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March 29, 2019

Clean energy, conservation benefits all communities – not just those who can afford it

Categories: Energy | Featured

Day 2 of the Hawaii Energy Conference featured an exploration of how renewables and energy conservation are benefiting three very different communities in Hawaii: military families, affordable housing renters, and the former homeless.

In “Lessons Learned from Building in Hawaii,” a panel discussion moderated by Ulupono Initiative Managing Partner Murray Clay, representatives of Johnson Controls, Hunt Military Communities, and Photonworks Engineering each shared their experiences unleashing the power of clean energy in the housing markets.

Murray Clay, Managing Partner, Ulupono Initiative 

With housing accounting for approximately 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the panelists asked if it’s really such an outrageous idea to think affordable housing can be built in smart, connected communities that effectively manage electricity demand while providing services to the grid.

Panelist Mary Fox, national vertical market director of public housing for Johnson Controls, works in the federally subsidized housing space. Fox said she wakes up each day asking herself what she can do to take things one more step further. 

Mary Fox, National Vertical Market Dir Public Housing, Johnson Controls 

“We can do sustainability … in big ways,” she said, but added it’s necessary to bring sustainability to affordable housing, to the people who need it the most.

Ninety-nine percent of Johnson Controls’ work is retrofitting existing buildings to affordable housing; however, one of the biggest impacts has been achieved through education policies that promote energy and water conservation among tenant populations.

Brent Arakaki, director of development for Hunt Military Communities, shared that working with military communities means you must face the challenge of high turnover. This presents a challenge to conservation education. So as part of Hunt’s energy management strategy, they introduced an energy allowance band under which families pay for inefficiencies while being rewarded for efficiencies. 

Brent Arakaki, Director of Development, Hunt Military Communities

In addition, he described partnering with Tesla to reach 30 percent solar-powered by placing PV on “as many roofs as possible,” but noted that pushing beyond that 30 percent threshold has proven to be more challenging.

The third panelist, Adair Hill, project manager for Photonworks Engineering, shared how solar and a microgrid has benefited former homeless families in the Kahauiki Village in Honolulu. 

Adair Hill, Project Manager, Photonworks Engineering 

Originally the vision of aio founder and chairman Duane Kurisu, the community is a groundbreaking initiative that uses public and private resources to attain and retain homes for homeless families with children. It is not a shelter but a permanent solution to break the homelessness cycle and also aims to provide employment opportunities within walking distance for homeless parents.

Kahauiki Village became a reality thanks in part to an emergency proclamation by Gov. David Ige and use of a solutions-based approach by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to push through government and institutional hurdles. Currently, the average family size at Kahauiki Village is five, with 150 total occupants in the current “first phase.” Once complete, it’s anticipated the community will help take half of Honolulu’s homeless families off the street.

The first families moved into Kahauiki Village in January 2018 and, partly due to necessity, the community operated as a true microgrid until Hawaiian Electric Co. could lay the necessary energy infrastructure. Power was initially generated and supplied through the community’s PV system.

“The ingenuity of humans is constantly overcoming challenges,” Hill said.

Energy and conservation literacy played a part of an effective strategy for all three communities. Fox explained that you can’t assume people know what those in the industry know. It’s worth helping them understand the financial benefits. You can build an efficient, clean energy system, but that’s limited if you haven’t done the conservation side. 

Education is constant and a very important part, Arakaki agreed. For his part, he holds energy fairs and promotes best practices via social media. But he also directly employs military spouses, which instills awareness in families in its own way. 

When asked what the continental U.S. can learn from Hawaii, Fox noted that the state’s process, at least for solar, is smoother than elsewhere. That’s not to say it’s fast by any means, but from procurement to fees, Hawaii has set the groundwork for success. 

For more information on the Hawaii Energy Conference, as well as announcements about next year’s event, visit hawaiienergyconference.com.

“Lessons Learned from Building in Hawaii” featured (from left) panelists Adair Hill, project manager for Photonworks Engineering; Mary Fox, national vertical market director of public housing for Johnson Controls; Brent Arakaki, director of development for Hunt Military Communities; and moderator Murray Clay, managing partner for Ulupono Initiative.