Region 7: Hawai'i

Having no fossil fuel resources of its own, Hawai’i has been highly reliant on the importation of fossil fuels for its energy needs. However, with its mild tropical climate, Hawai’i had the second lowest per capita energy use in the US in 2010. The majority of Hawai’i’s energy demand in 2010 was for transportation, due in large part to heavy commercial and military aviation fuel use. That year, Hawai’i imported 94% of its energy and had the highest electricity prices in the nation.

The Hawaiian government, however, is working on changing that reliance through the use of other energy initiatives. Hawai’i has just one geothermal power plant, which is located on Hawai’i Island and taps into the heat from Kīlauea volcano. The Puna Geothermal Venture plant generates around 265 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy a year, which is around 23% of the electricity required on the island. Additional areas around the rift zones of volcanoes on Maui are currently under study for similar such power plants. There is potential to generate the entire state’s power needs, but it would require considerable infrastructure involving the laying of cables between islands to connect the power grids. Even with these considerable outlays, however, the cost of production is still lower than that of fossil fuels.

Hawai’i has the potential to generate all its electricity needs using wind-generated power. A study in 2010 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) showed that onshore wind generation could produce 12 billion kWh a year—considerably more than the 10 billion KWh that was used in Hawai’i in 2011. Offshore wind generation potential is even higher. There are currently six operating “wind farms” in Hawai’i, which include arrays on Oahu, Maui (Figure 7.6) and Hawai’i. The largest is Kawailoa Wind Farm on the northern shore of Oahu, which has 30 windmills that generate a total of 69 MW per year.

Figure 7.6: Kaheawa Wind Farm, Maui.

Figure 7.6: Kaheawa Wind Farm, Maui.

Hawai’i has the world’s largest commercial electricity generator that is fueled exclusively by biofuels. Since existing power plants use expensive, imported liquid fossil fuels, converting to biodiesel was cost-efficient by comparison. The biodiesel is produced using waste agricultural materials and waste oils from restaurants.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity increased 150% in Hawai’i in 2011, moving the state up to 11th in terms of PV capacity. Still, solar power provides only a few percentage points of overall electricity production in Hawai’i, but new projects are being planned on almost all the major islands.

The first hydroelectricity was generated near Hilo on Hawai’i Island in the 1880s, but today there are only a few small hydropower plants used in the state (mainly to power sugar mills and other small industry), with the largest on Hawai’i Island on the Wailuku River in Hilo.