The Green Leaf

Solar-powered Rainbow

November 10th, 2014
Rainbow Drive-In installed a solar PV system that should shave 60 percent off its electricity bill once it's up and running. The solar array extends over beams that create shaded parking. Photo by Nina Wu.

Rainbow Drive-In installed a solar PV system that should shave 60 percent off its electricity bill once it's up and running. The solar array extends over beams — a solar canopy — that also offers shaded parking. Photo by Nina Wu.

Rainbow Drive-In, a longtime favorite in Kapahulu, has gone solar.

You may have actually parked  beneath the solar canopy, which provides shaded parking while supporting photovoltaic panels. While the 56.1-kilowatt system installed by Kama‘aina Solar Solutions hasn't been activated yet, it's expected to save the favorite plate lunch spot about 60 percent on its monthly electricity bill once it is.

And that's no small bill, at an average of $5,500 a month, according to owner and vice president Jim Gusukuma.

So the neon rainbow, fridges and other appliances at Rainbow Drive-In will all be solar-powered. Loco moco and milkshakes powered by sunshine-generated power in sunny Kapahulu – that's pretty cool.

Since there wasn't enough rooftop space for all 184 panels, Kama‘aina created the solar canopy. The canopy created shade for a few additional tables for the drive-in plus covered parking. It's a brilliant design idea, plus it qualifies for the 30 percent federal solar tax credit.

It's a smart move for the small, family-run business founded by Seiji Ifuku in 1961. Back then, you could get 50-cent chili with rice plate, 25-cent hamburgers and 14-cent French fries. Today, Rainbow Drive-In is one of the few places you can still get a hearty plate lunch for under $10.

The Rain Bowls (clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless Rain Bowls, clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless fried chicken, chili frank, and teri beef, are photographed inside the Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens store (Sun, Sept. 14 photo, Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino).

The Rain Bowls (clockwise, from top, teri pork, boneless fried chicken, chili frank, and teri beef, are photographed inside the Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens store (Sun, Sept. 14 photo, Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino).

When the landlord offered a 25-year lease, Gusukuma said it allowed the small business to make improvements. Solar was at the top of the list.

The drive-in at 3308 Kanaina Ave., which was featured on Guy Fieri's "Drivers, Dine-ins and Dives"  expanded its offerings earlier this year, as detailed in this Honolulu Pulse post . At Hawaii's Favorite Kitchens next door (3111 Castle St.), you can now get Rainbowls (with brown or white rice), the KC waffle dog, a Poke Stop bowl or pick up some huli huli chicken from Hoku BBQ chicken.

In today's Green Leaf column, Gusukuma (who also drives an electric BMW i3) said: "I think, eventually, solar is the cleanest way to go. If you're able to do it, you have that obligation for the future."

Here's to another 50 years for Rainbow Drive-In, open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

View of the solar canopy at Rainbow Drive-In from underneath. Photos by Nina Wu.

View of the solar canopy at Rainbow Drive-In from underneath. Photo by Nina Wu.

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