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Hawaii Hurricane Season: How Solar Can Help

What would it be like if Oahu suffered a direct strike from a powerful hurricane? The 2017 Pacific Hurricane Season begins June 1. How many homes might be without power and for how long? What can be done to prepare for and cope with an extended power outage?

How much disruption can hurricanes create in Hawaii?

September 11, 1992. Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 storm, strikes the island of Kauai.

When Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai in 1992, almost 300 miles of power lines were brought down. A month later, only 20% of customers were reconnected to the grid and full coverage was not restored until three months after Iniki’s landfall.

In 2016 Hurricane Matthew, which only grazed Florida’s Atlantic coast, knocked out electricity for over one million customers. Satellite imagery dramatically demonstrates how large of an area can be left in darkness from a strong hurricane.

How ready are utilities to deal with a massive power outage?

Not very, and it isn’t just a Hawaii problem. Over the last thirty years power outages have increased twentyfold, according to researchers. The two main causes are aging infrastructure and the changing environment.

October 6, 2016. Satellite imagery shows power grid fully operational as Hurricane Matthew approaches.

Electrical infrastructure in the United States is 40-60 years old on average, and rising sea levels have left more critical components within the reach of storm surges and flooding, exacerbating the problem.

At the same time, surging ocean temperatures have lead to an increase in the severity of storms. With warmer water as fuel, wind speeds are now stronger, pushing more cyclones into Category 4 and 5 statuses worldwide.

Weather isn’t the only factor. In March 2016 a significant outage on Oahu was caused by a generation shortfall. Hawaiian Electric staged rolling blackouts until demand dropped to tenable levels.

What can be done to prepare?

Traditionally, homeowners have turned to gas-fired generators for backup power in an emergency, but is this a sustainable option for an outage lasting days or weeks?

hurricane Hawaii power outage
October 7, 2016. Hurricane Matthew causes massive power outage affecting more than one million homes. Map of Hawaii is superimposed for scale, demonstrating how large of an area can be knocked offline by a large storm.

Consider that it takes an average of 12-20 gallons of gasoline to run a typical home generator for 24 hours. Will you have enough fuel to last for an extended time? Keep in mind that gas stations will likely be without power also, and rationing might be enforced during an emergency.

A viable and long-term solution is solar power combined with home battery backup. Tesla’s Powerwall in combination with SunPower solar panels can keep you up and running even if the grid is down.

A single Powerwall stores over 13 kWh of energy, enough to power an average two-bedroom home for a day. Adding additional Powerwalls in combination with solar can provide enough energy to endure a protracted outage with minimal impact.

Emergency home battery backup can work on any home, with or without solar, and won’t affect your net metering (NEM) or grid supply status with Hawaiian Electric.

To find out more about this innovative solution, give us a call at 808 744-2274 or contact us here.

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