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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Hawai'i's Clean Energy Push: A Model for the Mainland?

  • Hawai'i replaced its last coal plant with a massive battery, a significant step towards its 100% clean energy goal.
  • The state boasts high numbers of rooftop solar panels and electric vehicle sales, outpacing mainland statistics.
  • Challenges remain in managing the energy grid and ensuring stability, as evidenced by recent blackouts on the Big Island.
Renewables

A massive clean energy experiment is taking place in Hawai’i. It’s not that they are doing anything radically different in terms of renewable energy deployment, they’re just doing far more of it per capita than any other U.S. state. Hawai’i is not only setting aggressive renewable energy expansion plans, it’s also meeting them, making the state and its electric grids into a sort of pilot project for the rest of the country. 

State law mandates that Hawai’i will be powered by 100% clean energy by 2045, just 21 years from now. And if history is any indication, Hawai’i will achieve that goal with flying colors. The Aloha State pledged to be “Coal free by ’23,” and they shut down their last coal plant on September 1, 2022. This year, they replaced that last coal plan with an enormous battery

“These kinds of grid-scale energy storage systems are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. and are crucial to shifting to ever-higher percentages of wind and solar power,” USA Today recently reported before adding, “But Hawaii is in a class by itself.” The 185-megawatt battery outside of Honolulu known as the Kapolei Energy Storage facility “is larger as a percentage of the electricity system than any other battery in the world,” said Colton Ching, senior vice president of planning and technology for the state’s largest electric utility Hawaiian Electric. The lithium iron phosphate batteries in question can hold 565 megawatt hours of energy. That’s enough to supply electricity to nearly a fifth of the island of Oahu (the most populous Hawaiian island) for a three-hour stint at peak load or six hours at half load. 

In addition to these major advances, one in three Hawaiians have rooftop solar panels, and 15% of new car sales are electric vehicles, lightyears ahead of the mainland. In 2020, 3.7% of single-family homes in the entire U.S. generated electricity from solar panels – and that figure includes a little boost from Hawaii’s freakishly high numbers. Same goes for the data that indicates that 9% of new cars sold in the U.S. in 2023 were electric. 

Of course, the conditions in Hawai’i are very different from the rest of the United States. While conditions are extremely favorable for solar and wind power production thanks to the island’s sunny skies and sea breezes, the state has absolutely zero fossil fuel reserves. Instead, nearly 80% of the island’s energy comes from an oil supertanker that visits the Honolulu port every 10 days. This makes Hawai’i’s energy extremely expensive – and extremely vulnerable. 

“We’re one supertanker away from becoming Amish,” Jeff Mikulina, director of the Hawaii Climate Coalition and a board member of the Blue Planet Foundation, was quoted by USA Today. “We have a 25-day oil supply in storage.”

This makes renewable energy a relatively easy sell in the state. Struggling under the weight of sky-high energy bills, rooftop solar panel installation is a no-brainer for many Hawaiians. And the EV anxiety experienced by the rest of the country? No one is particularly concerned about long battery ranges on an island. Plus, prices at the pump in Hawai’i are more punishing than most. 

But it’s not all aloha. As more and more Hawaiians become producer-consumers, regulating the energy grid gets a whole lot more complicated. Managing inflows and outflows of energy to keep a stable energy grid and avoid rolling blackouts is paramount. And it isn’t easy. Hawai’i has had great success with programs incentivising producers to send energy to the grid when demand is high, but that program is about to end and the future is uncertain. And while the island has made great strides in renewable energy deployment and storage, its not without its issues. Look no further than Tuesday’s rolling blackouts on the Big Island resulting from wind turbines tripping offline.  

In this way, Hawai’i truly is a guinea pig for complete renewable overhaul. Such a sweeping transition is guaranteed to have its hiccups, but the mainland has much to learn from the challenges, solutions, and innovations being showcased in the 50th state. 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Andrew Rosenberg on January 31 2024 said:
    We (the People of Hawaii) suffer from high energy costs, one of the worst state governments in the country and blackouts. Add in the Lahaina Fire which which was NOT about climate change and all about horrible utility management/incredible government incompetence. In no way are we an example to the mainland. Guinea Pig, perhaps, but that's not a good thing in slaughter house or science lab - our community will continue to suffer the consequences of inept leadership that's covered up in virtue signaling..

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