2017 Maui Energy Conference: Discussing Hawaii’s Transition to a Clean Energy Economy
Reliable, renewable and reasonably priced energy playing a key role in the creation of vibrant, healthy and resilient communities was the prevalent theme at this year’s Maui Energy Conference. The concept was introduced by keynote speaker Guillermo “Gil” Penalosa, founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, who emphasized that if cities are great for both an eight year-old and an 80-year-old, then they will be great for all people.
Since 2013, the Maui Energy Conference has brought together government, business, and community leaders from around the world to discuss the current and future state of energy, with an increasing focus on the integration of renewable energy.
Presented by the Maui County Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui Economic Development Board, the conference theme was, All Things Energy: Pursuing New Opportunities for Electricity and Beyond and exploring “new and innovative pathways to a vibrant and clean energy future.”
In a panel on emerging trends in energy policy for Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric President and CEO Alan Oshima emphasized that while the investor-owned utility is still a good and viable model, our Hawaiian Electric Companies recognize that customers are demanding something different. We are working “to become more nimble, to react quicker and not seek ultimate perfection in everything we do,” he said, noting that is not how utilities have traditionally operated.
As an example of better meeting customer needs, Oshima shared plans to develop new business products and services that will ultimately allow our companies to reduce rates and help customers save money.
“We are changing as fast as we can,” he said.
Another example of providing customer options is the companies’ network of electric vehicle DC fast chargers — seven on Oahu, three on Hawaii Island and one on Maui, with more on the way.
“Hawaii is at the forefront of the electrification of transportation,” Oshima said.
Similarly, Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of planning and technology, noted that the future of the electric grid will be shaped by customer choice.
From a panel focusing on the role of the smart grid, Ching said the intent is to transform the traditional electric grid into a platform that enables customers to choose an option that best suits their energy needs.
“We need to rapidly evolve,” Ching said, adding that the companies’ grid modernization strategy is not to deploy a “full-scale” smart grid at one time but to take a modular approach — “one that allows for maximizing flexibility and incorporating the latest in technology and functionality.”
With any change come questions about resilience and sustainability, topics of a panel that included Scott Seu, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of public affairs. Seu emphasized that climate change is a major threat and that a coordinated effort is needed to address the issue — one involving all sectors in our state, public and private.
Ching repeated the theme of an overall, united effort in his opening remarks on the second day of the conference.
“It’s broader and not just about electric energy. Really it’s about energy, food, water and transportation, and not only how challenges may overlap but also how we see opportunities for solutions that can help more than one individual sector,” Ching said.