Powering Hawai'i

Geoffrey Lewis
December 17, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Solar Panels. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hawai'i became the 50th state of the United States in August, 1959. The population of Hawai'i was over 1,300,000 people in 2011 and the population is growing. [1] To support this many people, Hawai'i needs to have a massive amount of energy. And for such a small group of Islands, much of this energy has to come from importation. Importing energy costs money and Hawai'i citizens are forced to pay extra for these basic living needs. Electricity in Hawai'i in 2014 cost $0.34 per kWh while the average price for the rest of the United States was $0.10 per kWh. [2]


70% of Hawai'i's energy comes from Petroleum while another 14% comes from the burning of coal. [2] In 2012, the State of Hawaii imported roughly 43,500,000 Barrels of petroleum. [1] Of that, 26,425,000 Barrels are used for transportation purposes such as gasoline for cars, 12,518,000 barrels are used to meet electric demands, and 229,000 barrels are used residentially. [1]

High Cost

It is common to hear Hawai'i residents complaining about their high electricity bills. For years I have listened to my parents and grandparents talk about how high electricity costs. In fact, it was a common topic of conversation at the dinner table. Eventually, they got so sick of complaining and so sick of paying so much money, that now my house and my grandparent's house are both run purely off of solar energy.

Renewable Energy

Solar energy and wind energy lead Hawai'i in renewable energy generation. In 2008, solar energy accounted for a mere 1.5% of renewable energy generation. In 2014, it made up for 28% of it. [2] Fig. 1 shows an image of a group of solar panels in a field. Three of the eight Hawaiian Islands already have utility scale solar projects, with one on Lana'i, four on O'ahu, and four on Kaua'i. [2] Wind energy is also gaining momentum in the islands. Trade winds blow from the northeast constantly, with very little variation. This constant, steady, and reliable flow of wind allows for an equally reliable amount of energy generated from wind turbines. However, due to the size of the turbines as well as the pristine environment surrounding them, there has been some push back by the community. Still, areas such as the Kawailoa Wind Farm, which spans 650 acres, and has a capacity of 69 MW, continues to generate clean and reliable energy to Hawai'i. [2]


The cost of energy in Hawai'i is extremely high, especially when compared to the other states in the U.S. Hawai'i is the "only state that depends on petroleum so heavily for it's energy needs." [2] High energy costs have inspired the state to look for cheaper renewable energy sources for it's citizens. Both solar and wind energy are on the forefront of moving Hawai'i away from there reliance on petroleum and coal.

© Geoffrey Lewis. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "State of Hawaii Energy Data and Trends. Report, State of Hawaii, January 2014.

[2] "Hawaii Energy Facts and Figures, Hawaii State Energy Office, May 2015.