Meredith Kuba, Ph.D.
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

The state of Hawai‘i and Okinawa Prefecture marked the 30th anniversary of their sister-state relationship by setting aside an afternoon to discuss a subject of mutual and paramount importance to both island communities — clean energy.

The July 10 Hawai‘i-Okinawa Energy Innovation Forum in the House chambers of the State Capitol was highlighted by the signing of the Hawai‘i-Okinawa Memorandum of Cooperation for Clean and Efficient Energy Development and Deployment by Gov. David Ige, Hawai‘i’s first governor of Okinawan ancestry, and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga. Ige said the MOC has provided “tremendous opportunities for both jurisdictions to share and exchange economic, scientific, education, government and business best practices, and it has fostered goodwill and enhanced economic cooperation and advancement.”

He said the anniversary celebration was special to him because as a new member of the House of Representatives in 1985, the year Hawai‘i and Okinawa became sister states, he recognized that the partnership was a way to transform the economies of Hawai‘i and Okinawa through clean energy, while enhancing the sister-state relationship.

Hawai‘i and Okinawa are situated at about the same latitude and have similar tropical climates with isolated energy grids that are highly dependent on imported fossil fuels for electricity generation and distribution. But Hawai‘i and Okinawa are both committed to reducing their reliance on fossil fuels through energy efficiency measures and the use of diverse renewable sources such as solar, wind and ocean thermal. Both island states deal with the same issues of high energy costs, energy security and effects on climate change — issues amplified in archipelagos with rising sea levels.

The original Memorandum of Cooperation was signed in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Energy; Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; the state of Hawai‘i and Okinawa Prefecture to support an alliance on clean energy. “The United States and Japan designated Hawai‘i and Okinawa as the representatives for this groundbreaking partnership due to our demonstrated leadership and experience in clean energy and energy efficiency,” Ige said.

Those involved in the collaboration thus far say it has brought the two governments and people closer together, and although they have made much progress, there is much more to do. By extending the MOC for another five years, through June 2020, there will be continued support for these pioneering clean energy projects.

Gov. Ige, a staunch supporter of renewable energy, recently signed into law landmark legislation passed by the 2015 Legislature that requires Hawai‘i utilities to generate electricity from 100 percent renewable sources by 2045 — an extremely bold and ambitious goal. And, only five years from now, in 2020, the goal is for Hawai‘i to be generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Energy independence by using Hawai‘i’s abundant renewable resources achieves a dual purpose — stimulating smart growth that benefits present and future generations while delivering cost-effective energy that is environmentally friendly. Last year, 21 percent of Hawai‘i’s energy was generated from renewable sources — wind, solar, geothermal and biomass — and Hawai‘i is seriously focused on diversifying its energy portfolio.

Okinawa, like Hawai‘i, is an island prefecture with a similar population — 1.4 million people. Both island groups are surrounded by beautiful oceans and a precious and fragile natural environment; island traditions and culture; and an economy dependent on tourism, the U.S. military presence and construction. Okinawa’s electricity generation relies heavily on fossil fuels — petroleum, coal and liquefied natural gas.

Okinawa Prefecture’s Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Demonstration Project on Kumejima. (From:
Okinawa Prefecture’s Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Demonstration Project on Kumejima. (From:

The Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 drastically changed Japan’s energy environment and heightened Okinawa’s awareness of renewable energy. The prefecture also set ambitious renewable energy deployment targets of 30 percent by 2030, with 20 percent coming from the main island of Okinawa and 100 percent on some neighbor islands, many of which rely on more expensive diesel fuel for electricity generation.

Although renewable energy, specifically solar, has been expanding rapidly in both Hawai‘i and Okinawa, the integration of solar power has been a challenge. The imbalance between the amount of electricity generated and the amount needed — and the instability caused by the intermittent power — has led to concerns about safety and reliability. For that reason, modernizing the electrical distribution grid is important.

To facilitate the expansion of renewable energy, Okinawa and Hawai‘i both have project demonstrations to improve grid stability and reliability. Gov. Ige described JUMPSmart Maui as a “cutting edge project that demonstrates advanced technology for electric vehicle charging on Maui.” JUMPStart Maui began in 2011 and is a collaborative project between Okinawa and Maui to study grid stability while allowing more renewable energy, clean transportation with electric vehicles and smart grid technology to become more energy efficient without impacting the daily lives of residents.

Miyakojima, which is located south of Okinawa island and has been dubbed the “Smart Energy Island,” has a goal of 100 percent renewable energy and advanced micro-grid systems has been set. Miyakojima and Maui are sister-islands. The goal of the partnerships is to apply these smart grid technologies developed on Maui and Miyakojima to other power grids around the world.

Another island in Okinawa, Kumejima, located just off the western coast of the main island, is conducting collaborative research in Kona on the Big Island. They have held workshops to develop ocean thermal energy conversion, which uses the water temperature differences of deep-sea water to generate electricity. The project also works with the agricultural industry and fisheries to integrate technologies and use of deep-sea water.

In addition to renewable energy, energy efficiency is essential in achieving energy goals while promoting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency contributes to a reduction in usage and costs through conservation. Achieving the monumental energy goals will require a collaborative effort between utilities, businesses, government and academia to develop energy policies that will benefit consumers and producers. New careers are also emerging in the clean energy sector, which will require the development of education programs and workforce training.

“In the next phase of the partnership, Hawai‘i and Okinawa will promote academic exchanges, collaborative research and development between the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, and other universities and research institutions,” Ige said. UH and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, which opened less than four years ago, have already established joint academic exchange of faculty and students. Energy issues are no longer limited to just engineering and scientific problems — they are also economic, social, political and moral problems that affect us individually and collectively as a state and a planet. Because of the multifaceted nature of solutions to energy problems and their global effects, the Hawai‘i-Okinawa partnership recognizes that collaboration from multiple perspectives and different academic disciplines is necessary to solve this problem.

With this renewed relationship, Hawai‘i and Okinawa can look forward to more interesting projects that will contribute to the state’s clean energy goals. Climate change and environmental degradation require clean energy solutions — renewable energy and energy efficiency to alleviate reliance on fossil fuels. These problems are global and the pooling of intellectual resources through collaboration among the public sector, private sector and academia can devise global solutions. The clean energy sector is vital in creating a sustainable society and the partnership can work to overcome similar challenges facing both island states.

Hawai‘i officials see the state as a clean energy test bed that will take the Islands beyond tourism, the military and construction as economic mainstays by creating an economy based on clean and renewable energy. With the U.S. Department of Energy supporting the continued partnership with Japan, Hawai‘i can be leveraged as an innovation test place since it must meet very aggressive clean energy targets and needs to develop an industry to support it.

When implemented, the end goal will be sustainable models in Hawai‘i and Okinawa of renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation and work force development that other areas of the world can follow. The energy landscape is changing and the continued partnership will foster a very vigorous five years for Hawai‘i and Okinawa, learning from each other to help achieve energy goals and leading the way in innovation to serve as role models for the rest of the world.

“Partnerships such as the one we have built with Okinawa only enhance our efforts to reach this goal (100 percent renewable energy by 2045) and provide demonstrations and scalable models for addressing clean energy needs, while ultimately offering other states and nations with proven models for clean energy transformation.”

He concluded his comments by thanking Gov. Onaga for participating in the forum. “I look forward to many more fruitful discussions and another 30 years of collaborative and productive sister-state relations.”

Meredith Kuba teaches Honors and Advanced Placement Chemistry at Kamehameha Schools. She was previously the fuels specialist for the state Energy Office’s Renewable Energy Program. Meredith is an avid swimmer and marathon runner — she recently qualified to run in next April’s Boston Marathon. And if her name sounds familiar to you . . . yes, Meredith was Cherry Blossom Queen in 2004.

The Mega-Solar project is helping to provide up to 30 percent of Miyakojima’s power needs. (From:
The Mega-Solar project is helping to provide up to 30 percent of Miyakojima’s power needs. (From:


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