The US Navy has just pumped $30 million into the Energy Excelerator, a funding agency for renewable energy start-ups in Hawaii. That triples the agency’s operating funding over the past three years, and it gives the ol’ Bronx cheer to certain legislators in Congress who have tried to cut funding for the Navy’s ambitious alternative fuel initiatives. Even at the relatively modest initial funding level, the program has already raised follow-on investments from the private sector totaling more than $38 million.
The Energy Excelerator, which also receives funding from the Department of Energy and other partners, has 17 success stories under its belt, and with this new round of funding the ripple effect could be huge. In addition to potential application elsewhere in the US, companies that get under way with help from the Energy Excelerator have the whole Asia Pacific island nation market at their feet.
Hawaii, The US Navy And Clean Energy
Hawaii has a twofold, urgent motive for weaning itself from fossil fuel dependency: extremely high prices (quadruple the national average) and long supply lines. Both are intertwined with the state’s importance to the US Navy, most famously in the form of Pearl Harbor, which also explains why the Department of Defense has been adopting renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Hawaii hand over fist.
Aside from major solar installations, which have become ubiquitous at DoD facilities throughout the US, the DoD’s energy and conservation projects in Hawaii include a first-of-its-kind military collaboration between the Army and GM on a fuel cell vehicle fleet (which is part of a larger fuel cell infrastructure project), a full scale rainwater harvesting system at an Army barracks, an experimental renewable energy microgrid system, and a grid-connected wave power system that also serves as a shared test bed for private sector wave power development.
The Hawaii Energy Excelerator Portfolio
At just a fraction of its new funding level, the Excelerator has already established a solid track record. The 17 companies in its portfolio have garnered $18 million in revenue over the past three years.
The projects represent a wide range of renewable energy, alternative transportation and energy efficiency systems.
Some of the standouts include Conscious Commuter Corporation’s e-bike sharing system and Sopogy Inc.’s micro-concentrating solar collectors, a renewable natural gas project from Hawaii Gas, desalination systems powered by renewable energy from a company aptly named Renewable Water Technologies, and Hnu Energy’s “smart” storage solutions for smoothing out spikes in solar availability.
Of particular note is at least one algae biofuel project by the company Kuehnle Agrosystems, which interestingly enough doubles as a water and air pollution remediation system for a local Chevron refinery.
The company was recently recognized by the US EPA for its innovative algae biofuel and industrial carbon capture system, but we’re more interested in the idea that the Kuehnle investment represents yet another end-run by the Navy around partisan opposition to its biofuel initiatives, particularly algae biofuel.
Though key federal legislators including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) have repeatedly attempted to torpedo the Navy’s biofuel initiatives, so far the Obama Administration has managed to deploy its executive authority to keep the programs humming along.