Can Hawaii Become “Renewables Only” by 2045?
In May of 2015, the Hawaii State Energy Office announced its bold ambition: that the sunny archipelago state would generate all of its energy using renewable sources by the year 2045.
Hawaii’s warm, sunny climate and mountainous terrain make it one of the world’s best locations for renewable energy. The state has one of the highest rates of solar electricity usage in the world due to its sunny year-round climate.
It’s also starved of fossil fuels. Unlike many of the other countries switching over to renewable energy, Hawaii has no fossil fuel reserves of its own and is dependent on the delivery of fuels such as oil and gas from the Continental United States.
As of 2015, more than 90% of the state’s energy is imported. Hawaii’s ambitious but plausible plan to generate all of its energy from renewable sources is a great deal of work, but one that could have significant benefits for the state.
Hawaii was the first states in the USA to achieve grid parity with solar photovoltaic electricity. It’s since invested heavily in solar energy technology, largely due to low costs and extremely rapid payback periods.
In contrast to the UK, where it can take between seven and nine years to pay back a solar panel system’s cost, most solar panel systems installed in Hawaii recoup their cost in just four years.
Currently, 21% of the state’s electricity is generated using renewable technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels. New investments could help Hawaii reach its short-term target of 30% renewable energy generation by 2020.
One new development is a demonstration project by Japanese industrial company Hitachi. The engineering conglomerate aims to demonstrate that the use of smart grid technology can increase Hawaii’s production of renewable energy.
Hawaii’s goals are ambitious, but it’s not the first territory to aim for total usage of renewables. Costa Rica recently went 75 days using only renewable energy and is aiming for 95% usage of renewable energy this year.
Like Hawaii, Costa Rica has mountainous terrain that allows it to take advantage of wind turbines. It also has a unique advantage: more than 80% of its energy comes from hydroelectric turbines built on many of the country’s steep rivers.
While Costa Rica’s situation is unique, it shows that tropical regions such as Hawaii can achieve renewable energy targets that many of the world’s temperate countries view as unachievable or overly ambitious.
Despite this, many residents of Hawaii are uncertain about the state’s plan to source all of its energy from renewable sources.
Anthony Kuh, the director of the University of Hawaii at Manoa‘s Renewable Energy and Island Sustainability Center, states that the target is doable, but wonders “how is it going to be done exactly? That’s the big question. It’s very hard to say.”
Doubts aside, the government is pressing ahead with plans to generate as much of its energy from renewables as possible. Recently, four solar farms were approved for development on Oahu, with a collective capacity of 137.2 megawatts.
The approval is one step towards the state achieving its targets. With 30 years to get there, the governor’s office is confident that it can achieve its goals. Representative Jodi Leong stated that the government “does have some time to do this.”