At a time when Hawaii's solar industry is facing a severe downturn, a potential breakthrough is being developed in affordable solar battery storage.
Electric car maker Tesla last week announced a new home battery that has nearly double its previous model's capacity. And with a $5,500 pricetag, it's attractive for Hawaii solar customers. Many expect competitors to follow suit.
"The price of storage is plummeting. We already have competitors in the industry guaranteeing up to about 40 percent savings over buying power from the utility," said Robert Harris, spokesman for the Alliance for Solar Choice.
According to Hawaiian Electric Co., about 230 customers have applied for solar hook up using battery storage. That's up from 50 in early October.
It's good news for an industry facing a major slowdown.
Since the 2012 peak, the value of solar permits has plunged from a $754 million to $570 million. This year, they're projected at $408 million.
"It's the beginning of what I would call major casualties in the solar electric industry with more companies to fold their tents," said Marcos Mangelsdorf, president of ProVision Solar.
Added Harris: "Reports have shown that approximately 25 percent of the employees in the solar industry have been let go," he said.
Last year, the state stopped its lucrative rooftop solar program. which allowed consumers to sell excess electricity back to the grid at retail prices. The state then created a replacement program, which capped the amount of electricity that could be re-sold.
But now that those caps have been hit, battery storage is the only viable option for consumers.