In the past week I was lucky enough to be asked to travel to Hawaii with a good friend of mine over spring break. It was my first trip to Hawaii and I was unsure of what was to come—I knew there would be beaches, surf and sun but what surprised me most when I landed in Oahu and drove through the city of Honolulu were all of the solar panels I saw. On almost every roof as we drove along Honolulu's H1 I could see the reflection of the trees scattered along all of the solar panels placed on top of the Hawaiian homes. I was astonished that in an area that was considered relatively impoverished in comparison to other places in Hawaii, there were solar panels on nearly every home. Which got me thinking: on an issue that is so hotly debated in both cost and effectiveness, why are there so many solar panels present in Hawaii but not in other places?
As the trip continued, my thoughts on alternative energy in Hawaii continued to linger in my mind. Especially after having passed nearly 30 Nissan leafs and other hybrids and traveling to Hawaii’s North Shore where I walked around their 7,000 acre wind farm. I realized that Hawaii is really on their game in terms of alternative energy, efficiency and eco-friendliness. However, what made all of these things even more remarkable was the fact that all of these alternative energy and eco-friendly innovations seemed merely second nature to them. This then prompted me to do some research and what I found was extremely interesting.
The first important fact I learned, which nicely prefaces this article, is that Hawaii is the most fossil fuel dependent state in the nation. This is largely due to dependence on tourism and the military, which makes up 50% of their economy. And unlike places that realize these similar issues and find solutions but don’t actively implement them, Hawaii takes saving to the next level. Hawaii created the Clean Energy Initiative that leads the way to relieving the state’s dependence on oil by setting goals and a roadmap to achieve 70% clean energy by 2030 with 30% from efficiency measures, and 40% coming from locally generated renewable sources.
And for those who say these goals are unattainable, they should take a trip to the island because this state is a hotbed for alternative energy resources, literally. With the sun shinning year round, the blusterous wind felt on every beach, and volcanoes to produce geothermal energy, it would be crazy not to use all these resources for alternative energy. And recent studies have shown that Hawaii’s leap to the forefront of sustainability and efficiency is not going unnoticed.
Hawaii is the third state in the nation when it comes to clean economy and job growth in the past 7 years, it is second in the nation in cumulative installed photovoltaic capacity per capita, it is the first nation when it comes to energy savings performance contracting per capita, the HECO (Hawaiian Electrical Company ranks third in 2010 annual solar watts per customer, and the list continues on and on.)
Through all of this research I noticed Hawaii was the only state to show up more than twice on all of these lists (followed closely by California), but why?
All of these alternative energy and sustainability options are definitely on the rise here on the mainland (I'm even picking up native phrases, look at me!) but seeing a solar panel or a wind-turbine will turn your head, because they are not prevalent in large quantities. Where as in Hawaii, a house without a solar panel turned my head.
We have issues that we already have known and proven solutions for, it just seems as a culture we're more focused on the exploitation of a solution rather than the actual implementation of one. We need to take notes from our island brethren and make something that’s relatively alien to us and make it second nature--defy all stigmas and issues that may surround a solution and just get on board with it!