Hawaii goes Green and other Big Renewables Stories

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

The Hawaii legislature has just passed a bill by an overwhelming margin that sets a goal of 100% renewable energy in the state by 2045. The new law requires that the state get a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020, only five years from now. Electricity in Hawaii is expensive, about 34 cents a kilowatt hour for residences, since unlike most states it depends on petroleum as the fuel for its plants, and that has to be imported across long distances. The US average cost for residential electricity is 12 cents a kilowatt hour. New solar installations can provide it as low as 6 cents a kilowatt hour, and new geothermal plants are slightly cheaper (Hawaii has a *lot* of potential geothermal power but there is substantial public resistance, and solar may be the better play). So the legislature’s plan is the only thing that makes sense, and if anything its timeline is not nearly ambitious enough. Even a developing country like Morocco plans for 42% renewables by 2020, and Scotland may well be 100% by then. Costa Rica already is.

Solar energy is playing a role in post-disaster relief works in Nepal. Small solar kits power water purification and can charge phones and provide lighting in villages, where power lines are now often down because of the massive earthquake. donate here.

China put in 5 gigawatts of new solar plants in the first three months of 2015 alone. In all of 2014, the USA did not install that much new solar, and 2014 was a remarkably good year for solar power in the US. China is near to outstripping Germany for title of country with the most solar energy. It will likely have 45 gigwatts of solar generation capacity by the end of 2015, 10 gigs more than it had planned for.


Pakistan, habitually plagued with a lack of electricity and repeated brown-outs, has opened its first solar power plant. The newly opened plant generates 100 megawatts, but that will be increased 10-fold to 1 gigawatt over the next year. It only cost $190 mn. to build, took a year, and was installed by by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co Ltd (TBEA). The project is part of a $46 bn. development scheme proposed by the Chinese government for Pakistan.

Dubai has earmarked $3 billion to raise the generating capacity of the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park from 1 gigawatt to 3 gigawatts. The United Arab Emirates also announced that it will install 100 MW of solar in the north.

7 Responses

  1. IIRC, Hawaii’s goal was for 100% of electricity not energy. There is still a lot of energy use that isn’t electric, and thats tougher to replace with renewables then electricty. California is shooting for 50% for electric, up from 33%, but the state doesn’t count its considerable hydro power, or rooftop solar as part of its renewables, so its doing a lot better than the official numbers show.

    Geothermal would be quite valuable for Hawaii, as it doesn’t vary with the weather and time of day.

    • FWIW Hawaii is perfect for electric cars (and gasoline is super-expensive) and terrible for fossil-fuel heating (not that you need much heating in Hawaii). So I’m guessing Hawaii will actually hit nearly 100% of energy from renewables. Much easier there than, say, Maine.

      • I would agree that Hawaii is a good place for EVs. But I doubt fuel costs are much different than on the mainland. We routinely ship oil thousands of miles over the seas. But, EVs are better (relatively) in a warm climate (my plugin’s manual, says to never drive it below -30C), and driving distances are short enough that range isn’t so important.

  2. The question I have on the Pakistani plant is: was the $190,000,000 for the plant’s current capacity or its ultimate capacity of 1 GW? Because if it’s anything close to that it shatters the current cost per watt for solar construction, and it means China has something enormous to offer the 3rd World (assuming that low labor costs are what made it possible).

  3. I just checked on my earlier question. According to a US EIA study, the recent construction cost on solar PV plants was $4 to 5 per watt rated capacity. So even if the $190 million in Pakistan only covered the initial 100 MW capacity, that’s a big breakthrough. A natural gas plant is still about a buck per watt, but then you have to buy natural gas and get it delivered.

    Today the United States is physically incapable of putting together a solar power project for $190,000,000 in the middle of Pakistan. You know why and I know why, but most Americans can’t even conceive of the terms of the problem.

    • The better projects are building PV plants for not much over a dollar per watt. Even rooftop in the US, which suffers from large “soft-costs”, is generally under $4/watt. Softcosts are stuff like permitting, inspections, cost of sales, and so on. Presumably for large utility plants these should become small.
      Panel manufacuring costs are still around $.50 per watt, so $190 for a gigawatt is not achievable in the near future.

  4. Thanks Juan for spreading the word on Rebuild With Sun campaign to provide solar lights, chargers, and power stations for Nepal earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts. Much appreciated!

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