By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham
Popular culture portrays island living as a bucolic dream. For most, however, it is a dream fulfilled only during fleeting vacations. Island destinations often appeal to eco-tourists, and many islands are in a race to become desirable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral destinations. Nevertheless, Grydehoj and Kelman (2017) state that conspicuous sustainability as a development strategy, while strengthening ecotourism, can detract from islands’ more pressing environmental issues. The pair assert that it is not difficult to find ‘eco-islands’ that have invested in inefficient renewable energy projects. Hawai’i, however, and the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i in particular, is making headlines about the new future of renewables in island energy.
The state of Hawai’i plans to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 – the most aggressive target in the United States (HEI, 2016). Kaua’i – Hawai’i’s fourth largest island with a population of 67,000 – has an even more aggressive energy policy. The Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has the goal to reach 50 percent clean energy by 2023; it is well on its way (Fehrenbacher, 2017). Tesla recently completed a solar-plus-battery storage system on the island. Storage has always been the challenge with renewables – the niggling question of how to keep the lights on when the sun does not shine or when the wind does not blow. Tesla’s battery packs solve this conundrum and will assuredly keep Kauai’s lights on after dark.
The island’s new solar plant is comprised of 54,978 solar panels, 13 megawatts of solar generation capacity, alongside Tesla’s large commercial 52 MWh Powerpack batteries (KIUC, 2017). Tesla is contracted to sell the energy to KIUC for 13.9 cents a kilowatt-hour over the next 20 years (KIUC, 2017). Importantly, this price is below the island’s current energy cost, which tends to be very high due to reliance of fossil fuels shipped and stored from the mainland. This dependence has also kept the island vulnerable to outages during shipping interruptions.
While Tesla’s solar plant will reduce fossil fuel use on the island (thereby reducing carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions) greenhouse gases emitted in transporting eco-tourists to and from these destinations may preclude them from ever becoming true ‘eco-destinations’. Nevertheless, residents are excited about no longer paying the highest utility prices in the nation, and visitors and residents alike have one less concern – secure energy. Though island destinations may still form an elusive dream in our collective psyche, renewable island energy is swiftly catapulting from dream to reality.
Fahrenbacher, K. (2016). An exclusive look at Tesla & SolarCity’s battery solar farm in paradise. Fortune. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://fortune.com/tesla-solarcity-battery-solar-farm/
Grydehøj, A. and Kelman, I. (2017), The eco-island trap: climate change mitigation and conspicuous sustainability. Area, 49: 106–113. doi:10.1111/area.12300
Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI). (2017). Our Vision. Retrieved March, 2017, from https://www.hawaiianelectric.com/about-us/our-vision/100-percent-renewable-energy
Kaua’i Island Utilities Cooperative (KIUC). (2017). Hawai’i’s first utility scale solar-plus-battery storgage system is energized on Kaui’i. Retrieved March, 2017, from http://kiuc.coopwebbuilder2.com/sites/kiuc/files/PDF/pr/pr2017-0308-KIUC%20Tesla%20plant%20energized.pdf