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Published on April 26th, 2018 | by Elemental Excelerator

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A Renewable Energy Future In Hawaii, Faster Than We Thought

April 26th, 2018 by  


Every year, our Elemental Excelerator team combs through applications — this year almost 500 — from amazing entrepreneurs around the globe. We learn about solar robots, spinning batteries, even vertically-integrated cows (in case you’re wondering, that’s a cow that goes from farm to table right here in Hawaii, without a mainland detour for finishing). To learn as much as we can about each new idea, we bring in community members and ask: Which solutions are most likely to positively impact people’s lives? What ideas will be most fruitful for our islands?

We invite community members to help select companies because we’re an unusual type of accelerator. As a non-profit organization with a mission to support companies that will speed Hawaii’s transition from oil to clean energy, we optimize for impact, not for financial return. And, in order to uncover the most creative thinking and attract the best solutions for our clean energy transition, we work to understand the resources and needs here at home. Our curiosity to learn more led us on a quest to refresh the data about exactly how Hawaii has progressed in our transition, and what’s possible moving forward.

On Earth Day, we released Transcending Oil: Hawaii’s Path to a Clean Energy Economy. This report, commissioned by Elemental Excelerator and independently conducted by Rhodium Group in partnership with Smart Growth America and Sudokrew Solutions, shows that the faster we transition off of oil:

  • The more money we save. We can generate up to 84% of our electricity from clean resources by 2030 and save up to $7 billion dollars through 2045.
  • The more jobs we create. We estimate as many as 3,500 additional jobs that pay $3-7 more per hour than Hawaii’s $20 median wage can be produced.
  • The greater our opportunity in mobility. As we enter a new era of mobility, strong leadership and meaningful collaboration can ensure we don’t repeat the oil-intensive patterns of the past. Otherwise, we will drive 17% more than we do today and only 10% of our cars will be electric by 2045.

To experience an interactive visualization and download the full report, head over to transcendingoil.com.

We share it with you in the spirit of collaboration, with the intention of informing rich conversations and supporting collective action (and with the not-so-secret hope that it may inspire you to jump in and start a company with an idea that just might change the world).

Where we’ve been

The idea for Elemental Excelerator was borne out of a landmark partnership called the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. In 2008, this partnership aligned state, federal, utility, business, and non-profit organizations that agreed we no longer needed to burn oil in an island chain with abundant natural resources.

We’ve made enormous progress — going from 6% renewable generation in 2008 to over 25% in Hawaii today. Just a decade ago, solar energy and electric vehicles were virtually nonexistent here. Now, in 2018, we have the most rooftop solar and the second most electric cars per capita in the nation. Hawaiian Electric, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, Hawaii Energy, government agencies, and the private sector have implemented renewable energy and energy efficiency that has reduced greenhouse gas emissions totaling 2.5 million metric tons. That amounts to taking 160,000 cars off the road for a year. So, while it may not always feel like it, change is happening, and happening fast.

Where we’re going

After this decade of acceleration, we recognized the need to explore what the increasing pace of technological and economic change will mean for Hawaii’s future. We commissioned independent energy and transportation analysts to dig into the numbers, gather insights from our community members, and assess what is possible.

We don’t think that one report can provide all the answers, but it can help inform our thinking and deepen our collective conversations. We learned that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Hawaii can save money by accelerating the transition off of oil. Here are two insights we found particularly interesting:

1. It’s cheaper to go faster than to stick with our current targets. The analysis shows that it’s possible to generate between 58% and 84% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 — and it’s cheaper than not doing it. This is compared to our current target of 40% renewable energy by 2030.

2. Transitioning from oil earlier creates good-paying jobs. The transition can create as many as 3,500 more jobs in Hawaii compared to what would occur by just meeting current targets (for scale, there are 2,700 auto mechanics in Hawaii). Clean energy jobs pay $3–7 per hour more than Hawaii’s median wage of about $20 per hour.

What’s needed now

We have all the right ingredients, but artificial barriers stand in our way. For electricity, this includes misaligned financial incentives that keep utilities from benefitting from clean energy, outdated rules and systems that limit data access and transparency, and a lack of options for renters and residents of limited means who want greener choices. For transportation, the numbers show that we’re farther behind in getting off of oil. We will need to design neighborhoods that give families the freedom to get around without cars; increase choices for public transit, shared rides, electric vehicles, and biking; and work with other states and call on the federal government to uphold and strengthen vehicle efficiency standards.

Rather than being surprised by or unprepared for the changes to come, we have an opportunity now to take collective action and transition by design, not by default.

Why does this matter?

We embarked on this quest because we love our home. This is a place where people value long-term impact over short-term gain, treat neighbors as ohana rather than as strangers, and willingly embrace their kuleana to care for our islands that in turn care for us. We can be a beacon for the world and prove that it’s possible to decarbonize our economy. Technology and policy will play important roles, but what we’ve learned from the past decade is that it will take people working together even when they don’t always agree, organizations redesigning incentives to facilitate change, and leaders taking chances on innovative and unfamiliar ideas.

A 10-year-old already lives in a cleaner Hawaii today than she would have had we not started this journey in 2008. And she will work in a more prosperous Hawaii if we work together to accelerate toward clean energy over the next ten years.

As we learned as teenagers, the best way to gain control through the curves is to accelerate through them. The time is now.


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About the Author

Elemental Excelerator helps startups change the world, one community at a time. Each year, we find 12-15 companies that best fit our mission and fund each company up to $1 million to improve systems that impact people’s lives: energy, water, agriculture, and transportation.



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