Erika Engle

HECO engineer
gets attention for
his ‘groovy’ job

Hawaiian Electric Co. renewable energy guru Karl Stahlkopf has a dream job, according to Spectrum magazine.

The publication, produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, set out to find 10 of the "coolest, baddest, hippest, grooviest, (depending on your generation), most gratifying EE (electrical engineering) jobs in the world."

Stahlkopf has one of them.

It's a bit of well-placed attention for a state that has been pounding its chest to promote itself as a high-tech haven for years.

The magazine's February issue, online at, puts Stahlkopf alongside Sony robot builder Yoshihiro Kuroki; Industrial Light & Magic Research and Development Director Steve Sullivan; and Lego Systems A/S Senior Technologist Lau Kofoed Kierstein, among others with less play-oriented, but still cool jobs.

His actual title is senior vice president for energy solutions and chief technology officer and he oversees Renewable Hawaii Inc., HECO's renewable energy subsidiary.

"It was nice to be in the company of nine very unique individuals who took their technical skills, saw a vision, and were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to follow that vision," said Stahlkopf.

It's not all about smarts, he said.

Easy for him to say. He has degrees in electrical engineering, naval science and nuclear engineering, according to the magazine.

"I think the commonality is that they're doing something that they think is important and they're doing it very well because they're passionate about it."

Stahlkopf describes himself as a recent transplant from Silicon Valley but is actually a returnee. He met his wife Carole while she was teaching at the University of Hawaii and he was working at Pearl Harbor.

Then the opportunity presented itself to come back.

He and HECO President and CEO Mike May met to discuss common ground between the company's expectations for increasing the use of renewable energy and "the kinds of things which I like to do. I'm very good at beginning new enterprises," Stahlkopf said.

He came back in the spring.

Having the ability to make something where it hasn't been before, to have ideas and push the frontier and make things happen, "these are the kinds of things I'm doing with HECO," Stahlkopf said.

Stahlkopf's concept of an electronic shock absorber for windmill-generated electricity has been patented, for instance.

Blustery winds cause wind-power to fluctuate, creating instability on a power grid, which could cause it to crash. The shock absorber "takes all of the instability ... out of the wind farm and allows us to be able to put more wind on our system," he said. It also makes windmills more efficient and reliable and less subject to wear and tear.

Further testing will be done, but the company is in talks with a windmill manufacturer "evaluating how this would fit into their product line," he said.

Running broadband communications through power lines is another project Stahlkopf is involved in, via a consortium and downtown market trials.

Some 7 percent of HECO's total generation is from renewable sources "and we continue to grow that," said May.

As for Stahlkopf's now-chic job, "I'm very pleased to have Karl in the picture, because this is not only a dream job, I'm sure for Karl, but a dream come true for us to have someone of his talent as part of our team."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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