Ensuring the Safety of Residential Solar Installations in Hawaii

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By now, we all know about the high grid penetration of distributed solar in Hawaii. Because of high electricity rates, solar has becoming wildly popular there, leading to what some call a “wild west” situation.

In other words, the hot market has led to all kinds of contractors getting in on the action — from the reputable, experienced, licensed ones to the less-reputable who are trying to make a quick buck. And in the face of delays caused by interconnection issues there, some “rogue systems” are being installed without approval.

All this has led to concern over the quality and safety of installations in Hawaii.

Now that the solar industry is maturing and reaching far more customers, we need to ensure good quality more than ever. The industry’s reputation is at stake — not just in Hawaii but throughout the country. Concerns over quality or safety can easily dominate the news and worry customers. We’ve seen that happen with the story that won’t die about the possible fire hazards posed by solar installations.

What can homeowners do? As with any home improvement, customers need to ensure they go with a licensed contractor and get the required permits and inspections. If they do that, their panels should be able to withstand winds of up to 105 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the worst winds brought by Superstorm Sandy were recorded at about 115 miles per hour.

That means that if panels are installed properly, they should hold up just fine even in major storms.

In an extremely severe storm — even Superstorm Sandy was a Category 3 hurricane, and they can go up to Category 5 — solar panels might not be the biggest concern for a homeowner. But as we experience more frequent and severe storms, it’s all the more important that we turn to solar as one part of mitigating climate change. If we can curb our carbon emissions, perhaps we won’t have to worry as much about those really huge storms.