Under the Sun
Renewable energy operates on local time
SAY you are looking to buy a house in Hawaii and you're given a choice of one that's maybe 10 percent more expensive than another similar model in the same neighborhood.
You're no fool and all things being equal, you're probably going to pick the cheaper one. But say the higher-priced house has a solar water-heater that will cut your electricity bill enough that in the long run you recover the extra cost while reducing greenhouse gases that cause global climate change.
Now say you're a developer. Your aim is to get the best profit return on your and your shareholders' investments; it's the American way.
You put up houses with that at the forefront, complying with government regulations and standards while producing "inventory" -- the real estate industry's current, sterile term for houses -- reasonably attractive to buyers in a desperate, confined market.
If the government tacked on another requirement, that solar water-heaters be installed in every new home, developers would pass the cost increase to the buyers.
As always happens, the poor consumer gets stuck with the bill. But what if tax credits were given to people who buy homes with solar heaters, much as credits are granted for installing them in existing homes.
People who want to be environmentally responsible would have a financial incentive to go greener. Developers could wear eco-friendly caps. The utility company would see demand for juice draw down, maybe not enough to forestall another power plant, but at least to increase conservation.
Of course, the government treasury would take a hit, but such a tax credit would yield benefits in better health for the planet and its inhabitants, that would spread far wider than credits for movie-making and aquariums, world-class or otherwise.
Everyone in Hawaii has heard the oft-declared notion that few places on Earth have the renewable and natural resources to lessen reliance on oil than our islands. But we have not pushed past the marvel of that idea.
CALIFORNIA'S reach for the sun extends far beyond Hawaii's. Solar power and independent grids are no longer novelties there. Rebates have not only buffered the cost of home solar systems, but have increased the value of the properties themselves. Homes in new subdivisions are routinely wired for solar power. Utility companies are legally obligated to credit customers for surplus power they produce.
Financial incentives have grown the solar industry threefold in recent years. Businesses and industries have embraced solar energy as a cost-saving measure and as an expense not subject to fluctuations of geopolitics.
In Japan, a fuel cell the size of a file cabinet can generate electricity and produce hot water right inside a home. But it is Japan's mindset toward energy efficiency that ought to be imitated. The Japanese have trimmed their oil dependency by conservation as well as employing advanced technology. Appliances like washing machines and televisions suck less power. Cars get higher mileage, industries search constantly to cut energy use.
All of this is stimulated by energy prices that are more than five times those in the United States.
We in Hawaii are unfortunately very familiar with high energy costs. Every electricity bill comes with an added tab for each barrel of oil. Gasoline refiners play havoc on household budgets with or without price caps, with or without taxes, with or without increases in production and OPEC's latest whimsy.
So we have great potential in waves, ocean thermals, wind, sun, biofuels. You name it, we got it. Yet, the laggard pace with which we move has left us way behind. Time's a-wasting.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com