Darkening Skies Over Hawaii Solar Industry

Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat

Even before the spectacular fall of Hoku Corp. and its ambitious plans to become a major player in both polysilicon manufacturing and the solar electric design and build business, a growing darkness has been gathering over one of the few local construction trades that has been thriving this past handful of years.

After phenomenal, white-hot growth, Oahu’s solar electric industry is slowing down, leading to a growing sense of anxiety, if not panic, among many of the island’s PV companies. Witness the bribes and gimmicks that are being peddled in an effort to make sales: offers of $4,000 off, $2,000 cash back, vacation for two to Las Vegas, a new air conditioning system, “get free solar,” buy 20 solar panels and get five for free, 15,000 Hawaiian Air miles and “fewer pukas.” (Remember that there is no “s” to denote a plural quantity in the Hawaiian language.)

And despite efforts by some in the industry to pitch it to the contrary (e.g., "We're expecting sales to increase throughout the remainder of the year”), the second half of 2013 will not be anything close to the monumental ride of last year’s third and fourth quarters. As the pie likely continues to contract July-December, usually the busiest time for PV integrators, these bells and whistles are going to be getting even louder and more desperate sounding.

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