Aloha, Clean Energy

Hawaii is one of the world’s premier travel destinations. However, if visitors look beyond the views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, palm trees and the blue Pacific, they’ll see a renewable energy transformation under way that could be a model for others around the world.

Imported fossil fuel, mostly oil, supplies 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy for transportation and electricity – the highest in the United States. Skyrocketing and volatile oil prices have impacted the cost of electricity. Clearly, Hawaii’s dependence on oil, which powered these islands for nearly a century, is unsustainable.

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is part of a broad public-private partnership to develop a clean energy future for these islands. Our partners include Hawaii’s people, the state and federal governments and the business and academic communities. Virtually everyone in Hawaii has a stake in our efforts and a voice in our course forward. The goal: reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuel, lower and stabilize electricity bills for our customers, and protect our environment.

Whether it’s using “green” biofuels to produce power, leading the drive to adopt electric vehicles, drilling for more geothermal energy, integrating more solar and wind power, or testing the latest smart-grid advances, HECO and its subsidiaries are developing a broad portfolio of solutions to create a clean energy future for Hawaii.

What makes this more than a local “good news” story is that Hawaii is a perfect laboratory for developing new renewable energy technologies and the grid modernization needed to make them all work together.

Although it may not yet be apparent to everyone, our portfolio of renewables is growing. In 2010, the Solar Electric Power Association ranked HECO third in the United States for growth in solar power. Hawaii has more solar watts per customer than all but a few U.S. states.

Wind farms provide power on our three largest islands and additional projects are in the pipeline. To add even more wind power, we are working with industry partners on advanced batteries, integration systems and even new ways to predict changes in wind strength.

Thanks to collaborative efforts by both the public and private sectors to replace “black” fossil fuels with “green” biofuels, we hope to boost local agriculture, create sustainable jobs and cut dependence on oil. HECO’s biodiesel-powered generating station on Oahu features the first utility-scale combustion turbine operating entirely on biodiesel, a major step toward expanding the biofuel industry in Hawaii.

We are also tapping into the power of Hawaii’s volcanic “hot spot.” Geothermal energy provides about 17 percent of the electricity on Hawaii Island, and we are collaborating with local communities, renewable energy developers and others to determine how best to expand geothermal development.

Our efforts to help electrify transportation will also cut the use of oil and increase renewables. To encourage adoption of electric vehicles, we have developed discounted overnight charging rates, and we’re working with EV manufacturers and service equipment suppliers to pave the way for broader adoption of EVs in Hawaii.

With small island grids, Hawaii’s geographic conditions closely mirror many other parts of the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) chose to collaborate with HECO on three projects to test smart grid technologies on Maui, providing a combined total of $51 million in financing.

Simply put, if clean energy technology can be made to work on our small independent grids in Hawaii, it can work anywhere. Solutions developed and tested in Hawaii will feature the most advanced technology, implemented and constructed in ways that are environmentally and culturally sensitive.

Richard M. Rosenblum has been Hawaiian Electric president and chief executive officer since January 2009. Before that, he was senior vice president of generation and chief nuclear officer for Southern California Edison, where he worked for 32 years. Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries serve more than 400,000 residential and commercial customers on five islands, which are home to 95 percent of Hawaii’s population.

Image: Galyna Andrushko via Shutterstock

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