Hawaii is a spectacular chain of islands with beautiful beaches, mountains, and exotic flowers. This is why one and a half million people call it home and 10 million more visit each year. But being out in the Pacific, 3,900 kilometres from the California coast, has its drawbacks. The islands have no natural resources and are completely dependent on the import of oil to make electricity and fuel their cars. This dependence has not only an economic cost, but also an environmental one for islands, that, due to their isolation, have unique plants and animals in an ecosystem that is quite fragile. Fortunately, the tourists also come to visit these amazing islands for their sunshine, sea breezes, and for the active volcanoes. The Hawaiians are now realizing that they have the opportunity and the ability to use their wind, sunlight and geothermal heat to wean themselves off of oil, and they have actively set policies that will make them energy self-sufficient with green energy.
Being out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean gives them a definite advantage for wind. Regularly flowing trade winds are strong and consistent, and the Island of Maui has put up a series of turbines to capture these breezes. Whirling away at a consistent rate, they generate 30 megawatts of electricity for the island, which has made it possible to cut back considerably on the oil that they were using to generate power. Each of the islands has similar spots where the winds are just as good and just as powerful.
The big island of Hawaii has the very active volcano Kilauea burbling away above a massive magma pool. They have put this geothermal heat to good use by drilling holes down into the ground which they pump water into, which produces steam to generate electricity. This plant has produced a lot of local electricity for the islanders since it was built. It was a risky thing to put such a plant next to a volcano though. Kilauea decided to send out a huge lava flow last year, which wiped out hundreds of homes and just barely missed the power plant.
Being in the tropics certainly does mean that the islands get a lot of sunshine. But the windward rainy side of the island gets little, while the drier desert side of each island gets an awful lot. The electric utilities are now putting in solar panel projects, which will soon produce all of the electricity that the islands need.
It will not be long before these oil-dependent islands will be able to produce all of their electricity needs using green and clean power. But there are still all of the cars running on gasoline. There aren’t many places where electric cars make more sense though than in Hawaii. Since they are islands, there is nowhere to drive that is more than 100 km from home. People are putting up shelters over their driveways, which not only keep the car out of the sun, but also have solar panels on them to power up the car’s batteries at the same time. A definite win-win situation, which is happening at an incredible speed.
Getting from island to island is another fuel-intensive problem. There are jets going all day between the various airports, using up a lot of jet fuel. Short-hop flights like these are a really good opportunity to use battery power and green electricity. Mokulele Airlines is currently developing a hybrid electric plane that they will use to shuttle between the smaller airports. They figure that batteries on the planes can power the propellers for most of the flight, reducing fuel consumption by up to 70 per cent.
It is amazing to watch the innovations that have been happening in the Hawaiian Islands over the years. A place that was so oil dependent has suddenly embraced the environmental cause with great zeal and may soon be running on nothing but clean and renewable electricity from the same features that bring in the tourists.
Jeff Scott is a former councillor for the City of Kingston (Countryside District), and has contributed editorial content local publications for a number of years. He continues to live, work and write in the Countryside district of Kingston, and runs his own blog, The Countryside View. Visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jeffscottthecountrysideview to read more of Jeff’s content.