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Published on March 23rd, 2017 | by Scott Cooney

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Efficiency Retrofit Project For 5,000 Public Housing Units Kicks Off In Hawaii

March 23rd, 2017 by  

In today’s piece of awesome cleantech news, courtesy of CleanTechnica, we are proud to announce that in collaboration with Hawaii Energy and the Energy Excelerator, our company, Pono Home, just kicked off a project to retrofit up to 5,000 homes for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA).

The project will replace all incandescent lighting with LEDs, install high-efficiency shower and faucet fixtures, and  put in protective and energy-saving Advanced Power Strips. In addition, we are educating residents on more ways to save, collaborating with Hawaii Energy on community workshops, and giving out educational materials that we’ve had translated into a dozen languages (any contractors out there working with Pacific island/Asian communities in need of energy literacy materials, just drop us a line through our website … see below … we are happy to share).

HPHA is publicly owned housing for lower-income and transitional members of our community. Some HPHA residents pay their own utilities fully and others receive partial assistance, so the project is expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for low-income people as well as reducing subsidies from the state and the federal government used to pay for utilities in these homes.

As Hawaii’s power grid is largely powered by industrial diesel generators, it will also reduce the amount of oil flowing into the state significantly. At the time of this writing, we’ve completed work in about 300 of the 5000 homes. Look for an update when we get a few more months in, with calculated estimates of the oil, CO2, and $ that our work will be saving on an annual basis

Low and Middle Income Efficiency Retrofits

Lower and mid-income residential housing has been described as the “hard to reach” segment of the population, in terms of sustainability initiatives. They don’t tend to get solar and can’t afford upgrades to drafty windows, older refrigerators, or even lighting sometimes. Education in terms of energy literacy tends to be lower in these communities as well, so residents often have bad habits that they don’t know are costing them a lot of money. Lack of energy literacy is perhaps more prevalent, but certainly not limited to, lower income communities. We’ve now served over 1000 homes in Hawaii, and we’ve encountered so much low-hanging fruit: doors wide open with A/Cs running full blast, people using ovens to dry clothes on a rack, and more.

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That’s me on the right, helping a Hawaii resident lower his utility bills with LEDs while reducing pollution and oil dependency. I love my job.

Hawaii Energy is a ratepayer-funded conservation program serving the territories of the Hawaiian Electric Industries (all islands except Kauai). The program is funded through a barrel tax, where  a small tax on each barrel of foreign oil that comes to Hawaii is levied, accumulated, and put into efficiency programs like this one with HPHA.

Once we’d gotten a letter of commitment from HPHA to do the retrofits if we could line up funding, Hawaii Energy stepped to the plate and promptly committed money sufficient to get the program rolling for an initial phase. The funding was later matched by the Energy Excelerator, the nation’s largest cleantech incubator, whose mission is to wean Hawaii (then the world) from fossil fuels.

This program is not the first of its kind, of course, nor will it be the last. Recently, Con Edison put out a Request for Information with up to $25 million in potential funding to drive cost-effective energy efficiency into low- to middle-income housing. Progressive states and cities are leading the charge with these win-win initiatives. Poverty reduction and environmental activism often go hand in hand in theory, but it’s really nice to see it in practice.

Assistance Request

We are working diligently to get this project done in the most cost-effective manner possible, and are unendingly grateful to our sponsors for helping make it happen. We do have one major challenge, an opportunity that is too good to lose and that we need some help with. …

Hawaii Energy’s mandate from our Public Utility Commission limits them to funding projects that save on energy. There is no funding available for savings in natural gas or in water. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the housing at the HPHA have gas water heaters. This leaves my company in a pickle. We’re already in the home, ready to make an installation of a high-efficiency showerhead or faucet fixture. Based on conservative estimates, with Hawaii’s rates and with the average number of residents in HPHA housing using each water fixture, we’ve estimated that each showerhead we install will translate into $200–250 in savings on gas and water bills annually, and each faucet fixture will translate into $50 per year in savings. However, if we install them, we are donating not only our time but also our inventory.

If you are part of a foundation or a nonprofit organization that wants to help fund water- and gas-saving technologies and programs, please get in touch with us through this link and see what we can work out. We are going to install as many as our budget allows, as it would be a shame not to. But for a relatively small business, it’s hard to justify the costs on a project like this, which has pretty thin margins to begin with.

As we say in Hawaii, a huge mahalo (thank you) to Hawaii Energy, the Energy Excelerator, and the great folks working hard to help the underprivileged at the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (Hakim Ouansafi, Kelbert Yoshida, Joanna Renkin, Sam Liu, Becky Choi, Rick Sagawa, Wade Kau, Pono Shim, and many more!).

This post was generously sponsored by Pono Home! 


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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on



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