Hydroelectricity In Hawaii

John Toner
December 16, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Hydropower wave technology. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Located in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the most isolated land mass in the world, it's not easy for Hawaii to find innovative sources of sustainable energy. But the solution might be all around them. While Hawaii has undoubtedly made a recent push towards renewable sources of energy, they are still highly dependent on Petroleum which accounts for nearly 70% of Hawaii's electricity. [1] In 2015, less than 14% of Hawaii's electricity was produced by renewable energy sources. [1] Hawaii has pushed to increase this percentage through multiple renewable energy projects. Hawaii has seen progress in the push to renewables, but it has yet to tap into the Earths largest resource, the ocean.

In 2009 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District were given money from Congress to begin a research on the potential usage of Hydroelectric Power in the islands. [2] The money was given off of a request from the State of Hawaii to help meet the states goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030. [2] The aim of the research was to determine if there were hydroelectric needs in the islands. More than 160 spots were considered for potential sources of energy. They looked into wave, hydropower and ocean thermal energy. The list was narrowed down to just four locations where testing sites were built. A hydroelectric plant was built on the island of Kauai, a wave energy conversion technology test hub was built on the island of Oahu, ocean renewable energy zones were built on the island of Hawaii, and an ocean thermal energy conversion facility was built on the island of Oahu. [2] It's clear that Hawaii has put effort into using the ocean as a renewable energy, but harnessing the power of the ocean might be easier said than done.


Hydropower is much in different on the mainland of the United States. Large dams, such as the Hoover or the Grand Coulee Dam, are incredible achievements of mankind. These dams are able to produce a great amount of electricity. Rosenkranz has noted that hydroelectricity accounts for roughly six percent of the total electricity output in in the United States, and 63 percent of the total power from renewable resources in America. [3] There are more than 2,300 dams in the United States. But without these dams, hydroelectricity is under the radar in the United States. Hawaii doesn't have the liberty to build dams, so hydroelectricity contributes the second smallest amount of renewable energy in Hawaii, just 1.2%. [1] The potential of hydroelectricity grows with technology. As scientists develop new ways to utilize the ocean, Hawaii and other coastal regions alike, will be able to move towards 100% renewables. The island of America Samoa operates on 100% renewable energy largely in part to the developments of Tesla battery packs. [4] Scientists have already found ways to harness waves from the ocean, using this technology in Hawaii could lead to large change (see Fig. 1). Developments in technology will lead to revolutionary change in renewable energy.


It's a guessing game of when and if with hydroelectricity in Hawaii. It's been more than eight years since Hawaii first began their research of harnessing the oceans energy, but such a large endeavor takes time. I have confidence in Hawaii and the US's capability of developing technology to aid in this process. Hydroelectricity will be one to keep an eye on in the coming years for a potential boom as the islands push towards 100% renewables.

© 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] "Hydro Electric Power Assessment - State of Hawaii, EA/HHF Joint Venture, May 2011.

[3] A. Rosenkranz, "Hydropower in the United States," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[4] "Making a Visible Difference in American Samoa," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, May 2017.