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October 10, 2011

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Clean-energy goals for Aloha state

THE US state of Hawaii imports fossil fuels for 90 percent of its electricity but has set an ambitious goal of 70 percent generated by clean energy by 2030. Yang Jian reports.

More than 20 head of states will gather in Hawaii next month for the 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. One of the main topics at the APEC meet will be renewable energies.

As the host of the summit, the US state of Hawaii has not only been making preparations for the session but also turning one of the world's premier vacation destinations into a test bed for renewable energies.

Most people think of the Hawaiian islands as a place of blue ocean, clear skies, bright sunshine and natural wonders, such as jungles and volcanoes.

But Hawaii, which has a population of only 1.29 million, also wants people to appreciate the islands as a place that is making sustainable use of nature's gifts to improve everyone's life.

The efforts and incentives provided by the state government of Hawaii can provide useful experience to other regions and cities, such as Shanghai, which are pursuing an environmentally sustainable future.

Hawaii's goals are ambitious.

"The state has set a goal of using 70 percent clean energy by 2030 (which would make it No. 1 in proportion of clean energy in power generation), with 30 percent coming from efficiency measures and 40 percent coming from Hawaii's own renewable sources," says Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz.

So far, only around 10 percent of the state's electricity comes from solar, wind, thermal and hydro power. Imported fossil fuels, coal and oil account for the rest.

Walking across the main island of O'ahu Island, visitors can see wind farms atop mountains in the jungle. That wind-generated power is transmitted by cable under the seabed to the five inhabited islands of the state.

Solar energy panels can be seen on the rooftops of many family homes; one in four families in Hawaii uses solar panels. They can sell extra electricity to the local power company at market prices.

On the streets, many car plates bear a rainbow pattern, not only because rainbows often appear in the tropical islands, but also because many of the vehicles are powered by electricity, or are hybrid models.

By 2015, the state plans to build an electric vehicle charging station at each parking lot across the state, says Paul Kopel, general manager of Enterprise Holdings, the state's largest electric vehicle leasing company.

Vehicles can run for 200 kilometers after a two-hour charge, he says.

The state's fast development of renewable energies is the result of many incentive policies from both the United States and state government, says Lieutenant Governor Schatz.

Individuals installing solar panels can get 65 percent cash refund, while companies get 30 percent tax refund from both the state and the federal governments. A company can receive as much as US$500,000 in tax deductions by using green energy equipment.

"Solar and wind are the fastest renewable projects on this island as well as some of the other islands," says Estrella Seese, Hawaii state energy administrator.

The state government has invested more than US$1.2 billion for renewable energies, she says.

Many Hawaiians themselves are pursuing a clean-energy future and see research in new energy as a matter of survival. Hawaii's isolated location in the Pacific Ocean makes almost everything costly, including electricity.

Islanders spends more than US$2.5 billion a year on electricity alone.

"We are paying about 32 cents a kilowatt hour right now, nearly tripling what people on the US mainland are paying," says Robbie Alm, vice director of the Hawaiian Electric Co, who lives in O'ahu, the capital city with the state's largest economy.

Alm says islanders pay among the highest rates in the United States, noting the state imports fossil fuel for 90 percent of its energy at this time, the highest in the nation.

But in the near future, the state can generate all its own electricity and have a surplus.

He says one reason for the success of fast development in renewable energy is the state's balance between development of renewable energy and environmental protection.

The original Hawaiians regarded the ocean and mountains as sacred and inviolable, so there is no ship shuttle between the five islands to avoid ocean pollution. Flight is the only means of transport.

The long coastlines make the state an ideal place for tidal energy installations, but they are large, expensive and could ruin beaches, so Hawaii rejects tidal energy. The beaches remain pristine and welcoming to sunbathers, swimmers and surfers from around the world.

Hawaii is seeking investment and clean-energy experts from around the world, including China, because domestic investment alone is not enough to achieve the goal of 40 percent of the state's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030, says Alm, from Hawaiian Electric Co.

"Companies from China should look at partners in the United States that they'd like to work with, in joint proposals, expertise, equipment sales or even capital investment from China," he says.


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