Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Net metering a small step to self-sufficiency

Hawai'i is a long way away from being energy independent, or even anything close to it.

But in small increments and tentative steps, we are slowly moving toward an energy policy that, ultimately, is the only sensible, sustainable choice for this isolated fleet of islands.

While our dependence on oil remains overwhelming, not just for electric power but for virtually every form of energy we consume, there have been some healthy signs of change.

Probably the most substantial alternate energy program in place is the extensive use of solar panels for heating water in homes and buildings. This is a product of aggressive promotion by the electric company, tax incentives and the happy circumstance of our weather, which offers abundant sunshine.

Hawaiian Electric will point out to you that the real beauty of solar water heating isn't as a replacement for the electricity that otherwise would be used to heat up a tank. It is effectively an energy-transfer system, gathering energy cheaply from the sun during the day and storing it to be used at night for showers, washing and the like.

Elsewhere, there are any number of smaller alternate energy-producing sites, ranging from wind and volcanic through the burning of garbage for energy.

On the non-electricity side of the coin, there is growing interest in vehicles powered by hydrogen cells, by "hybrid" engines that combine electric power with internal combustion and other forms of technology. These make particular sense in Hawai'i, with its relatively short driving distances and low driving speeds.

The latest move toward energy self-sufficiency, however modest, comes in a bill approved by the 2001 Legislature for a small startup program in what is called net metering. The idea is aimed at homeowners or others who produce some electricity, perhaps through photovoltaic cells, for their own use. When the home is not consuming the electricity, it can be passed back through the meter and onto the grid, thus potentially saving some money while lessening the amount of power the electric company has to generate.

This first stage experiment with net metering will have only a minimal impact. But it will help test the theory, encourage more experimentation with alternate energy and gradually build on the idea that we need not be so dependent on limited, nonsustainable oil power for our energy needs.