Lifestyles aggravate demands for energy
Air conditioners, TVs and computers add to power problems posed by population
As development of the islands continues, utilities are looking for ways to meet the needs of a growing population, and it's not just increased housing that is feeding the demand, especially for electricity.
Local lifestyles have become more energy dependent in recent years.
Demand drove Oahu's Hawaiian Electric Co. to hit an all-time high for power generation with 1,327 megawatts in October 2004. That is the equivalent of flipping the switch on more than 22 million 60-watt light bulbs.
While the company has not quite reached that high again, power levels have remained high and are not expected to decline.
A surge in growth is one factor in the spike. But a portion of the increased appetite for power is also the result of the new technologies that have become integrated into people's lives, including big-screen televisions, computers and air conditioners as more homes are built, said Lynne Unemori, spokeswoman for Hawaiian Electric.
According to the company, only 16 percent of homes used air conditioners on Oahu in 1980. But by 2004, air conditioners were being used in 54 percent of homes.
Some added air conditioning has been spurred by more people moving out to the hotter, Ewa area of the island, said Jose Dizon, spokesman and engineer for the company.
According to Honolulu city planners, Ewa's population was nearly 69,000 in 2000 and is expected to reach more than 141,000 in 2020. Over the same period, Oahu as a whole is expected to rise from about 876,000 to just over 1 million.
The Big Island is also experiencing a jump in population, from about 149,000 in 2000 to as high as 237,000 in 2020, according to county projections.
But that island seems to be doing just fine with its electrical supply.
"They're doing really well over there. They're managing their growth very well. And they're not feeling the pressure I guess that we're kind of feeling over here," Dizon said.
Hawaiian Electric imposed rolling blackouts on parts of Oahu earlier this month, knocking out power to more than 37,000 customers after three generating units failed while four units were out for scheduled maintenance.
One source of relief for the Big Island is its use of renewable energy gathered from rivers, the wind and the inner heat of the earth. Twenty-eight percent of Hawaii Electric Light Co.'s energy is derived from renewable sources.
That is compared with 12 percent at Maui Electric Co. and 9 percent at Oahu's Hawaiian Electric.
"Definitely, the renewable energy takes the pressure off the central station units," Dizon said of the Big Island's system. "But then the downside is the renewables are mostly as available. I mean if the wind stops blowing, then the generators have to start to kick up again."
One of the challenges of replicating the Big Island's system on Oahu is that there is less available land. A proposal to put a wind farm on the leeward side of the island was turned down by the community, but Hawaiian Electric is now looking into a new proposal for a wind farm at Kahuku, Unemori said.
The company is also seeking approval for a new 100-megawatt plant on the Waianae Coast and has said that the June blackouts could have been much shorter if the plant had already been in place.
But Hawaiian Electric and others also stress that some responsibility still rests with consumers.
The company helped push for a law passed in 2005 requiring homeowners associations to allow owners to install solar energy devices, Dizon said.
However, several large housing areas on Oahu prohibit the use of clotheslines, said Jeff Mikulina, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii.
"And that's one of the simplest things to do to save energy," Mikulina said.
Such rules value vanity over reality -- and while stringing up clotheslines is not going to solve all of the island's growth and energy problems, there are many things that consumers can do much more sensibly, he said.