Solar farm moves Hawaii closer to energy independence

Solar farm moves Hawaii closer to energy independence
Darren Kimura
Darren Kimura

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

KEAHOLE POINT, The Big Island (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's estimated that 90 percent of energy is imported to Hawaii. But the renewable energy movement here takes another big step forward. It's the first of its kind.

A 2-megawatt solar thermal project called "Holaniku at Keahole Point" on The Big Island is now officially up and running.

It uses unique solar power collectors, which harnesses and intensifies thermal energy from the sun. It generates clean, renewable power.

On a hot and sunny day in Kona, the governor helps cut the maile strand, dedicating a new solar farm that'll power up to 500 homes a year. It's a project sparked by a Hilo native's ah-ha moment seven years ago.

"It was extremely bright, the sun was perfect and wanted to find a technology that could really harness the sunlight that we have here," Sopogy president and CEO Darren Kimura said.

Kimura's dream is the newest gem in this state-sponsored campus of alternative energy projects.

His solar company, Sopogy, expects to produce 2-megawatts of electricity.

"We're using a thousand solar concentrated collectors, which are a more efficient method of using the sun to create electricity," he said.

The solar project at Keahole Point covers about four acres. The energy produced there will be integrated into a grid for the rest of the state to use.

These curved optical mirrors, follow the sun as it moves, bouncing the light off the mirrors into a receiver tube filled with liquid. The heat creates steam, which is used to make power.

"Because we're dealing with steam and heat, we're able to put that into a storage container and thereby overcome things like clouds or nighttime periods," Kimura said.

For a state that imports 90 percent of its energy, the boost from these panels is a drop in the bucket.

But it's another step forward in Hawaii's initiative to reduce its imported energy to 30 percent within 20 years.

"I think everybody is being more energy conscious and more aware of our environment and I think that's what it's going to take, contributions from the youngest to the oldest, realizing that we're all in this together," Sopogy Product Development manager Kip Dopp said.

The total cost of this project is just under $20-million. Sopogy hopes to build more solar farms across the state.

They want to jolt over 30-megawatts of energy at other sites in Hawaii over the next five to seven years.