Clean Energy To Power 25% Of Oahu?

The road to Hawaii’s clean energy goals seems to be as long and winding as Maui’s famed “Road to Hana”. We’ve been keeping an eye on the Aloha State’s progress toward the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s (HCEI) ambitious goal to source 70% of their electrical and transportation needs from renewable energy by 2030 for the last year or so and it’s been a little slow going. 5 megawatts (MW) here, 2.5 MW there, mostly  from smaller scale implementations of solar and wind energy sources with some occasional input from ocean wave energy and geothermal energy potential.

A study recently released by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa suggests that wind and solar energy could supply 25% of Oahu’s electricity demands, showcasing the need perhaps for some clean energy solution that generates more than just a few megawatts at a time. The study was conducted by the University’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), GE Power and the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) to look at what the effect 500 MW of solar and 100 MW of wind power would have on Oahu’s grid.

Island Wind Turbines

image via National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The results showed that power levels along those lines could  eliminate the need to burn approximately 2.8 million barrels of low sulfur fuel oil and 132,000 tons of coal each year, but came with a laundry list of stipulations that included a lot more study into the baseline power needs of the island, energy reserve storage methods and weather monitoring systems that would to keep power stable during wide swings in wind and sun availability. It’s good news, sure, but we’re talking about just 25% of one islands power needs. It’s still a relative drop in the bucket compared to the HCEI’s goal of 70%.

Since the Hawaiian Islands are best known for their sunny and perpetually warm weather, one might be surprised to learn that getting a renewable energy infrastructure set up is presenting such a challenge. Consider, however, that real estate in the Hawaiian Islands is at a premium. What land isn’t already commercially developed won’t come easily to any building project, solar, wind or otherwise. It’s a tough situation that Hawaii Electric VP Robbie Alm seems very aware of: “To reach our renewable energy goals we need to use all the resources available to us. For O’ahu, this includes the utility-scale solar, roof-top solar, waste-to-energy and on-island wind that we are pursuing. But on-island resources are not enough to meet Oʻahu’s power needs.”

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