University of Hawaii Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy on Campus

By Rachel Leber

KAHULUI, Hawaii — As solar energy becomes more and more common in modern times, large institutions are demonstrating the undeniable benefits of using solar to the world at large. The University of Hawaii (UH) made an announcement on March 19 that its Maui College campus intends to generate 100 percent of its energy from on-site solar photovoltaic (PV) systems by 2019. Once the PV systems are installed, UH will be the first in the U.S. to accomplish this incredible feat on a college campus.  

Plans to install the new photovoltaic storage system on the UH Maui College campus are the result of a partnership between UH; Johnson Controls, headquartered out of Milwaukee, Wis., who will develop the PV systems; and Pacific Current, based out of Honolulu, who will own them. The new PV storage system will serve to fully eliminate all fossil fuel–based energy use by UH once complete.

The partnering between the three entities is the second phase of a larger and longer-term energy efficiency and renewable energy project of which Hawaii has committed. Hawaii’s goal to achieve 100 percent renewable energy across the state by 2045 was first made in 2015. From this commitment, Hawaii Legislature made a goal for the university system across the entire state to accomplish net-zero status by Jan. 1, 2035. This goal includes 10 other college campuses across Hawaii. The recent partnership between UH, Johnson Controls and Pacific Current is a result of this initiative.

“Hawaii’s leaders set the national example of sustainability and renewable energy standards with the net-zero mandate by 2035 for UH, and 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 on site, 16 years ahead of schedule,” said Rod Rushing, president of Building Solutions North America at Johnson Controls, in a recent statement.

In addition to the huge changes the partnership will create for the UH Maui’s energy consumption, the Hawaii initiative has already enabled four other UH community college campuses on Oahu to reduce their fossil fuel consumption significantly — which was the first phase of Hawaii’s larger energy efficiency project and long-term goal in this area.

Based on a number of energy efficiency measures taken at the four UH community colleges — Leeward Community College, Honolulu Community College, Kapi’olani Community College and Windward Community College — they will now be able to reduce fossil fuel use by 98 percent, 97 percent, 74 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

The energy efficiency measures implemented at the four campuses — as well as the UH’s Maui campus — included distributed energy storage, solar shade canopies and more. These changes were made after 2010 when UH signed its first energy performance contracts with Johnson Controls for these campuses. The energy efficiency upgrades at all five schools will also “reduce the deferred maintenance backlog at these campuses by approximately $20 million,” according to a recent statement.

“With the implementation of Phase II, these five UH campuses will have reduced fossil fuel energy consumption by about 14 GWh annually (45 percent) and added about 13 GWh renewable energy generation,” said John Morton, vice president for community colleges at UH, in a recent statement. “We are proud to move the entire University of Hawaii System closer to its net-zero energy mandate, to celebrate UH Maui College’s achievement and to position the Oahu community college campuses within reach of 100 percent renewable energy generation.”