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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2003

Alternative energy fuels businesses

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

There's a lot of talk about developing alternative energy solutions in the Islands, but a few small programs are actually working to reduce the state's dependence on imported oil for power.

A shopping center in Hanalei, Kaua'i, has a 9,500-watt solar photovoltaic system on its roof, feeding its own electricity needs as well as hooking into the islandwide utility grid.

The project, installed nearly a year ago at the Hanalei Center, is one of the major net metering projects in the state, and one of a series of projects throughout the Islands that are pushing the envelope on alternative energy.

The Hanalei system has 72 Siemens 130-watt photovoltaic panels feeding three inverters.

Except for one failed inverter, which the manufacturer quickly replaced, it has functioned without serious problems, said Charlie Cowden, whose Hanalei Solar designed the system.

Instead of charging batteries, the Hanalei Center facility hooks directly into the power grid. If the shopping center is using more power than the system produces, the center takes power from the grid. If there's more power than needed, the center ships power to the grid.

The savings, after tax credits provided by both the state and federal governments, mean the system should pay for itself in four to five years, Cowden said.

On Maui, the Maui Recycling Service has arranged with Maui Car Rentals to rent out a Volkswagen Beetle that will operate exclusively on biodiesel fuel. The car is equipped with an unmodified diesel engine, and will use fuel made from used cooking oil, which is processed by Pacific Biodiesel. The recycled fuel can be run in a diesel engine without changes. Biodiesel is a growing application for used oils.

Kona Community Hospital on the Big Island is the first of three members of the Hawai'i Health System Corp. to bring online a new co-generation facility, which will reduce the hospital's power costs by $30,000 a month — the savings will go to pay off the $1.8 million cost of the system, and is expected to do so in six to 10 years, said assistant administrator Glenn Sparks.

The key to the savings is that the Kealakekua hospital's new 475-kilowatt diesel generator will not only produce power, but the hot water from the generator's cooling system will be used to preheat hospital hot water and — as strange as it seems — will help run the hospital's chillers as well. That reduces the need to use electricity or gas to run hot water or chilling systems.

Co-generation systems of this sort still use fossil fuels, but their increased efficiency reduces the overall demand for energy.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Reach him at (808) 245-3074 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.