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      Generation & Storage, Policy & Regulation — 4 mins read

      How Hawaii is delivering on its ambitious net zero target

      Hawaii and Australia are co-travellers on the journey to net zero. Both nations are trying to integrate plentiful rooftop solar, upgrade their grids, and break the stranglehold of fossil fuels on their economies.

      Yet Hawaii has rolled out a bold clean energy initiative, with a goal of 70% emissions reduction by 2030, and a broader target of net zero emissions by 2045.

      In Australia, a new Labor government was installed in May, with a goal of 43% emissions reduction by 2030. Though more ambitious than the previous Coalition government’s target of 26-28%, it still lags behind the Hawaiian ambition by some margin.

      With Hawaii still dependent on fossil fuel generation for baseload power, the race is on. So how are they doing?

      Mission: Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI)


      Established in 2008, in partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE), the HCEI is a framework of statutes and regulations set up to help the State of Hawaii advance to a net zero future.

      The body has set a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045. To achieve this, HCEI is transforming the system that governs energy planning and delivery within the state.

      • The State of Hawaii passed a suite of laws in 2015 setting a 100% renewable energy portfolio goal for all electric utilities, by 2045
      • The legislation also set interim goals of 30% by 2020, and an updated 70% by 2030
      • The state surged past its 2020 target, achieving a renewable energy mix of 34.5% (wind and solar)
      • The DOE provided funding to develop an EV deployment plan.

      Bumpy road to net zero 2045

      It was never going to be a smooth ride. Hawaii faces many of Australia’s problems, with large-scale fossil fuel generators still providing the backbone of the energy grid.

      Kauai’s electric cooperative, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) believes a multi-facetted approach to energy is better than a narrow focus on renewables.

      The intermittency of wind and solar are an ongoing challenge for the island nation. While battery storage can help, it has limited charging capacity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

      The non-profit group advocates a broader mix of alternative energies, including geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass, to ease the renewables transition. It has repurposed an existing fossil fuel plant to run off a range of renewables, including solar, hydroelectric and biomass.

      Yet one size doesn’t fit all. Each Hawaiian island presents a “different energy puzzle”, as the group reports. While the Kauai model could work for Big Island, Maui and Oahu, only biomass is viable statewide due to geographical limitations.

      Performance based regulation, carrots and sticks

      Like Australia, Hawaii has been a victim of its own success. According to Solar Builder, high rates of solar adoption have caused grid pile-ups in both locations.

      The Hawaiian state is being challenged by the reverse power flows and swings in network voltage caused by connecting so many small-scale solar generators.

      Hawaiian Electric (HEI) is the major energy supplier for the state. The island of Kauai is the only island not supplied by HEI. It is embarking around of renewable energy procurements to enhance grid reliability. Hawaii Public Utility Commissioner, Jennifer Potter, says HEI has the right overall goal, but needs to significantly increase the speed of renewable energy project integration.

      A new ‘carrot and stick’ system of policy and regulation is now in force across Hawaii. This is designed to overcome lengthy integration delays, which are holding back the state’s green energy transition.

      The new regulatory framework incentivises HEI to cut costs, increase efficiency and achieve its ambitious climate targets. A five-year budget is central to the new regulations. If the utility comes in under budget, they get to keep part of the gap as profit. There are additional payments for reaching goals, such as solar interconnection targets, and fines for failing.

      This has halved the time it takes to set up new rooftop solar on the islands. If HEI continues to bring projects online, they could be up for a multi-million-dollar bonus by 2023.

      It’s early days for Australia’s new federal government, but Hawaii has shown what can be achieved with the right resources, emissions targets and policy ambitions in place.

      Wendy Riley, Energy Insights

      Energy Monthly

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      March 25, 2024 | Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park

      Australian Domestic Gas Outlook 2024

      June 11, 2024 | Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

      Australian Energy Week 2024

      New call-to-action