In September 2013, Hawaiian Electric Co. told thousands of customers they couldn’t connect their new solar panels to its distribution grid. In some neighborhoods, HECO said, its system couldn’t absorb any more unused energy from home solar arrays. The moratorium, which lasted 13 months, made Hawaii a central battleground in the effort by utilities to control the rapid growth of independent solar companies across the U.S. And it was a big deal to people such as Robert Gould, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot living near Honolulu. He’d just paid $53,000 to have solar panels installed.
Gould and other customers protested loudly to state officials. They finally got help from Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity. The San Mateo, California, company is the biggest installer of rooftop solar panels in the U.S. and has 10,000 Hawaiian customers, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its May issue. Rive studied the situation and zeroed in on a key fact: HECO had never directly measured how much solar its grid could handle, relying on computer simulations instead. “Because the technology is brand-new, no one had ever done this in the field before,” says Colton Ching, HECO’s vice president for energy delivery.