Sun, sun, sun, here we come


POSTED: Monday, August 10, 2009

Brace yourselves.

No, not for the hurricane, but for a higher electricity bill, which Hawaiian Electric Co. estimates will jump an average of 14.3 percent on Oahu this month.

As consumers we really can't do much about it other than to protest, perhaps, and then pay the bill.

Here's the deal: While we can screw in the compact fluorescents and switch off power strips to trim electricity costs, there are bigger ways to save. The answer is shining right on your face. That's right. It's the sun.

All kinds of deals, including rebates and state and federal tax credits, are still available for solar water heaters, which can reduce your bill by about 40 percent.

A growing number of solar contractors, meanwhile, are now offering photovoltaic (PV) systems at lower prices than last year.

Though the upfront investment might be larger, the systems will pay off over time and save money on your electricity bill long term—whether fuel rates go up or down in the future.





        » DBEDT: hsblinks.com/ld

» Hawaii Energy Efficiency Program: www.hawaiienergy.com


» Tax Incentives: www.energytaxincentives.org


» Find your sun zone: hsblinks.com/lc




For solar water heaters, qualified contractors can offer a $1,000 rebate upfront, upon installation. HECO used to run the program, but management of the rebates were transferred on July 1 to the Hawaii Energy Efficiency Program.

Hawaii offers a state income tax credit of 35 percent of the installed cost, while the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit.

The state tax credit has no expiration date, but is not available for solar water heaters on new homes beginning in 2010, due to the mandatory solar bill. The federal tax credit is set to expire in 2016.

Here are a few basic questions and answers about solar water heaters and solar PV systems. The answers come from Mark Duda, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

Question: What are the average costs for a solar water heater?

Answer: Average jobs cost about $6,250, but this depends on size of the system, household usage as well as the sun zone, roof tilt and piping needs. Still, after the rebate and tax credits, your total cost dwindles to about $1,200.

Q: How long does it take to pay for itself?

A: After rebate and tax incentives, two years is a good rule of thumb.

Q: What are the average costs for a solar PV system?

A: The average system is from $25,000 to $50,000 but can range up to $80,000 depending on the size. Starting this year, a federal tax credit of 30 percent no longer comes with a $2,000 cap. Duda says the credit also can be taken against the alternative minimum tax.

Q: Is solar PV becoming more affordable?

A: Yes, it is. It's a growth market. The average prices are about 15 percent lower than a year ago. The prices of the panels are coming down because the global supply is up. About 25 percent of homes statewide have solar water heaters, but only about 1 percent have solar PV systems.

Q: How long does a solar PV system take to pay for itself?

A: From about six to 10 years. As always, it depends on what sun zone and island you're on. A PV system sized to fit your power usage, however, should—with net metering—immediately kick in right away.

Q: Should one install a solar water heater first, before installing a solar PV system?

A: Yes. For every dollar you spend, solar hot water systems reduce your utility bill more.