How university collaboration is helping Hawaii go green

SOURCE: Shane Myers Photography/Shutterstock
Collaborations with the University of Hawaii are helping the island state reach its goal of 100% renewable energy.

By U2B Staff 

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When it comes to clean energy, Hawaii is head and shoulders above its fellow US states, leading the way in almost every category. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The state has ambitious plans to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and it is well on its way, already achieving 33 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar and implementing 60 utility-scale renewable energy projects feeding power into its grids.

Other states are watching on closely. As the pressure to grow green mounts every day, the most populated set of islands in the world is managing to achieve its ambitious goals with neither overloads or blackouts.

While the state may make it look easy, it hasn’t done it alone. Rather, umpteen collaborations and partnerships have come together to make the results possible. A large player in this is higher education, predominantly the University of Hawaii, who has brought its expertise and industry collaborations to help the state reach for green.

Energy efficiency starts at home

Starting their efforts right at home, the University of Hawaii (UH) teamed up with Blue Pillar, the leading Internet of Things (IoT) network solutions provider for IoT data and control systems, to streamline its energy usage.

Blue Pillar’s Energy IoT platform provides the UH Office of Energy Management (OEM) with enhanced visibility into its energy usage by centralising data across disparate systems and equipment.

Outside of the state’s goals, UH have their own energy ambitions with plans to achieve net zero energy use by 2035.

The University of Hawaii is aiming for net zero energy use by 2035.

“After years of making do with poor quality data, we needed a way to rapidly upgrade the quality and visibility into our energy use patterns if we are to be able to reach our ambitious clean energy goals,” said UH Director of Energy Management, Miles Topping.

“Deployment of Blue Pillar’s technology sets a strong foundation for our future plans.”

The Aurora energy IoT platform, as it’s called, was installed throughout UH’s Mānoa and West Oʻahu campuses where it aggregates real-time energy data from the campuses’ utility substations, multi-building electric sub-metres, building automation systems, as well as PV systems and solar inverters.

The university has called the installation “transformational,” as it not only allowed them to develop strategies for energy and cost savings, but has also significantly reduced the amount of human-hours needed for monthly inspections, metre readings, and manual data input.

“We have already initiated multiple efficiency projects based on the data collected by this project,” Topping explained.

“For example, LED lighting conversions are underway for exterior building facades, and a major overhaul of our sports field lighting systems is anticipated to save up to 70 percent of the energy consumption from the existing halogen technology.

“This improved visibility into our energy usage is helping us to establish a baseline of buildings’ existing usage patterns, so that design teams currently scoping major campus renovations are better informed to develop more efficient and robust building designs.”

Good things happen when students get involved

On top of taking responsibility for their own energy usage, UH’s students – with a little help from industry – are creating the innovations that will help not only Hawaii but the world achieve its climate goals.

Just this month, an interactive projection-mapped 3D model of Hawaii’s O’ahu island caused a stir at the national energy conference in Washington, DC, with speculation it could aid the future of energy planning.

Developed by UH at Manoa students, the so-called Haven project – short for Hawaii Advanced Visualization Environmental Nexus – shows layers of data demonstrating the potential outcomes of policy decisions. It can show land ownership, and photovoltaic and windmill buildouts over time, among other data projected across a topographical map of the island.

“It would make me feel really good that I would have a hand in the future of renewable energy and trying to get away from coal,” graduate student Ryan Theriot, who did the open-source visualisation coding for Haven, told UH News.

The team of students from the Laboratory for Advanced Visualisation and Applications (LAVA), worked with Hawaii’s State Energy Office and Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) to complete the project. They also received funding support from the state energy office, Department of Energy, and the Academy for Creative Media System.

The invention caught the eye of Assistant Secretary of the National Office of Electricity, Bruce Walker, who touted the model as a possible solution to technical recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

With the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also showing an interest, it looks like the brainchild of this successful collaboration could be going nationwide, and possibly beyond.

Give the people what they want

Hawaii is not alone in its rapid trend towards cleaner more efficient energy usage. Across the country, there is record-breaking enthusiasm for renewables among consumers and government is trying to keep pace.

A recent report carried out by the market research firm Maslansky & Partners, found 70 percent of the US population agree that “in the near future, we should produce 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.”

So far in the US, more than 80 cities, five counties, and two states have committed to 100 percent renewables. Six cities have already hit the target.

Universities will continue to be at the forefront of the fight for clean energy. Their knowledge and ability to innovate are priceless when the stakes are so high. But as in so many crucial subject areas, it can’t be done without the collaboration of industry and government bodies.