The year-round sun, brisk tradewinds and active volcanoes that made Hawaii a world-class visitor destination are helping to transform the islands into a global incubator for one of the fastest growing industries: clean energy.
Wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, ocean thermal, waste-to-energy and other green projects make up a mix of more than 80 utility-scale renewable projects that are either operating in Hawaii today or are in the process of being developed in the islands.
Combined, these projects would generate more than 1,000 megawatts of energy, or nearly 40 percent of the amount of electricity that’s being produced in the islands today.
As the most geographically isolated state in the U.S., Hawaii still imports more than 90 percent of its fuel, costing local consumers, businesses and government agencies more than $4 billion a year.
That’s why the state has set one of the world’s most aggressive clean energy goals in the world. By the year 2030, Hawaii aims to become 70 percent independent of fossil fuels.
This bold target not only will help protect the environment and bolster the state’s energy security, it’s also good for business. New investments from companies around the globe are helping to create opportunities for local employees, companies and entrepreneurs.
On a per capita basis, Hawaii currently ranks among the nation’s top three states for green job growth and is second in the nation for solar photovoltaic penetration.
The state is also No. 1 in the U.S for performance contracting and availability of electric vehicle charging stations.
Hawaii As A Smart Grid Testbed
Integrating all of these new green projects to Hawaii’s half a million residential customers and businesses will be the job of new smart grid and other cutting-edge clean technologies.
Thanks to key partnerships with countries like Japan and Korea, the U.S. military and Fortune 500 companies, Hawaii is emerging as a leading testbed for advanced smart grid technologies.
In November, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a memorandum of understanding with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization to develop a $37 million smart grid demonstration project on the island of Maui.
The test project, which will be operational by next year, will be developed by private companies and research organizations such as Hitachi Ltd., Mizuho Corporate Bank, Hawaiian Electric Co., the Cyber Defense Institute Inc. and the University of Hawaii.
Hawaii is working on a similar deal with the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy and private sector partners to develop a smart grid research and demonstration project in Hawaii.
These smart grid test projects will not only help utilities integrate the large influx of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar that will come online in the coming years but it allow them to better meet new sources of demand such as plug-in electric vehicles.
Hawaii Growing EV Market
Last year, Nissan, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi made Hawaii one of the first locations to introduce new EV models. Toyota Motor Co. also plans to launch its Plug-in Prius models at its Hawaii car dealerships later this year.
Partnerships with global pioneers in the EV space such as Better Place and AeroVironment have made Hawaii the nation’s leader for EV charging station availability.
By the end of August 2012, the state will have more than 250 charging outlets on the island of Oahu and the Neighbor Islands, or about one charging outlet for every 5,500 residents. Oregon, which has the next highest ratio, has one charger for every 10,000 residents.
These are just the type of clean tech innovations that are helping to place Hawaii in the forefront of the clean tech revolution and will provide an economic spark to the islands in the coming years.
Mark Gllick is the Energy Administator for Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.