Push to Renewables: Hawaii

John Toner
December 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: An example of an offshore wind farm. We could see something like this off the coast of O'ahu in the near future. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hawaii is aggressively pursuing a transition to clean energy. While its isolated location poses a great threat to this goal, its location might also be the reason this may be possible. Hawaii's proximity to the equator allows for year-round solar capabilities. Its permanent access to the ocean permits the production of wave-energy. As the trade-winds blow across the islands; they are given energy from the winds. Each island was formed from the magma below the earths surface, now the gift keeps on giving as they can allocate that into geo-thermal energy. These are just a few renewable energies that Hawaii has the potential to tap into. In 2015 Governor Ige of Hawaii signed a bill into law that mandates 100% of Hawaii's energy to come from renewable sources no later than 2045. [1] Hawaii is the first state to make such a push towards renewable energy. Hawaii's limitless potential of sustainable energy makes this seem within their grasp, but it may be easier said than done.

Why 100%?

As of now, Hawaii's main source of energy comes from imported petroleum and its not even close. In 2015 69.4% of Hawaii's electricity came from petroleum, whereas petroleum contributed to just 0.7% of the electricity produced in the US in that same year. The next highest producer of electricity in Hawaii is coal, which produces 13.2%. [1] In 2016 Hawaii imported 29 million barrels of crude oil. [1] In 2014 Hawaii used 409 million gallons of petroleum for electricity production. [1] This sizeable use and importation of petroleum comes at a price. Hawaii has consistently ranked amongst the top 3 places for the most expensive electricity. Currently, Hawaii has the most expensive electricity bill. In 2016 it was 25 cents per KWH compared to the US average of 10 cents per KWH, thats more than double the price. [1] In 2014 that number was 34 cents, as Hawaii has shown progress to lower the price of electricity. [1] Geoffrey Lewis further explores the prices of electricity in his report entitled Powering Hawaii. [2]

These numbers should be alarming. As isolated as Hawaii is, such an unbalanced energy portfolio is not sustainable. Unlike other states, Hawaii doesnt have anyone to rely on but itself. This push comes at a much needed time and with government initiative under Governor Daniel Ige, there has been progress in the islands.

Promising Progress

In 2015 renewable energy made up 23.4% of the electricity produced that year. Five years earlier that number was just 9.5%. [1] Each year that number continues to grow with the upward trend. The state defines renewable energy as energy generated or produced using the following sources: Wind; Sun; Falling water; Biogas, including landfill and sewage-based digester gas; Geothermal; Ocean water, currents, and waves, including ocean thermal energy conversion; Biomass, including biomass crops, agricultural and animal residues and wastes, and municipal solid waste and other solid waste; Biofuels; and Hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources. [1] Fortunately Hawaii has access to all of these sources of energy. In 2016 the highest contributor to renewable energy came from Distributed PV, producing 33.5% of electricity that year. In other metrics it was 826.8 GWh of the total 2,466 GWh. The second largest resource for renewable energy was wind, which produced 26.6%. [1] Theres currently 7 wind farms in the islands and that number is growing. Applications have requested the permit to build off-shore wind farms off the island of Oahu. [1] Fig. 1 shows an example of an off-shore wind farm that could soon be seen off the coast of some islands in Hawaii. Theres many other renewable energy resources that have been untapped. As technology advances and we are able to utilize these resources, Hawaii will become increasingly independent and sustainable. A great example of an energy that Hawaii is growing to use more is Geothermal Energy. In Nate Herbig's report he writes In doing so, the government would build this geothermal power plant upon Mauna Loa, Hawaii's biggest active volcano. This plant would have enough energy to power the whole state. [1] This is just one example of untapped energy that could power Hawaii and pave the way to 100% renewable energy.


The state of Hawaii has set goals for every electric company to reach in order to create the energy portfolio they are looking for. As required by Section 269-92 HRS, each electric utility company that sells electricity for consumption in Hawaii shall establish a renewable portfolio standard of: 30% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2020; 40% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2030; 70% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2040; and 100% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2045. [1] These metrics will allow for accountability amongst each electric company to assure that they are on the right track. Its about 3 years from the first checkpoint of 30% and the state is already ahead of schedule. This should serve as confidence that Hawaii will be able to do this as long as it continues this trend. Hawaii has become a leader in paving the path for other states to follow towards renewable energy. Not only is Hawaii showing themselves that this is possible, but showing the world. There is reason to be confident in Hawaii as it pushes towards complete sustainability.

© John Toner. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] "Hawaii Energy Facts and Figures," Hawaii State Energy Office, May 2017.

[2] G. Lewis, "Powering Hawai'i," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2016