Will Hawaii Reach Its 100% Renewable Energy Goal?

Will Hawaii Reach Its 100% Renewable Energy Goal?

The third annual Maui Energy Conference was held on March 16-18 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), the 2016 conference was attended by more than 300 of the brightest minds in the energy sector. Much of the discussions focused on Hawaii’s renewable energy goal of 100 percent by 2045 and how, or whether, the state will reach this goal.


So far, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has reported record-high renewable energy use in 2015 of a combined 23.2 percent for Big Island, Maui County, and Oahu. This represents an increase from 21.3 percent in 2014 and exceeds Hawaii’s 2015 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goal of 15 percent.

The 2015 RPS was achieved with several renewable energy sources, including waste-to-energy, biomass, geothermal, hydro, wind, biofuels and solar, both utility-scale and customer-sited rooftop systems. Hawaii Island blazed the way with 48.7 percent of customer electricity use coming from renewable resources in 2015. Maui County, including Molokai and Lanai, reported 35.4 percent and Oahu produced 17.2 percent of its electricity from renewables.

Future RPS goals are 30 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, 70 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2045. Although Hawaii achieved its 2015 RPS goal with flying colors, the end target of 100 percent by 2045 has some concerned.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative CEO David Bissell estimates that in order for Kauai to be 100 percent renewable with today’s technologies, it would take three times as many rooftop solar systems, battery storage infrastructure and agricultural land for utility-scale photovoltaics and biomass crops. This equates to 5,000 acres and a $1 billion investment, with debt-service payments of up to $70 million.

Kauai is the only island not served by HECO. KIUC has around 35,000 member customers and is already supplying 40 percent of its demand using renewable energy. In January 2016, KIUC hit a milestone when renewables met an average 77 percent of the island’s energy demand and, during peak solar hours, briefly spiked to 90 percent renewable on four separate days. These achievements are credited to the liberal use of solar power and battery storage. On a normal day, the renewable energy profile on Kauai is 62 percent solar power, 8 percent biomass, and 7 percent hydroelectric.

Bissell pointed out that although Kauai, a rural island of 65,000 residents, could reach the state’s goal within the next 30 years, it’s a different story on the island of Oahu, which is home to nearly one million and the bustling capital city of Honolulu.

“The sheer infrastructure and scope that would be required to go to 100 percent on Oahu is really impossible under today’s technology,” Bissell revealed at the Maui Energy Conference. “There’s just not enough land there. It’s got to come from biofuel or other technology or from other islands.”

“No one is going to get to 100 percent without upending the utility model,” encouraged Bill Ritter Jr., former governor of Colorado and founder and current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. “It’s absolutely doable. It’s part of what the future of the world needs to look like.”

Boris von Bormann, CEO of sonnenUSA, believes that Hawaii can meet its 100 percent renewable energy goal through storing solar power, and Haleakala Solar Inc. has partnered with sonnen to make this happen.

“At sonnen, we envision a world where clean and affordable energy for all is available. We’re doing it in Germany now, with our sonnenCommunity of households using sonnenBatterie storage with solar, and we see a pathway to a clean energy future in Hawaii thanks to innovative utility tariffs, market adoption of clean technology and key distribution partnerships with local solar installers and contractors,” stated von Bormann.

HECO representatives voiced their support of the 100 percent goal but stayed firm on their intent to use liquefied natural gas as a bridge fuel to get to a 100 percent renewable future. Hawaii Gov. David Ige does not agree with the use of LNG, believing that investments in LNG infrastructure would be better spent on renewable energy projects.

NextEra Energy, the company that has offered to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries for $4.3 billion, was a major sponsor of the conference, however they did not participate on a panel or have any visible representation at the Maui Energy Conference. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a decision on NextEra’s offer this summer.

“The conference panelists presented many innovative local solutions to bring 100 percent renewable energy to Hawaii in the most efficient way possible, without requiring a Mainland takeover by NextEra,” said Stanley Chang, consultant with Earthjustice.

Because Hawaii is helping to pave the way, the journey to a 100 percent renewable future will not be easy. There will be bumps and roadblocks along the way, complete with differing opinions on the best way to get there. However, it’s safe to agree that, as a renewable energy leader in the country, Hawaii already has so much to be proud of.