LIHUE — Kauai is now home to the largest integrated solar and battery facility in the world.
The 52 MWh Tesla Powerpack plus SolarCity solar farm is the first utility scale solar-plus-battery storage system of its kind and will bring Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s renewable energy generation to more than 40 percent.
“This was such an innovative project, nobody else was doing this when we sat down and started in 2014 with the concept,” said KIUC Chief Executive Officer David Bissell at a blessing held for the solar farm on Wednesday.
KIUC landed on the idea of the solar farm as a way to expand its renewable energy focus according to Jan TenBruggencate, president of the KIUC Board of Directors.
“In 2014 KIUC sought to balance its expanding renewable energy portfolio with dispatchable renewable power generation,” TenBruggencate said. “At the time, there were no large scale solar plus systems in operation anywhere in the United States.”
Solar City and KIUC started conversations about the project over the course of 2015, after initial responses to requests for proposals proved to not be financially feasible.
The result was a 2015 Solar City and KIUC purchase power agreement for a 13-megawatt solar project, coupled with a 52-megawatt power battery system.
Tesla came on board in February 2016 when Solar City selected the company to supply the 52-megawatt power pack lithium ion battery system.
“The beauty of this project is that it allows KIUC to reduce the amount of oil fired power generation needed to meet our peak demand during our nighttime and early morning hours at a negotiated rate of an unheard of 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour,” TenBruggencate said.
It’s the first step of many to come in the realm of solar power and battery storage systems, and experts believe the technology will evolve rapidly over the next few years.
“This is new technology and it’s very exciting,” said JB Straubel, chief technical officer of Tesla.
The concept has the ability to be scaled to fit multiple needs, Straubel said, and could be used in both small and industrial-scale business to have battery storage on site for things like backup power.
“Storage is a challenge for us here in Hawaii,” said Gov. David Ige at Wednesday’s blessing. “ I want to congratulate the residents of Kauai … renewable energy sources are the future and we’re committed to making that happen.”
John Harder, who lives completely off the grid in Anahola, was one of those Kauai residents who attended the solar farm blessing to learn more about the battery storage system.
“I want to see where they’re going with these batteries,” Harder said. “My battery capacity is limited.”
Harder started powering his home with four solar panels in 1970 because his property was about half a mile away from the closest power lines.
“It was better to get off the grid and the way we did it, we did it incrementally,” he said. “Every couple of years we’d buy a few more panels.”
Initially Harder and his wife had only 12-volt lights, a gas stove and solar-heated water.
“We had the luxuries of hot water and a stove, but things like a microwave and appliances came later,” Harder said.
By 1990, Harder had a satellite dish and a TV. And a few years later, he was able to upgrade from a gas-powered refrigerator, to a 22-foot electric fridge.
“We have everything everyone else does, but it is sort of a conservation lifestyle, you think about how much power you’re using,” he said.
Harder is just one of the many people who are either completely generating their own solar power, or who are part of KIUC and together the residents of the island are making international waves in renewable energy.
“From sugar cane fields to fields of solar panels,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. at the blessing. “Kauai is stepping up to the plate and being a leader not only in Hawaii, but in the world.”