Editor’s Note: This is the second of three parts by Blue Planet Foundation on Hawaii’s clean energy progress.

In this second of three parts introducing Blue Planet’s 2016 Energy Report Card, which launches this week, we look at energy efficiency. While we’re lagging in the transportation category, energy efficiency is a bright spot. Hawaii’s successful efforts on reducing our energy demand earned the state an A-, the best of any category. But we still have opportunities to accelerate progress, and often it is just a matter of perspective.

Let’s be blunt; efficiency has a PR problem. The face of the clean energy revolution is exciting, with technologies like solar panels and electric vehicles visible every day. In contrast, efficiency is sort of like waxing your surfboard: important, but not nearly as fun as surfing.

For many of us, it started with our parents harping on us as children, reminding us to turn off the lights when leaving a room. We can’t see it, or touch it, or drive it. But efficiency makes sense. It means wasting less energy, and doing more with the energy we have. And the cleanest energy is the energy we never need to use.


Here are the facts. Efficiency is Hawaii’s fastest-growing source of clean energy. It’s also some of the cheapest clean energy we can imagine. Last year, the state’s efficiency program, Hawaii Energy, invested $36 million in efficiency at homes and businesses. The lifetime energy savings from that investment is expected to be $435 million.

Looking at it another way, the clean energy “delivered” (really, saved) by Hawaii Energy costs around 2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). Today, even with oil prices at near-record lows, the oil burned for each kWh in a power plant costs five times more. What’s more, the cost of that clean energy is fixed over time. Unlike fossil fuels, our investment in energy efficiency today won’t get more expensive tomorrow.

Much ado has been made over using different fossil fuels as a “bridge to a clean energy future.” But our future is fossil-fuel free. A bridge should get us closer to our destination, and energy efficiency goes hand in hand with the state’s 100 percent renewable energy goal. It’s cleaner. It’s cheaper. It’s available today, and it will still be with us in the future. Efficiency is a true bridge.

The good news is that we are on track to meet the state’s efficiency goals. Total energy consumption per capita has been dropping steadily. This is largely due to declining electricity consumption. Every island except Lanai is on track to meet the state’s 2030 efficiency target for electricity. Molokai is ten years ahead of schedule and the Big Island is almost there.

This success is the product of many actions all working together. To illustrate, would you have guessed that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most energy efficient days of the year? When we all join up for the big game, we aren’t making a special effort to conserve energy. But through our collective change in behavior for that day, many small individual actions make a big difference.


This is the beauty of energy efficiency. Most of the time, we don’t even notice it. And opportunities are everywhere. The energy bill for streetlights adds up to $14 million each year. By switching to more efficient lights, we can still see the roads, but the bill is cut in half.

The same goes for hot water. When you take a shower, the water feels the same irrespective of whether it’s warmed by an efficient solar water heater, or by an inefficient or polluting electric or gas heater. Heating water makes up about 35 percent of the average electricity bill, and a solar water heater can slash that cost. Yet two out of three homes don’t yet have a solar water heater. This is a clear opportunity to accelerate clean energy.

The next phase for efficiency is to make it even smarter. Because the solar revolution has been so successful, or energy “peak” has shifted from mid-day to the evening hours. Now, the evening is when our electrical grids most need clean energy.

For homes, A/Cs (31 percent), water heaters (14 percent), fridges (12 percent), and lights (13 percent) make up the bulk of evening energy needs. For businesses, lighting (45 percent) and cooling (17 percent) make up the biggest part of the evening energy peak. Energy efficient options are available for all of these needs – ranging from LED lights and solar water heaters for homes, to seawater air conditioning for office buildings. Additionally, with smart building codes and energy standards, these energy uses can become more flexible to automatically match renewable energy supply and demand.

With all this going for it, efficiency is ready for a PR boost.

In the next installment of the Energy Report Card Series: Hawaii’s progress toward 100 percent.

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