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Less is more when it comes to energy consumption


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POSTED: Monday, January 12, 2009

Hawaii's progress toward renewable energy continues steadily with projects large and small providing encouragement for a shift in power production and possibilities for economic growth.

Last week alone saw a multimillion-dollar wind-wave proposal in Hawaii waters, a 10-acre solar facility near completion in a former pineapple field on Lanai and a photovoltaic system begin generation on the rooftop of a downtown office building.

Though the ocean energy plan is still in the study phase, the Lanai project not yet up to full capacity and the rooftop complex petite, they collectively represent the initiative necessary to free the islands from its reliance on carbon fuels for energy.

Steps being taken in the state that pays among the highest electricity rates in the nation correspond with the goals of the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. Hawaii should be poised to play a larger role on the national scene by parlaying its wealth of renewable resources into a template for economic expansion.

In a speech about his stimulus package last week, Obama called for "the creation of a clean energy economy" by doubling production of alternate energy in the next three years. He means to update distribution of electricity by building "smart grids" that can power down usage, provide more reliability by allowing utilities to isolate problems more easily and, with improved equipment, incorporate technically challenging renewable sources.

Obama's agenda also includes modernizing 75 percent of federal buildings, and cutting 15 percent of energy use by the U.S. government, the largest energy consumer in the world.

Boosting efficiency - retrofitting buildings, manufacturing plants, redesigning equipment and appliances, which is key to lowering energy needs - will breed more jobs at a time when unemployment is soaring. Economists note that renewable energy production is far more labor-intensive than fossil-fuel generation, opening more work opportunities that can't be outsourced.

For Hawaii, one renewable venture is just beginning to take shape with Grays Harbor Ocean Energy, a Seattle-based company, seeking a federal permit to look at wave generation at seven sites, including the Penguin Bank off Molokai. Platforms that also house wind turbines could produce more than 1,000 megawatts of power.

On Lanai, a spread of 7,400 tilting photovoltaic panels will generate, at full production, 1.2 megawatts, enough to provide up to 30 percent of the island's daily peak power needs.

Meanwhile, at a historic building downtown, the Nature Conservancy advanced its mission with a 12.6-kilowatt system that combined with energy-efficient measures is expected to reduce the organization's energy consumption by more than 45 percent this year.