Exploring Renewable Energy Resources in Hawaii: Possibilities and Challenges

Discover how Hawaii is taking concrete steps towards supporting renewable energies such as wind & sun power & how local communities are investing in sustainable agriculture & clean energies.

Exploring Renewable Energy Resources in Hawaii: Possibilities and Challenges

The Hawaiian Islands are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, such as wind, sun, running water, bioenergy, and geothermal energy, that can be used to generate power. In the 21st century, Hawaii has taken concrete steps to support renewable energy. For instance, HB 3179 made it easier for biofuel producers to lease state land. SB 3190 and HB 2168 authorized special-purpose income bonds to finance a solar energy installation on Oahu and hydrogen generation and conversion facilities at the Hawaii Authority's Natural Energy Laboratory on the island of Hawaii.

SB 988 allowed the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to establish a reimbursement for photovoltaic systems, while HB 2550 encouraged net metering for residential and small commercial customers. The state has partnered with the United States Department of Energy (EERE), Hawaiian Electric Company, and Phoenix Motorcars to promote renewable energy. The Hawaii Authority's Natural Energy Laboratory is a test site for experimental renewable energy. It was originally built to test ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and later became a commercial industrial park.

This park includes desalination of drinking water for export, aquaculture, biofuel from algae, solar thermal solar energy, and concentrated wind energy. Cellana produces oil from algae at a 2.5-hectare (6.2-acre) research site in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii. Cellana (formerly HR BioPetroleum) worked with Royal Dutch Shell on a pilot facility to grow algae on land leased by the Hawaii Authority's Natural Energy Laboratory on the west coast of the island. Batteries that store excess renewable energy and are discharged when that energy is unavailable extend utility and improve the predictable availability of renewable sources. The founders of Pacific Biodiesel, Bob and Kelly King, grow sunflowers and other crops on their Maui farm. This community model of sustainable agriculture, renewable fuels, and food is helping Hawaii achieve a future with clean energy.

The coal industry has been declining as other energy sources become more affordable; now that the last shipment of coal has been delivered to the island, the state is closer to its renewable energy goals. Hydrogen production can be programmed to take advantage of excess renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted (reduced). Likewise, hydrogen can be used to produce electricity when needed. The state and several private companies are carrying out renewable energy projects, and residential solar energy is supplying more and more energy to the state. Ninety-nine percent of Hawaii's population (outside of Kauai) receives supplies from Hawaiian Electric Industries (HECO). In many cases, including the Western Kauaʻi energy project being carried out in Kauaʻi, solar energy is used to pump water “upstream” from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir, making these facilities 100% renewable. Unfortunately, Hawaii suffers from some of the highest energy costs in the country and a serious lack of energy independence.

To address this issue, solar water heaters are required for new homes in most areas; however, homes that use other renewable energy sources or gas water heaters on demand are exempt from this requirement. Hawaii faces some unique obstacles when it comes to maintaining its power grid. Some generate energy for on-site use (such as in residential, commercial, and other buildings) in systems known as distributed energy resources. Other (larger) systems generate energy that is supplied directly to electrical companies to power the grid. Hawaii has several biomass power plants, including the 10 MW Honolulu International Airport emergency power plant; the 6.7 MW green energy agricultural biomass conversion plant on Kauai; and the 6.6 MW Honua waste power project on Oahu. In general, geothermal heat is less accessible as one moves up the island chain; however, certain areas of these islands show probabilities of geothermal resources that may make electricity generation plausible. The debate over offshore wind energy has focused on projects related to Oahu due to its large population, high electricity use, and limited land space for renewable energy development. In order to meet its ambitious goals for renewable energy production in Hawaii, it is essential that all stakeholders work together towards a common goal.

This includes government agencies such as EERE and HECO as well as private companies such as Cellana and Pacific Biodiesel. It also requires collaboration between local communities who are willing to invest in renewable technologies such as solar water heaters or distributed energy resources. In addition to collaboration between stakeholders, it is also important for Hawaii to invest in research and development into new technologies that can help increase its reliance on renewable sources of power. This includes exploring new ways of storing excess renewable energy or developing more efficient ways of producing hydrogen fuel from renewable sources. Finally, it is essential that Hawaii continues its efforts towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels by encouraging more widespread adoption of renewable technologies such as solar water heaters or distributed energy resources. By taking these steps towards increasing its reliance on renewable sources of power, Hawaii can become an example for other states looking to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels while still providing reliable electricity for their citizens.

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