After Oil

There’s a lot of talk about making Hawaii “energy independent” by kicking our imported oil habit. State government has set a deadline of 2020 for utilities to generate at least 20 percent of their power from sources other than oil. But what could we use to power our grid? Here, we explore the alternative energy sources now being pursued in the Islands.


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Photo courtesy of UPC Hawaii Wind Partners

Farming the wind on Maui.




A windmill with current technology is one of the cheapest ways to make electricity, with the obvious caveat that you won’t get power when the wind’s not blowing.

Over the next dozen years, big wind farms are likely to be present on most islands, some of which will dwarf the ones now in place. Currently, the state’s largest is the Kaheawa plant on Maui at 30 megawatts, but Castle & Cooke Resorts on Lanai  and UPC Wind on Molokai are each proposing wind farms in the 300-megawatt range, with the power proposed to go by undersea cable to Oahu.

Among other planned whirlyfarms are a 30-megawatt wind farm at Kahuku on Oahu, a 12-megawatt wind farm at Moloaa on Kauai, a 21-megawatt expansion of the Kaheawa wind facility and a 20-megawatt cluster of wind generators at Ulupalakua Ranch, also on Maui.





Solar photovoltaic power is traditionally generated by blue-hued rectangular panels bolted to remote home rooftops, to civil defense sirens, and to the cabin tops of sailboats. It has the reputation of being too expensive for day-to-day use where the electrical grid is accessible.

But get used to the look. With current tax breaks and dropping solar panel prices, solar photovoltaic power generation systems are today cost-effective in many applications, and numerous small businesses are outfitting their roofs with solar panels.

Hawaii’s biggest solar commitment to date is coming from the state government, which in January announced plans to put 34 megawatts of solar panels at 12 of its
facilities, including airports, harbors, highways buildings and the Hawaii Foreign-Trade Zone in downtown Honolulu.

In late January, James Campbell Co. and Hoku Solar Inc. announced plans for their Kapolei Sustainable Energy Park, a solar farm that would generate 1.5 megawatts, possibly as soon as the end of  this year.

As an indication of its own commitment to photovoltaics, Hawaiian Electric has signed up to put a 167-kilowatt array on its Ward Avenue building.

Photo Courtesy of Puna Geothermal Venture

Tapping geothermal energy on the Big Island.




Geothermal power is producing 30 megawatts of firm power on the Big Island, and the Puna Geothermal Venture has permits to pump that up to 60 megawatts. But the Big Island, with the recent construction of a fossil fuel plant outside Kona, doesn’t yet need it.

“[Additional] geothermal is not anticipated being needed until 2015 to 2017,” says Mike Kaleikini, plant manager.

Geothermal provides power that is not intermittent like wind and solar, and the island has plenty of room for expansion of geothermal in the future, he said.

The only other island with geothermal potential—rocks hot enough and shallow enough to provide the steam a geothermal plant needs—is Maui, but there are no plans currently to tap it, Kaleikini said.


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