Hawaii Clean Energy Initiatives Get Big Boost From US Navy

Residential customers in Hawaii paid an average of 37 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity this past June, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The next closest states, Vermont and Connecticut, paid about 18 cents, placing Hawaii in a league of its own when it comes to energy costs. But help is on the way from the Pentagon.

The U.S. Navy recently invested $30 million into Hawaii’s Energy Excelerator program, with the hope of boosting alternative energy initiatives in the state. The U.S. military, who owns about 240,000 acres of Hawaii land, not only wants to lower energy costs for its own benefit, but recognizes the opportunities for the state as well.

Energy Excelerator Program

High energy costs and a diversity of natural resources makes Hawaii the perfect place for green energy initiatives. The Energy Excelerator program is a startup funded mainly by the Department of Energy and Office of Naval Research. It accepts applications from other energy startups for funding of their projects. IBIS Networks and Bright Light Systems are just two of the many companies Energy Excelerator claims on its portfolio. These companies work on projects that reduce reliance on fossil fuels and energy costs overall.

Conscious Commuter is an Energy Excelerator company that produces electric bikes. The company’s mission is to “re-acquaint” people with riding bikes and enjoying their commutes, as opposed to burning fossil fuels to drive automobiles in traffic. Conscious Commuter assembles all of its bicycles in the U.S. in an effort to create jobs here as opposed to outsourcing them overseas.

Kuehnle AgroSystems (KAS) is another Energy Excelerator company that produces algae that can be refined for biofuels. The continuous production of algae can be used as the primary ingredient in fuel (i.e. corn for ethanol). KAS houses more than 2,000 species of algae in its Honolulu facility, which gives them diverse options for experimentation and research.

One concept that has yet to hit Hawaii includes solar-powered Internet alternatives to DSL.com and broadband.

Employment in Green Technology

The other major benefit Energy Excelerator companies offer to Hawaii is jobs. The Department of Defense currently employs nearly 17 percent of Hawaii’s working population, according to HawaiiBusiness.com. The best opportunities for green jobs will come from the solar industry. Despite the year-round sunshine the Aloha State enjoys, solar is not even a top four source of renewable energy in the state. Personal finance website Nerdwallet.com named Hawaii the second-best state in the U.S. for residential solar (sandwiched between California and Arizona) because of the sunshine and the incentive due to high energy costs. Hawaii’s goal is to be 70 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2030, according to USGreenTechnology.com. Solar will have to be a major part of this lofty goal to come to fruition. Biomass, wind and geothermal are currently the top three renewable energy sources in the state.

Attracting Startups From The Mainland

Green technology is a difficult sell to venture capitalists. And that is exactly what the U.S. Navy’s grant to Energy Excelerator will address, Dawn Lippert, the program’s Senior Manager, told TechCrunch. Venture investments in green energy across the globe dropped by 33 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Cleantech Group, an alternative energy research firm. Figures from Q1 2013 were down 30 percent from Q4 2012. Lippert anticipates an influx of green startups relocating to Hawaii to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Energy Excelerator, but also the resources and customer base the state has to offer.

Get Funding For Your Project

The Energy Excelerator program will be accepting applications through the end of September for companies seeking funds. Though hundreds of applications will be received, only 13 will be accepted. Ideas geared towards integrating renewable energy to the grid, bioenergy and energy efficiency have the best chances of approval. Companies are not required to relocate to Hawaii but must spend a month or so in the state as part of the overall program. Grant amounts range from $30,000 to $100,000 for “seed stage” startups, while Hawaii and Asia-Pacific-based startups can get up to $1 million.

Applicants with a strong belief that clean energy can someday power the entire world are also encouraged to apply.

Article by Jonathan Dickenson.

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