Hawaii’s 100% Renewable Ambition

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Governor David Ige of Hawaii has a vision for renewable energy to be as significant for the State’s economy as tourism. He believes that, as well as being a force for environmental good, a robust alternative energy industry can reduce and ultimately eliminate Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, keep funds in state and create new employment opportunities. Dominic Hale spoke to him about his administration’s energy plan for the State that sees it having committed to a 100% RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) target by 2045.  

David Ige is clearly keen to talk of the extent to which the 100% target has acted to galvanise public opinion and collaborative action across Hawaii, and of the fact that this call to arms has been embraced by virtually every segment of the Hawaiian community, inspired perhaps by Hawaii being the first State in the United States to pass the legislation establishing an RPS Standard. He points to the tremendous progress made over the last five years and of the 100% commitment being a reflection of confidence in the technologies and capabilities available to realise that goal. Moreover, the trajectory appears to be resistant to the current low price of oil with Ige explaining that, assisted by Federal and State tax credits, “for the first time we have responses back to renewable projects bid submissions that are coming in below the avoided costs of oil projects.”

A robust alternative energy industry can reduce and ultimately eliminate Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, keep funds in state and create new employment opportunities.

As to whether the initiative can be replicated elsewhere, or whether the conditions prevalent upon Hawaii mean it is uniquely suited to gaining traction in pursuit of the 100% goal, the Governor recognises that island communities in general are definitely more aware of climate change and sea level rise and their impacts, and that these will inevitably act as key drivers of change. In Hawaii’s case, this saw the establishment of a climate change inter-agency task force to determine where the greatest impacts will be, as well as the appointment of a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator to identify policies around the likes of energy and food production that could help bring about more sustainable communities.

To what extent though does this island solidarity hold up when it comes to Hawaii sharing knowledge, achievements and best practice in respect of clean energy with larger jurisdictions to help them overcome their own barriers to eliminating fossil fuels, given that such activity potentially risks undermining Hawaii’s pre-eminent global clean energy test bed status?

On this point, however, Ige sees nothing inconsistent between collaboration and competition. A willingness to share what’s been learned with the rest of the world is evidenced in his having given explicit invitations to businesses and government organisations from the likes of China, Japan and Korea to participate in Hawaii’s commitment to 100% renewable, tapping into a mutual recognition that moving away from fossil fuels is an agenda-topping issue. Moreover, while pre-eminence can, in David Ige’s opinion, be maintained by continuing to be successful in executing the various projects and programmes it has on the go and in the pipeline, there is at the same time, he says, “significant interest in partnership and investment that will allow us to learn more about how to better manage energy systems, smart grid, distributed generation in a much broader way than has been implemented in any other utility situation.”

Regarding Hawaii’s relationship with the wider United States, Governor Ige points to a different set of prevailing forces on the mainland, meaning that what works in Hawaii may not necessarily be applicable there. This is principally due, he says to the interconnectedness of the National Grid and total energy demand, meaning that renewable penetration has not matched that seen on Hawaii, which like many other island states and communities is on an independent grid. This has led to significant knowledge accrual on how to manage the grid in a way that ensures reliability and maximises opportunity with renewables.

Given the degree to which the concept of renewables is being taken to heart in Hawaii – 23% penetration at the last count – one could forgive Governor Ige if he felt that 100% RPS was a done deal. Yet, he is far from sanguine, and acknowledges the many challenges which lie ahead if such a future is to become reality within the specified time frame.

One of the fundamental questions for Hawaii’s chief executive is whether a traditional utility can truly embrace this different model demanded by the 100% RPS commitment.

One of the fundamental questions for Hawaii’s chief executive is whether a traditional utility can truly embrace this different model demanded by the 100% RPS commitment that sees “no fossil fuels and a commitment to distributed generation where the utility doesn’t own generation, transmission and distribution, and is maybe focused on distribution and transmission only.”

This move to a model predicated on distributed generation, where other energy providers provide much of the renewable energy must contend with an incumbent currently able to dictate the pace of that implementation, because of the requirement that the energy producers and providers interconnect into the utility grid. The result is that Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission is now getting a lot more aggressive, as part of a wider thrust to remove impediments that may otherwise act to slow the shift to clean energy solutions.

David Ige references the base load requirement as another key challenge, acknowledging the need for a committed energy source that allows electricity to be generated when needed, without being subject to the availability of the sometimes fickle natural resource. To that end, he talks of his strong support for biodiesel to be a part of that equation, until such time some other system allows for the storage and regeneration of energy on demand, while also waxing lyrical about pumped hydro solutions for their potential on that front. In addition, the Governor is keen to explore the merits of utility scale battery storage systems, some of which in California are at more than 100MW, offering the sort of scale Hawaii would need to see for it to have significant impact. In the Governor’s view, “battery storage would be the most responsive, easiest and quickest response to an unexpected demand or drop in solar or wind energy, for example.”

As to getting detractors and naysayers on side, Ige sees such support for 100% renewable, that there is now even talk within the State Legislature of bringing the goal date of 2045 forward, against a backdrop of lower costs for many of the relevant technologies.

Ige sees such support for 100% renewable, that there is now even talk within the State Legislature of bringing the goal date of 2045 forward

The result of such consensus and reduction in costs, alongside penetration to date having exceeded expectation, has been to to reinforce the Governor’s conviction that introducing bridging fuels such as LNG to save energy and dollars in the short term is unnecessary and would represent the wrong policy call. As he sees it, “LNG is a fossil fuel, and although it may save some money it’ll require significant investment in both capital, as well as resource in the permitting and approval process.”

The commitment to renewables extends across the island state. The US Department of Defence, a cornerstone of the Hawaiian economy, has, for example, invested in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as part of their quest to create a zero carbon footprint in their Hawaiian operations. This, in turn, has led the Ige administration to look closely at what part of the State fleet can be moved to zero emissions, with the Governor citing his opportunity to test-drive a Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle as a personal highlight.

For now then, Hawaii appears to be inexorably moving towards 100% renewable, and there’s no doubting who’s in the driving seat.

 

For more information on Governor Ige’s action plan for energy click here.