Hawaii could save billions by fast-tracking shift to 100% renewables

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Report says Hawaii could reach 100% renewables twice as fast as the current target suggests, and save billions along the way.

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In the transition to renewable energy, the US state of Hawaii is already punching above its weight, with a plan to reach 40 per cent by 2030, and a mandated goal of 100 per cent by 2045.

But a new report from the Rhodium Group and Smart Growth America has found that it would be cheaper and better for the economy of the Aloha State to double down on that trajectory, and shoot for as much as 84 per cent renewables by as early as 2030.

“It’s cheaper to go faster than to stick with our current targets,” said the report’s authors.

The report, commissioned by seed funding NGO Elemental Excelerator, says a target of 58-84 per cent renewables by 2030 could generate up to $US2.9 billion in new investment for Hawaii, $3.8 billion in energy system cost savings and a massive 70 per cent cut in power-sector oil demand.

Even shooting for 100 per cent by 2030 – although this would be more expensive than the 58-84 per cent scenario – would be cheaper than the current energy mix, the report said, under most oil price and renewable energy cost futures.

“The cheapest thing for ratepayers in Hawaii, and the smartest thing for the state’s energy security, and the best thing for the state’s economy, is for the state to go even faster,” said John Larsen, director at Rhodium Group.

Why? As the report’s title – Transcending Oil – suggests, a big chunk of the projected cost savings would come from a 70 per cent cut in oil demand. Hawaii’s electricity system is made up of a series of five isolated island grids that have traditionally burned fuel oil to make electricity.

“Our analysis shows that it is cheaper to use less oil in the electric sector than current policy mandates require through at least 2037,” the report says.

Meanwhile, innovation and scaled deployment of renewables have slashed the cost of solar and wind to the point that they are cheaper than oil in many applications, it says.

And recent clean power purchase agreements prices are lower than the price of conventional power plant fuels (See figure ES.2).

As to the how, the report outlines a number of ways Hawaii could ramp up its renewables ambition. But first, a bit of history.

Having legislated a 100 per cent renewable energy target in 2015 – it is the only US state to have a mandated 100% target – renewable energy now makes up 25 per cent of all the power generated in Hawaii, up from 6 per cent in 2008.

And, after some initial resistance, the state’s utility, Hawaiian Electric, is well and truly on board. Last year it claimed it could reach the 100 per cent target five years ahead of the 2045 deadline.

Nonetheless, there is much work to be done, and much ground to be made up, and the report recommends a number of ways to grease the wheels.

For the electricity sector, one of those would be changing energy market regulations to let utilities profit from cutting oil consumption. Essentially, a price on carbon for the power sector.

It also recommends lifting limits on the rollout of distributed energy – and establishing fair tariffs for rooftop solar – so those technologies can deliver all the system benefits they have the potential to provide.

And of course, the electrification of transportation is also key.

To this end, the report recommends boosting the state’s electric vehicle uptake, despite this also being well ahead of most other American states – Hawaii ranks second in the nation in EVs per capita.

On top of the existing government incentives, and the $US10,000 rebates offered by Hawaiian Electric – and the statewide goal of 100 per cent renewable ground transportation by 2045 – the report recommends adopting California’s ZEV standards to require more EVs be sold in the state by 2025.

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12 Comments
  1. George Darroch 10 months ago

    Given their resources, I’m surprised that wind and geothermal don’t make up a larger share.

    Establishing a fair rooftop tariff would be a trivially easy change with a lot of impact.

    • Joe 10 months ago

      Plenty of ‘Hot Rocks’ in Hawaii to give the geothermal share a tickle up.

    • solarguy 10 months ago

      Yes they do have great a geothermal resource as well as wind. The mind boggles!

      • Calamity_Jean 10 months ago

        Geothermal is a nonstarter in Hawaii for religious reasons. The Native Hawaiians are concerned that geothermal power will offend their primary god, Pele the goddess of volcanoes.

        • Hettie 10 months ago

          I wonder what it would take to convince them that spurning Pele’s gift of clean energy might be more offensive to her than accepting it with gratitude?

          • Mike Shurtleff 10 months ago

            “Big Island” of Hawaii is already using a significant amount of geothermal. This is the newest island which has reached the surface and has the most volcanic activity. Also, “the home of Pele”.
            Another concern is accidental release of toxic volcanic gases.
            All of the Hawaiian Islands, with possible exception of Oahu, can be powered 100% with Solar + Wind + Batteries + Hydro + Pumped Hydro.
            Kauai will be easily over 50% with Solar + Batteries + Hydro + Pumped Hydro by the end of this year.
            The Big Island is already over 50% renewables including their geothermal and bio-gas with the others mentioned (including Wind there).
            I say possible exception of Oahu because I believe the data I have on that is from HECO and they have tried to block Solar and continue to drag their feet.

        • Mike Shurtleff 10 months ago

          “nonstarter” is not correct. Religious and development risk objections is.
          Here is a good link:
          https://energy.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/HSEOFactsFigures_May2017_2.pdf
          page 14
          24.4% of “the Big Island’s” (Hawaii Island) electricity in 2016 was geothermal.
          Only 2.8% at state level.
          They do not need to use it. They have plenty of Solar and Wind and materials for bio-gas and potential for Pumped Hydro Storage.

    • Mike Shurtleff 10 months ago

      “Big Island” of Hawaii is already using a significant amount of geothermal.

  2. Hettie 10 months ago

    Giles, not related to this article, yet relevant to every article, why is it no longer possible to share pieces published in RE to Facebook, Twitter, etc?
    There have been many times in the last few weeks when I would have loved to share items about the NEG, or provide a link in comments on The Conversation, where despite the educational level of most readers, the frustration with the ludicrous politics of electricity production and the high level of interest in power prices, the ignorance of most is encyclopaedic. Oh for some links to support my efforts to enlighten them.
    So many are convinced that renewables are more costly than fossils. Without links, it is very difficult to convince the unwilling.
    Please help!

  3. mick 10 months ago

    “hawaiian electric launches four hour energy storage system”, ie fly wheel,new email set up wont let me share so this is the article title michelle froese dated 13 march 2018 in a wind power development and engineering publication

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