Why Do Homeowners Go Solar? A Long Path to Solar Savings in Hawaii

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Homeowner Profiles: A PV Solar Report Exclusive Series

In this series, we profile homeowners around the country who have gone solar. We interview a range of homeowners to gain insights about their motivations for going solar, what factors they weighed in their decision, and how they went about choosing a solar provider. 

If you know homeowners who have gone solar and would like to share their experience, email us at admin@pvsolarreport.com.

For Shahed Rahim and his wife, the path to solar power was long and winding. They always liked the idea, and they’d thought about going solar as early as 2008. But at that time, it was too expensive — even in comparison to the high cost of electricity in Hawaii, where they live. Shahed was also concerned that a solar installation would cause leaks in their roof. And with solar as expensive as it was, neither vendors nor information were plentiful.

 

Fast-forward to 2012, and the cost of solar had plummeted. Now it was competitive with the 33 – 37 cents per kWh the Rahims were paying for electricity. When they ran the air conditioning, their bills could climb to $280 a month.

 

Solar quickly became popular in Hawaii. In 2011 and 2012, Shahed says, “Vendors were popping up left and right.”

 

So he and his wife decided that with the $5,000 Hawaii rebate and the 30% federal tax credit, solar would be a good investment. Buying made more sense for them than leasing, because they could afford it and would save more in the long run.

 

While both Shahed and his wife care about being green, the environmental aspect was more attractive to her, while he was more focused on the cost.

 

First steps

 

The Rahims started talking to solar providers, whom they identified primarily through referrals from friends and co-workers.

 

What didn’t concern them so much? The size of the company, or the technology (which seemed fairly standard). What did they care about? How the company addressed their concerns, the company’s qualifications, warranties, and service plans, and whether they had an electrician on staff or outsourced their sales and technical work.

 

Of course, price was also important. After talking to a number of companies, they met with five and got quotes from those. Finally, they picked a vendor they felt comfortable with.

 

At the time, Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) would allow up to 10 kW for a residential system. Shahed and his wife calculated what they would need and added a bit to accommodate a potential electric car in their future. She also had a growing family in mind.

 

Even with the extra they allotted, their planned system came in well under the limit, at 4.7 kW.

 

Roadblocks

 

Here’s where the Rahims’ story gets interesting. No sooner had they picked their vendor and started the process than the Hawaii tax office announced a policy change. In 2012, they gave a credit of 35% or $5000, whichever was less, for each solar system installed. Because of that, many homeowners were dividing their installations into two systems, to get two credits.

 

The state had not anticipated how popular solar would get, and they felt that people were abusing this “loophole.” So they changed the rules. Now, any installation up to 5 kW would be considered one system.

 

Because the change would take effect in 2013, solar companies in the state suddenly found themselves inundated with clients who wanted to install their systems under the old rules. The Rahims’ vendor couldn’t keep up. They had to move the installation to 2013, which meant the Rahims would lose the extra credit they could have received in 2012, when their installation of 22 panels would have been considered two systems. But the vendor offered them a discount, and the installation was planned for mid-January.

 

It doesn’t end there. On the day of the install, Shahed got a call from the vendor. It seemed that the main conduit coming to their house was not sufficient to accommodate an air conditioner; it had to be upgraded from a 100-amp line to a 200-amp line to meet the current building code. In the solar frenzy of late 2012, this detail had been missed. The installation couldn’t move forward after all, and the contract was terminated.

 

 

A permitting saga ensued, involving Kafkaesque dealings with permitting offices and electricians. It took some time and some money, but by now, Sahed was determined to go solar.

 

 

 

The solution came in the form of Darryl Awai — owner of a small company, DCA Mechanical, which did both this type of electrical work and solar installations. Still, it was September 1 before the Rahims were able to sign a new contract for solar.

 

 

before

Placing the new conduit

 

Their saga was not over yet. On September 6, HECO announced a halt to solar installations. They needed to study the effects of so much distributed solar going into the grid.

 

Shahed was not happy about this turn of events. “I was in a waiting game again,” he said.

 

However, the Rahims were in luck. Since they had already been approved and the correct procedures were followed, and they were now just changing the vendor, HECO allowed the installation to go forward.  

 

Going solar — finally

 

In November 2013, the Rahims finally got their solar system. The 4.7 kW system uses Samsung panels and Enphase microinverters, which Shahed says are common in Hawaii.

 

front

Solar on the roof!

 

Shahed’s concerns about roof penetration had been allayed by seeing other people go solar and understanding more about the installation process, as well as by the guarantees offered. Just in case, he took a day off work to watch the contractor. And the system had a good test right after the installation, when a heavy rain resulted in no leaks.

 

Was it worth it? The Rahims think so. They’re saving at least $200 a month and expect to break even in 5 – 7 years.

 

Shahed monitors the family’s power use. Going solar, he says, has made them more conscientious, with the result that they are now net zero, producing more than they use.

 

It may have been a long, bumpy road to get there, but solar power is paying off for the Rahims.