Hawaii earns C grade for progress toward 100% renewables

Apr 18, 2020
The Aloha State earned a C for its progress toward 100% renewable standards in Blue Planet Foundation's update to its energy report card last week, which showed a few areas where Hawaii is missing the mark.
"The energy report card is a comprehensive, big-picture assessment of our progress to 100% clean energy," Melissa Miyashiro, managing director of strategy and policy at Blue Planet Foundation said. "It is also a point-in-time snapshot and doesn't include projects in the pipeline and potential policies that could turn the tide."

Hawaii's grades average to a C.

The state's progress is judged in five key areas including transportation, efficiency, renewables, smart grid and economics. While the 2019 grade is slightly better than the C– grade Hawaii received when first energy report card was published in 2013, it's slightly worse than Hawaii's 2017 B- score.

According to Miyashiro, the main contributing factor was the transportation sector, which received a D grade.

Since Hawaii led the nation in mandating a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045 in 2015, California, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Puerto Rico and Washington have also passed its own versions of the same goal.

Here's a breakdown of what Hawaii did well, and where it can improve in terms of reaching 100% renewable energy.

2019: D
2017: D+

Transportation accounts for almost two-thirds of the state's fossil fuel consumption and high demand for fossil fuel has not gone down in Hawaii.

"Fossil fuel transportation hasn't decreased, and more people are getting into larger, less efficient vehicles," Miyashiro said. "We need to drive more efficient vehicles such as electric vehicles, use alternative mobility options like biking and walking, and make public transit more efficient and attractive to riders."

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Another factor is the type of vehicles on the road. Pickups and SUVs made up nearly half of vehicle sales in 2012, today, that number has reached 70%. Overall, electric vehicles make up only 1% of all registered vehicles in the state. Blue Planet Foundation's research also found that Hawaii's population in total drives 30 million miles per day, which equals about 1.4 million gallons of fuel.

The report card recommended strategies like increasing fuel taxes, transit oriented development, and increasing telecommuting capabilities, to help reduce Hawaii's commuting footprint.

2019: B+
2017: A-

While the state's efficiency grade did drop, it has the best grade of all examined key areas. Hawaii decreased its per capita energy use by 24% since 2007, when the state peaked in energy consumption.

This year, Hawaii adopted state appliance energy efficiency standards, which can save more than $500 million in energy costs over the next 15 years.

"We are falling behind on solar water heating, which can save residents up to 40% on their electric bills," Miyashiro estimates. "That is why we are pushing hard for Bill 25 at the Honolulu City Council, which looks to modernize the city's outdated building energy codes. It ensures that all new homes will come equipped with either a solar water heater, a high-efficiency heat pump water heater, or a “smart” grid-interactive water heater — that will allow us to use more renewable energy on the power grid."

Blue Planet Foundation estimates that updating Hawaii's building energy codes — such as more insulation and lighting improvements — could save Hawaii residents and business more than $1.4 billion in costs over 20 years.

2019: C+
2017: B+
The renewable energy grade suffered, largely due to the closure of the Puna Geothermal plant on Hawaii Island in 2018.
In 2018, 22% of Hawaii's electricity came from renewable energy sources, while Hawaii's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was calculated at 28%.To reach Hawaii's 100% goal, Blue Planet Foundation estimates that the state needs to have steady growth of more than 3% per year in renewable energy.
"We see opportunities for renewables in fixing the RPS formula, which is a legislative matter, and including natural gas in the RPS policy," Miyashiro said.
More than 78% of Hawaii's electricity is produced by fossil fuel plants, many of which are more than 50 years old and near imminent retirement age. The majority of the state's renewable energy comes from solar, followed by biofuels, biomass and waste-to-energy.
The good news for Hawaii is that there are 436.2 Megawatts of solar capacity in the pipeline, most of which is utility scale. Kauai also leads in the race to 100%, posed to produce 82% of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2025 through the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.
Smart Grid
2019: D+
2017: D
There was a slight bump up in this category this year, mostly due to the uptick in more solar installations paired with batteries for both residential and commercial uses to increase resiliency.
The report card said that battery storage was "essential" to achieving the state mandated energy goals. Kauai also leads in this area, after opening the Lawai Solar and Energy Storage facility — which can provide the island with 11% of its needs.
Meanwhile the Hawaiian Electric Companies proposed solar-plus storage projects with more than 1,048 Megawatt Hours of battery storage.
The lack of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and incentives did bring down the score in this area.
2019: B-
2018: C+
Hawaii's grade in this area saw a slight uptick due to an overall decline in renewable energy prices.
"For both smart grid and economics, we see electric vehicles playing big roles in both areas," Miyashiro said.
Roughly 5% of disposal income is spent on fossil fuels in Hawaii. Other factors where Hawaii could improve on in this category included the cost of electricity, which is currently three times higher than the national average.