An ambient room filled with chatter of networking and slight laughter went quiet as Japan-America Society of Hawaii President Reyna Kaneko took the stand. Kaneko began to introduce the esteemed panel for the night: Takahiro Ueno, senior researcher at CRIEPI in Japan; Jane Nakano, senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at CSIS; Connie Lau, former president, chief executive officer and director of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc.; and moderator, Karen Knudsen, former director of External Affairs for the East-West Center. The panel came together for the “Geostrategy in the Grassroots: Powering to Sustainability” discussion held at the Prince Waikiki on Wednesday, March 1. A crowd of roughly 50 people attended to learn about the panelists’ perspective on energy security, climate crisis and imported energy.

Ueno was up first to speak on where Japan lies in reducing their reliance on imported energy. He shared a pie chart showing Japan’s electricity generation mix as of 2021, mentioning that before 2011, one-third of the power supply came from nuclear energy. After the Fukushima nuclear accident took place, Japan had to reduce their reliance on using nuclear energy as a power source. They instead expanded to fossil fuel power from coal and natural gas. Ueno mentioned that natural gas is a necessary energy source to Japan, which they import from Qatar, Australia, the United States and Russia. He then mentioned that after the recent invasion from Russia on Ukraine, Japan has to once again, reduce their reliance. As of right now, Japan has yet to find another reliable source of energy, so they are still importing from Russia. Ueno then pulled up a second pie chart, showing the estimated electricity generation mix for 2050. Ueno mentioned that by 2050, Japan hopes to expand renewable energy supply to 54% – it’s currently at 20%. Ueno mentioned that it is difficult for Japan to be 100% renewable, like Hawai‘i plans to do, due to insufficient land space for solar power and too deep of sea beds for wind power. They plan to use methods of carbon capture and storage to make up for the remaining power source. Ueno stated that Japan plans to reach carbonization and energy security simultaneously by 2050, but needs newer technology and different programs to do so.

Panelists at the Geostrategy in the Grassroots: Powering to Sustainability event, held at the Prince Waikiki. (Photo by Kassidy Lyons)
Panelists at the Geostrategy in the Grassroots: Powering to Sustainability event, held at the Prince Waikiki. (Photo by Kassidy Lyons)

Up next to the mic was Nakano who thanked Ueno for bringing up the challenges that energy security faces globally. Although there are challenges present, Nakano mentioned that globally there has been a successful consumption of energy and electricity, despite the high oil and gas prices. Europe has had a warmer winter, as their consumption of energy and electricity is lower, and China’s “Zero-COVID-19” policy allowed for limited energy consumption, which is a big improvement as China is the largest energy consumer globally. Nakano also noted the Russian invasion on Ukraine, which highlights the danger of being over reliant on a single source supplier. On top of highlighting said danger, there are three key effects the Russian invasion had on the United States policy committee. The first one being a greater appreciation on the importance of energy security and that energy security is a dual challenge. Unable to pursue energy access, there has to be a pursuit of decarbonization as well. Secondly, there is no “U-turn” on the decarbonization drive. The U.S. plans to have half of vehicle sales to be electric vehicles by the year 2030. Nakano mentioned that the U.S. wants to pursue decarbonization but try to accommodate energy access needs at the same time. Lastly, there is a rise of green industrial policies in the U.S. Nakano pointed out that there has to be a little more government working side by side with industry partners to be more successful.

Last to speak was Lau who began her talk by giving a backstory to the history of clean energy in Hawai‘i, which began in the 1970s. The move towards clean energy, she said, was focused on energy security, as Sen. Daniel K. Inouye was concerned about the United States and Hawai‘i being dependent on the Middle East. Lau then mentioned that Hawai‘i has paved the way for clean energy in various ways. First, Hawai‘i has been the leader nationally because of how dependent Hawai‘i is on fossil fuels. Lau made it important to note that any move to clean energy is very dependent on the resources you have available in your particular area. Secondly, Hawai‘i is the first to highlight considerations that may stand in the way of clean energy. Hawai‘i has highlighted policy issues like food security, land policies, affordable housing and Indigenous rights. Lastly, Hawai‘i requires discussions of energy transition to be discussed with the public, which relates to Hawai‘i leading discussions in energy equity and justice, as Lau mentioned it is important to talk about equity issues with all communities and not just wealthier ones.

-Written by Kassidy Lyons


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