University of Hawaii Maui College is following the lead of its legendary namesake, the demigod Maui, known in Hawaiian lore for snaring the sun to slow its path across the sky.
The Kahului campus expects to become in April 2019 one of the first universities in the country that is energy self- sufficient, relying on solar power captured from rooftops and parking lots and stored in batteries on its 78-acre campus. At other U.S. campuses that have shifted mostly to clean energy, typically some of the solar or wind power is generated or stored off campus.
“This achievement has gained UHMC national recognition as an institution that walks the talk on sustainability,” said Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana. “This event is significant for Maui, as an island community, and having the ability to fully operate using the power of the sun is a powerful message we want to share about our campus culture of innovation.”
|STEPS TO ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
University of Hawaii colleges are turning to the sun to power their campuses. Here is how much they will reduce their consumption of fossil fuels by April 2019, as compared with 2008:
100% University of Hawaii Maui College
98% Leeward Community College
97% Honolulu Community College
74% Kapiolani Community College
70% Windward Community College
Close behind are Leeward Community College, set to reduce its use of fossil fuels by 98 percent, and Honolulu Community College, by 97 percent next year, as compared with 2008 levels. The dramatic reductions are coming from energy efficiency measures as well as new solar generation. Kapiolani and Windward community colleges are aiming for 74 and 70 percent reductions.
The bold steps at the five UH campuses rest on a partnership with technology giant Johnson Controls and Pacific Current, a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. The university is aiming to reach “net zero” across its 10 campuses — producing as much energy as it consumes — by 2035.
“We’re proud to partner with the university to help it reach that commitment and aim for UH Maui College to become the first campus in the U.S. to generate and store 100 percent renewable energy onsite, 16 years ahead of schedule,” Rod Rushing, president of Building Solutions North America for Johnson Controls, said in a statement.
Michael Unebasami remembers when he was an administrator at Leeward Community College back in 1980, when early efforts to reduce electrical demand by turning off air-conditioning systems had unexpected consequences — namely mold. Fortunately, energy technology has made huge leaps since then, and more recent efforts to rein in energy costs have been more rewarding.
“After I got my current position here overseeing the community colleges, I started thinking about how can we reduce electricity consumption at our campuses,” said Unebasami, UH associate vice president for community colleges. “Our budget was static in that area, and energy rates were going way up from the base that we had. We were constantly reallocating funds to cover the cost of electricity.”
The first performance- based contract with Johnson Controls, awarded in 2010, included energy efficiency measures such as swapping out chillers and switching to more efficient lighting, as well as installing a few solar panels at UH Maui College and Oahu community colleges.
Dramatic improvements in battery storage as well as photovoltaics in recent years led to a second phase of the contract, which is pushing heavily into power production and storage. It also continued efficiency upgrades, such as moving from fluorescent to LED lighting.
None of the colleges plan to detach from the electrical grid. If the solar panels don’t produce as much power as projected, the campuses can draw electricity from the utility, and Johnson Controls will cover that cost.
“So we can’t lose on this,” said Unebasami, who earned both his bachelor’s and M.B.A. at UH. “In the power- purchase agreement there is a guarantee on the production level of the solar panels. If it doesn’t produce as much and we need to pay HECO or MECO more than what we anticipated, they will pay us the difference.”
$171 million saved
Once Phase 2 is fully implemented, UH Maui College and the four Oahu community colleges will have reduced fossil fuel energy consumption by 14 gigawatt- hours annually and added about 13 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy, according to John Morton, vice president for community colleges. Maui College itself will have a capacity of 2.8 megawatts of solar PV and 13.2 megawatt-hours of battery storage.
Together, both phases of the contracts at the five campuses cost $63 million in borrowed funds, an amount dwarfed by the projected savings of $171 million from 2013 to 2032, Unebasami said. Those savings include lower energy costs under 20-year power-purchase agreements as well as reduced spending on maintaining and replacing outmoded equipment.
“The debt service is being paid for by the savings that are generated,” Unebasami said.
The deal also includes an unusual twist, reflecting its location.
“Most performance contracts are strictly construction,” Unebasami said. “We requested an educational component. Teaching is our mission. We thought this would be a great learning experience for our students as well as our faculty.”
Bonus of learning
Johnson Controls has come through with internships and scholarships as well as curriculum and workshops for students and faculty.
“It’s exciting,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, which champions clean, renewable energy. “Being in the education setting, the students can have a firsthand look at a working system. It’s not theoretical.
“UH is the right place to demonstrate these projects,” he added, “where you have a lot of students coming through and experiencing the future first.”
The photovoltaic-plus- storage systems developed by Johnson Controls will be owned by Pacific Current, but the contract has a buyout provision in the seventh year if the university and the state want to purchase them.
Interest in renewable energy is also surging at other campuses in the islands. Kihei High School in South Maui, expected to open in 2021, is slated to be the first public school in Hawaii that will be self-sufficient in energy. Solar PV systems have been installed in recent years at more than 70 Hawaii public schools, mostly through power-purchase agreements at no cost to the state.
Hawaii Preparatory Academy, in Kamuela on Hawaii island, already produces more energy than it consumes from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., thanks to solar photovoltaics and a wind turbine. Hawaii Pacific University’s photovoltaic system will generate 60 percent of its energy requirements at the Aloha Tower Marketplace campus when it is complete next year. And Punahou School has set an internal goal of becoming a “net-zero” campus, producing more energy than it consumes, in five years.
Matthew Lynch, UH sustainability coordinator, said UH Maui College and the community colleges are setting the pace, but the flagship UH-Manoa campus will be a tougher nut to crack given its challenging infrastructure.
“We’re very excited by all the progress that’s been made by the community colleges, and we are working very diligently to scale those successes out more broadly,” Lynch said. “Manoa is significantly more complex and more energy-intensive. We have every possible use, from athletics to research to cooking to living arrangements, to office administration to classrooms to laboratories. It’s useful to think of the Manoa campus almost as its own minicity.”
The UH administration is aiming to manage energy demand, adopt efficiency measures, generate renewable energy and encourage social efforts to reduce electricity consumption.
“We are most interested in helping harness student creativity to solve these real- world challenges,” Lynch said.