Isolated by the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation.

Hawaii’s islands stretch more than 1,500 miles across the central Pacific Ocean, from the Big Island of Hawaii in the southeast to the Kure Atoll in the northwest. The eight main islands, and the more than 100 uninhabited reefs, shoals, and atolls, are farther from a major landmass than any other island group on earth. Located 1,800 miles north of the equator, Hawaii is tropical, but its climate is moderated by steady trade winds and the surrounding ocean. Extremes of heat, cold, and rainfall occur in the mountains, but weather at low altitudes is generally mild, with little variation year-round. Most of the state’s population lives on Oahu. On all the Hawaiian islands, residents are clustered in the coastal areas.

Hawaii’s geographic isolation makes its energy infrastructure unique among the states. In recent years, more than one-tenth of the state’s gross domestic product has been spent on energy, most of that for imported crude oil and petroleum products. More than four-fifths of Hawaii’s energy comes from petroleum, making it the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation. The state of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy entered a partnership in 2008 called the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), aimed at reducing the state’s dependence on petroleum and optimizing use of sustainable local energy sources. In 2015, Hawaii set a legal deadline—2045—for obtaining 100% of its electricity from sustainable renewable sources, the first state to set a date.

Hawaii’s largest industry is tourism. Major economic sectors also include the U.S. military and agriculture. Transportation accounts for about half of all energy consumed. Overall, Hawaii’s economy is not energy intensive, and the state’s per capita energy consumption is among the lowest in the nation.

Renewable Energy

Quick Facts

  • In 2015, Hawaii generated more solar electricity per capita from distributed facilities than any other state, and solar energy from both utility-scale and distributed resources generated 35% of Hawaii’s renewable electricity.
  • With its mild tropical climate, Hawaii had the fourth-lowest per capita energy use in the nation in 2014. The transportation sector accounted for half of Hawaii’s energy demand in 2014, led by commercial and military aviation fuel use.
  • In 2014, Hawaii imported 90% of the energy it consumed, mostly as petroleum, and, in 2015, the state had the highest electricity prices in the nation.
  • Hawaii is one of seven states with utility-scale geothermal capacity. In 2015, 17% of Hawaii’s utility-scale renewable net electricity generation came from geothermal energy.
  • Hawaii is the first state to set a legal deadline for producing 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. The state plans to achieve that target by 2045.

Hawaii is the first state to set a deadline for producing all of its electricity from renewable sources.

In 2015, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to set a deadline for all electricity to be generated by renewable sources. The legislature extended the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which required 40% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, to require 100% renewable electricity by 2045. The state has also set separate energy efficiency portfolio standards, which are aimed at reducing anticipated electricity consumption 30% by 2030. The overall state goal for 2030 is 70% clean energy, counting both renewable sources and efficiency gains. Technologies recognized in the RPS include: wind; solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV); geothermal; biogas, including landfill methane; biomass, including municipal solid wastes; hydroelectricity; seawater-chilled air conditioning; and wave, tidal, and ocean energy.

Hawaii has substantial renewable resources throughout the island chain. In 2015, solar power edged out wind to become the state’s largest renewable source of electricity, providing 35% of renewable generation, primarily because of the growth of distributed solar generation. Hawaii produced more distributed solar generation per capita than any other state. At the end of 2015, more than 60,000 residential and commercial properties hosted solar PV capability, and nearly 50 megawatts were installed at larger commercial and military facilities on Oahu, Kauai, and Lanai. State regulators and grid operators are balancing increasing numbers of solar connection requests with grid stability requirements.

Utility-scale wind potential is found both onshore and offshore in Hawaii. The state’s six commercial wind farms are on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii. Smaller wind projects power a water treatment plant and an irrigation system on the Big Island. Three offshore wind projects have been proposed for federal waters around Oahu.

With the islands’ small grids, some larger projects using variable wind and solar technologies are incorporating energy storage to offset variability. The 6-megawatt Port Allen solar project on Kauai includes a 3-megawatt battery energy storage system, a 1-megawatt battery system on Oahu is being tested to balance power in an area with significant distributed solar generation, and Kauai’s newest solar project is designed to charge a 13-megawatt battery array so it can supply power at night. Since 2010, state building codes require all water heaters in new single-family homes to be solar-powered. Solar thermal technologies for seawater desalination are also being explored.

Biomass, mainly agricultural wastes such as bagasse from sugarcane, has long been used in rural Hawaii to generate heat and electricity. The H-POWER plant provides nearly 10% of Oahu’s electricity from municipal solid waste, and the plant is being expanded from 46 to 73 megawatts. Biomass electricity generators are operating or being developed on Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui. The 110-megawatt Campbell Industrial Park Generating Station, which began service on Oahu in 2010, is believed to be the world’s largest commercial electricity generator fueled exclusively with sustainable biofuel. The HCEI says more use of biomass and biofuels can both displace petroleum fuels and boost the state’s agricultural sector.

In 2015, Hawaii was one of seven states with utility-scale geothermal power production. Its single geothermal generating plant is located on the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island and supplied nearly one-fourth of the island’s electricity in 2015. More projects are being considered to tap the earth’s heat on the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu.

Hawaii does not have rivers appropriate for hydroelectric dams. A handful of small hydroelectric turbines use run-of-river flow at sites on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, and hydropower provides more than 5% of the electricity generated on both Kauai and Hawaii. Studies have identified nearly 50 potential sites for small-scale hydroelectric projects. Kauai’s electric cooperative is exploring a 25-megawatt pumped storage facility to meet nighttime peak electricity demand. The state is also looking to the surrounding ocean for renewable energy. The U.S. Navy and private researchers have been testing wave energy technologies, and studies indicate wave energy could provide one-third or more of the electricity Hawaiians use, depending on technological advances. Ocean thermal energy technology, which generates electricity through temperature differences between warm, shallow waters and cool, deep waters, is being explored. District cooling, drawing up deep sea water to chill air-conditioning units, is being commercially developed in Honolulu.


Petroleum-fired power plants have supplied more than three-fourths of Hawaii’s net electricity generation in the past 20 years. In 2014, for the first time, net generation from petroleum slipped below 70%. Renewable sources—mainly wind, biomass, and geothermal generators—supplied 13% of the state’s electricity from utility-scale generators in 2014 and 14% in 2015, nearly the same amount as was generated by coal. Use of distributed (customer-sited small-scale) renewable sources, like rooftop solar panels, has increased rapidly. In 2015, one in eight Hawaiian residential electricity customers had solar panels. If generation from distributed sources is included, Hawaii obtained nearly one-fifth of its net electricity generated and more than 23% of electricity sold to consumers from renewable sources in 2015.

Dependence on petroleum and isolated island grids give Hawaii the nation’s highest electricity prices.

Hawaii’s electricity is supplied by electric power utility Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) and, on Kauai, by an electric cooperative. HECO has explored the feasibility of converting some or all of its petroleum-fired generating units to LNG, both to reduce costs and to comply with tightening federal emissions standards. LNG is a key step in the utility’s plan to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2045. However, LNG conversion plans are being reconsidered since HECO’s merger with a larger utility was cancelled. Hawaii’s islands have six separate electricity grids, owned by the power utility and one cooperative, that are not connected by undersea electric transmission cables. Each island must generate its own power. Hawaii is encouraging initiatives to interconnect the island grids to enable more efficient power generation and to support increased development of renewable energy resources.

The state’s heavy dependence on imported petroleum and the isolated island grids result in Hawaii’s having the highest retail electricity prices of any state in the nation. Hawaii’s electricity demand is among the lowest in the nation, both in total amount consumed and in per capita consumption. About 3 in 10 households in Hawaii use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating, but, with the mild tropical climate, heating is rarely needed, and nearly two-thirds of households have no heating system at all.

Natural Gas

Until LNG was shipped to Hawaii in 2014, the state had only synthetic natural gas produced from naphtha feedstock.

Hawaii produces no natural gas and has no proved natural gas reserves. Hawaii is one of two states producing synthetic natural gas called syngas; the other is North Dakota. Syngas is produced in an Oahu processing plant using naphtha feedstock from a local refinery. The syngas is delivered by pipeline to parts of Oahu. Customers in rural areas of Oahu and on other islands, who are not connected to utility Hawaii Gas’s distribution system, are supplied with propane. The natural gas utility is diversifying its supply with both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and renewables-based syngas. As part of the state’s shift to renewables, Hawaii is encouraging the development of synthetic gas production using local biomass as a feedstock.

Hawaii’s first LNG shipment arrived in April 2014 in a standardized cryogenic container from a liquefaction plant in California. Standardized shipping containers can serve markets that do not have terminals for LNG tankers. The LNG was regasified and injected into the Hawaii Gas distribution system, becoming the first non-synthetic natural gas ever put into the system. Hawaii Gas is receiving monthly shipments of containerized LNG and has obtained state regulatory approval to convert up to 30% of its supply to LNG. Hawaii Gas is also pursuing a plan to build infrastructure for a floating regasification and storage facility that would allow bulk LNG imports by tanker. Such a facility could supply all Hawaii Gas needs, as well as natural gas for ground and marine transportation and for electricity generation.

With its limited supply and limited distribution network, Hawaii has the lowest total natural gas consumption in the nation and the lowest per capita consumption. The commercial sector, which includes hotels and restaurants, consumes about two-thirds of all the natural gas distributed in Hawaii. The residential sector accounts for less than one-fifth of consumption, in part because very few Hawaiians rely on natural gas as their primary fuel for home heating.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (Oct 2016)

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