lower numbers of PV capacity installed cited by Middleton are two years old and hopelessly out of date. According to the USEIA website the amount of new PV capacity installed just in 2021 was 27 GWe and is accelerating rapidly. The 121 GWe installed capacity number cited is correct.

The rest of Middleton’s post is his typical hysterical anti-solar handwaving and preaching to the anti-solar crowd here at WUWT.

Facts are such stubborn things … no matter how much hysterical hand waving you engage in.

Last edited 23 days ago by Duane
Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Duane
April 27, 2022 8:52 am

Let’s simplify it then:

According to the EIA (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us.php ), in 2021 the fraction of electrical generation from “solar” (both solar PV installations and solar thermal power plants) was 2.8% that of all sources combined.

So, the above quoted claim:
“American rooftop solar power is growing at a stunning rate, a new study finds, with solar capacity increasing 19% in 2021.”
actually translates to the “stunning” solar growth rate being an net increase of 0.19*0.028 = .0053 = 0.5% growth of total U.S.energy generation, with the conservation assumption that solar thermal power plants are an insignificant contributor to “solar power” generation.

Beyond this, it’s still a stretch to get all that excited by an electrical generation source that provides less than 3% of all U.S. electrical power.

As you say, fact are such stubborn things.

Last edited 23 days ago by Gordon A. Dressler
oeman 50
April 27, 2022 9:13 am

And one thing to note about gas plant generation, they are throttled back due to loads and in response to solar plant generation. So, the more solar generation there is, the lower the capacity factors of gas units. But they are there when the sun don’t shine and wind don’t blow.

upcountrywater
April 27, 2022 10:27 am

“In the mid-1980s, Maui Electric hosted a 340-kW wind turbine demonstration unit for several years at its Maalaea facility. Maui Electric later purchased this wind turbine and operated it until the end of its useful life”

When the main shaft broke and the blades flew off…
The blades were positioned down wind, of the tower and suffered stresses as they spun behind the support structure, full load to no load 3 times per revolution.. Good thing no one was around to get between them and the ground…

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  upcountrywater
April 29, 2022 3:16 pm

“When the main shaft broke and the blades flew off…”

Thereby proving the point that even engineers with computers and computers programs available for doing design work and detailed structural analyses are not immune from making very expensive dumb-a$$ mistakes.

And people really want fully autonomous, self-driving automobiles??? . . . please say it ain’t so!

Last edited 21 days ago by Gordon A. Dressler
DonK
April 27, 2022 11:39 am

All in all, a very nice and quite objective article. I’ve looked into this some as my feeling is that if anyplace of any size can manage near zero emissions it’s Hawaii — population 1.4 million. They have, as you point out, no known fossil fuel reserves of any sort, so fossil fuels are expensive. A practical inducement to look for alternatives. They are tropical. Heating loads are presumably small. There is some need for air conditioning in Summer, but those loads occur in the daytime when solar energy is (probably) available. And being tropical, they have fairly high sun angle solar potentially available the year round. None of this nine hour day with maximum sun angle 22 degrees that you might encounter in Winter along the US-Canadian border.

That’s not to say that I think they can or will completely get away from fossil fuels any time soon or any time at all. Just that if they can’t/won’t, probably no one can/will.

Caligula Jones
April 27, 2022 12:06 pm

Hiked to the top of one of Maui’s windfarms a few times. Kinda neat, of course, but still, would be a better view without the bird cutters.

Oh, and Ben Adler, Senior Editor continues to make my point that “journalism” is now basically recent social sciences grads retyping press releases.

mal
April 27, 2022 9:46 pm

Hawaii need nuclear period. Only fools think otherwise.

bcullen1815
Reply to  mal
April 28, 2022 8:07 am

I am very pro-nuclear but I would not advocate for nuclear power plant in a geologically active area.
P.S. I am not a fool.
.

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