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November 10, 2011 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment

Notes from Clean Energy Meeting, Kihei March 17, 2011


  • Situation in Japan
  • Reation what can we do
  • Why 2011 is “Solar Year”
  • Solar Investing
  • Action Items in Maui and Honolulu
  • Kanu Hawai’i – July energy challenge


  • The reactors are out of control.
  • The situation is worse than Chernobyl, which had 1 million deaths. Now there are 6 reactors compared to 1 in Chernobyl. Some commentators say this is 500 times worse.
  • Reactor 3 is run partially on plutonium which is 1000 times more dangerous, experimenting with MOX for 3 months 5-15% plutonium
  • A Google news search for plutonium incidents shows that the US media doesn’t report them, but they are big news in Germany.

What can we do?

  • Set up a web page with radiation information. Click here to see this new posting.
  • Discussion: Should we start a Facebook page for distributing information about radiation risks and protection on Maui? What organizations already exist here with those resources?
  • Call for replacing nuclear with clean energy, wind, solar.
  • The Sierra Club already has anti-nuclear position, but it hasn’t started to point what we should be learning from the Japanese events and implementing in the U.S. We are prompted to encourage the Sierra Club to more actively to promote renewable energy in place of nuclear.
  • There is much discussion now on the internet about nuclear risks and suggested political actions.
  • There is also some information about the risks on Maui from the Japanese nuclear accidents and recommended precautions.
    Click here for some online resources as of 3/18/11.
  • Radioactive Iodine (Iodine-131) was major risk from the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown is not as big a factor with the current situation, which is leaking more Cesium.
  • For radioactive iodine, potassium Iodide is recommended, but only when person is exposed. It’s absorbed by the thyroid, which then doesn’t take in the radioactive substance.

    Good natural sources of iodine are edible seaweed, like nori, kelp, dulse and irish moss as well as asparagus, garlic, lima beans, mushrooms, seafood, sea salt and fortified salt, sesame seeds, soybeans, spinach, summer squash, swiss chard and turnip greens.


  • PV costs have come down to between $2.80/watt (Germany) and $6.50/watt (US).
  • Chinese thin wafer technology is less expensive but can fracture more easily.
  • China is installing a new coal plant each week.
  • Safe nuclear? This is a problem because of the long half life of nuclear waste, which contains certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) from “spent” fuel that will remain hazardous to humans and other creatures for hundreds of thousands of years. Other radioisotopes remain hazardous for millions of years.
  • What is needed is the political will to make the change to clean energy happen sooner. Because of the wealth and lobbying power of the established oil, coal and nuclear suppliers , this is a huge challenge. How can we make the change?
  • Suggestion: Lease rooftops to MECO to generate electricity.
    Response: MECO did survey about this and found it difficult to manage a large number of small roofs.
  • One problem with locally generated clean energy is the limited capacity of the grid to take variable energy. Reliable forms of storage are needed, perhaps incentives for homeowners to get batteries to store sun and wind generated electricity during high production and and installation of available systems that let individual batteries feed back into the grid at specific times of day, like peak demand between 7-9pm.
  • Currently the best batteries are Lithium-Ion batteries.
  • Energy can also be stored by Pumped Hydro systems, but local studies about feasibility of pumped storage at Ulupalakua revealed serious problems regarding environmental impact statements and getting permits.
  • A planned reservoir in upcountry has a cost of $100 million to build and an 18-year of permitting process. Two of those would be needed for pumped storage. MECO is only worth $100 million and they burn $300 million of oil burned/year, which is paid for by consumers. It is hard for them to invest $100-200 million in a storage system.
  • The Lanai PV farm was designed to store energy, but the battery company failed and the Chinese bought it. Lanai is just now getting a new battery.
  • The new FIT (Feed-in-Tariff), policy allows an electricity producer to upload a maximum of 250 kw to MECO for 20 years at a guaranteed rate of 21-27 cents per kw hour.
  • Net metering is better for homes than FIT, however, a producer can have a FIT meter on a separate meter from the Net Meter.


  • An investment in a PV system with a 6% interest loan gives power costs for 30 years between 14-33 cents / kWh. MECO currently charges $0.30-0.34/kWh and that will likely only get higher.
  • Inverters for PV systems are warranted for 10-15 years and will likely be replaced because of limited lifetime and improvements in technology.
  • The PV modules have 10 year warranty, but can least for up to 40 years if not damaged by a big voltage surge, people walking on top of them and creating micro fractures, or getting serious corrosion on the terminal or getting water seepage.
  • The resulting return on a PV system is between 8% and 13%, depending whether tax incentives are utilized.
  • This grows to a 31% annual return in 20 years (considering a 5.5% increase in kWh prices)
  • Commercial systems pay off in 2-4 years –
  • Investments in solar parks yield 7-14%. A solar park is where people rent out their land or their roof and others invest in the PV installation.
  • One problem is that the rush to install at the end of the year for tax write-offs chokes installation process with over demand of limited supplies.
  • People need to learn how to use the tax benefits that are year-round.
  • Need to have clean energy education for architects and bankers.
  • LEED (international green building certification system) points are given for generating energy, but not for design. Because of the current low economy, there are few LEED projects on Maui now.
  • PV installation also protect roofs, but you need to start with a roof in good condition.


  • Signs in front of PV homes or stickers on their mailboxes could show the trend.


  • These are very practical, can be placed in parking lots, give shade to parked vehicles and provide power for all the associated businesses or homes.


  • Alternating PV pipes and open space can make the right amount of shade for vegetables like tomatoes. Some panels let sunlight through and could also be installed in gardens.


  • Ground mounted systems require a building permit and they must be engineered.


  • Solar hot water was tested by, and standards developed in part by the utilities. Now it is mandated for new construction, but regulations and enforcement were not mandated. The mandate eliminated solar hot water tax credits and rebates and costs the state money for inspection. Contractors also must be trained to properly install the units.
  • Architects also need to be educated about locating solar electricity and solar water units appropriately, too limit length of pipes from source to end use.


  • These are made from amorphous materials and serve a double purpose, but are not yet efficient enough to be really practical.


  • The Small Wind Power market is still developing.
  • The vertical axis installation at the MECO office is wobbly. Same problem at the UHC. The 20′ height above the bearing creates cantilever problems on bearings.
  • All wind units get energy from their “swept area”, which is one of the most important factors in predicting energy production
  • Vertical wind turbines swept area is half the cage size because because half of the time it’s rotating into the wind.
  • The small turbines at the Ma’alea aquarium are challenged to follow shifts in wind direction.
  • Wind turbines must be high enough to avoid turbulence, which kills energy production.
  • Wind power provides better dollar per kw hours than solar in a good wind resource.
  • Durability is issue with wind equipment. There’s a 20-year design for the better units.
  • The first big Maalea turbine fell apart each week because it was an old design that wasn’t  made for the salt environment)
  • The <i>First Wind</i> farm now has storage in the form of a semi-truck sized GE battery. Their new farm will go up soon. Huge pieces of the new windmills can be seen stored beyond the fence at the end of South Holopono Street in the Maui Research Park.
  • Land is leased from the state by First Wind. Customers pay MECO which pays First Wind which pays state.
  • When excess energy is generated, it can be curtailed  by stopping the windmill from turning.
  • Construction has begun at the Auwahi Wind Energy 22-megawatt wind energy and battery storage project near Ulupalakua. Because it’s at end of power line, it needs a massive 30 MW battery.



March 19, 2011 at 2:26 am 1 comment

Time to Upgrade Appliances?

In our Habit of the Month column, we usually look at little things that you can do everyday to live more sustainably. This month, let’s look at the tools we use every day and see if they could use an upgrade. If you own your house, this is your decision. If you rent, these tips may help you convince your landlord that you need to upgrade! According to the U.S. Dept of Energy, lighting, refrigeration and cooking are responsible for 41.5% of a home’s energy consumption. We can all take step to reduce our use (full dishwashers, shorter showers,etc) but sometimes it is time replace. Every household is different though so assess and decide what is right for you.

Make a list of which appliances you would like to upgrade and choose the one that will make the biggest difference in your energy costs. Currently, Hawaii Electric is offering rebates to encourage people to update and maintain the big energy users in our homes. Where there is a
*$xxx it means that it is eligible for a Hawaii Energy rebate if you buy a qualified model and/or use a qualified service person! When buying new appliances always look for Energy Star Rating.

Ceiling Fan (*$40) — Just changing your older ceiling fan out can reduce energy use by 50%. Make sure to turn off ceiling fans when you aren’t in the room. People don’t think about it, but using your ceiling fan with A/C will allow you to keep A/C at higher temp and still be comfortable.

Refrigerator (*$50) – Some new refrigerators are claiming to using equivalent power to a 60-watt lightbulb…pretty incredible! On average a new refrigerator will take 40% less energy. If you don’t want to upgrade, try adjusting your thermostat settings (37 degrees F for refrigerator and 3 degrees F for freezer is recommended) and clean and repair seals.

Window Air Conditioner (*$50) Newer models will save 10% annual savings. If possible, install them in shaded locations (north side of home or plant a tree!) for more efficiency.
Ductless Split Air Conditions (*$110) Split A/C system are more energy efficient than central air because they can be adjusted to cool specific areas of the home.
Central A/C Maintenance (*$50) Just keeping your central air conditioner tuned and cleaned can save up to 20%. Ensure your ducts, filters and coils are in good working order by having your system checked by a qualified serviceperson and get a rebate!

Washer (*$50) Newer models save both water(20-35%) and energy (50%) while cleaning your clothes better and reducing wear and tear on your washables. Although it isn’t eligible for rebate, get a new dryer that has a moisture sensor option. This will save energy and reduce wear on your clothing. Or better yet, use a solar drying device (clothesline) for the most savings. If you like the "tumbled softness", air dry and then throw in the dryer on air dry for 10 minutes.

Dishwasher (*$50) A newer dishwasher reduces water use by 25% and energy by 33%.

Solar Water Heater (*$750 + 35% state tax credit + 30% federal tax credit) According to HECO, 35% of the typical electric bill goes to heating water. Going solar gives you a whopping 90% saving. Here in South Maui, we are great candidates for Solar Water Heating. If you can’t move to solar check out heat pumps or high efficiency water heaters.

Computers — 90% of desktop computers are not energy efficient. If buying a new computer, a laptop will save power and give you more flexibility. Change out your old monitor with a flat screen for more saving. Take advantage of sleep and hibernate setting to automatically shut off power when you walk away.

Solar Attic Fan – Keeping your attic cool can reduce your air conditioning needs and extend the life of your roof. Sometimes just getting proper ventilation will help, so many homes in South Maui are not properly vented. A properly installed solar fan can be much cheaper than fixing bad ventilation.

Here are some great online resource and sources of information used in this article.

December 1, 2010 at 10:12 am 1 comment

Thin-Film Solar Startup Debuts With $4 Billion in Contracts

From the web via Wired Science
By Alexis Madrigal
September 9, 2009

A startup with a secret recipe for printing cheap solar cells on aluminum foil debuted today, in what could end up a milestone for the industry.

Nanosolar’s technology consists of sandwiches of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) that are 100 times thinner than the silicon solar cells that dominate the solar photovoltaics market. Its potential convinced Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to back the company as angel investors in its early days.

Two big announcements marked its coming out party: The company has $4 billion in contracts and can make money selling its products for $1 per watt of a panel’s capacity. That’s cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels in markets across the world.

[read more…]

September 10, 2009 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

Maui County Energy Expo 2009, September 10-11

Maui’s Energy Future – From Concept to Reality
Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa

Highlights of this year’s Expo:

  • Outstanding speakers, panel discussions and presentations
  • Exhibits featuring state-of-the-art products and technologies
  • Presentations by the Maui County Energy Alliance Working Groups
  • Models of Reality: Progress Report Panel
  • Maui County Energy Alliance Working Groups Reports
  • Public Commentary
  • Key Considerations in Maui’s Next Steps: Overcoming Island Regulatory Barriers to Clean Energy
  • Key Considerations in Maui’s Next Steps:
    • Energy Efficiency & Conservation
    • Energy Storage & Integration
  • Economic Development Implications
  • Maui’s Next Steps: Now What?

The Energy Expo 2007 sold out – be sure to register early for this year’s event!

View Conference Program
Two Days—Thursday & Friday: $120—Includes continental breakfast and lunch
Thursday a.m. only: $50—Includes lunch
Thursday p.m.: Free after lunch
Friday: $90—Includes continental breakfast and lunch
*Limited Student Scholarships are available by calling the Office of Economic Development at 270-7710

Optional Pre-Conference Landfill Methane Outreach Program Workshop – Sept 9: $45/person—Includes lunch

For more information:
County of Maui Office of Economic Development
Victor Reyes, Energy Commissioner
Ph. (808) 270-7710 or email

August 4, 2009 at 5:08 pm Leave a comment

What Can You Do?

The Maui Weekly, July 30, 2009
by Chris Mentzel

Kihei Energy Consultant Willy Bennett calls his photovoltaic (PV) system the best savings account he ever had. A PV system is a set of blue or black panels that make electricity. His system is 2.5 years old and has made him $3,500 in that time—a 12 percent yearly tax-free return.

Next to the panels on his roof are the two familiar solar hot water panels, which are a much more common sight on Maui. These give him an annual, 50 percent tax-free return. Using the power of the sun for heating water and making electricity are two separate technologies that make great sense for your pocketbook—and for the environment.

The cost for a typical residential PV system is $20,000 to 30,000; solar hot water systems run between $5,000 to 6,000. There are several support and loan programs that reduce the actual out-of-pocket cost to less to half of that—sometimes even to zero.

For businesses, the situation is ideal. Any business with a flat roof and available funding would be crazy not to install solar. For those businesses that lack the funds, there are options to partner with investors.

In the past, obscure tax laws have made it unnecessarily complicated to get the benefits that lawmakers intended. But this has changed. In Hawai‘i, we now have a law that makes the state tax credit refundable. Now it’s even possible for people who don’t have enough earnings to pay taxes to benefit from the state’s commitment to clean energy.

Federal tax incentives have been changed to grants. While some details are still being worked out, this change will reduce the cost of most solar energy systems by 30 percent. (Please consult your licensed tax consultant to evaluate your situation.)

We may never see a better time to make the switch to solar hot water and solar electricity. The financial crisis has helped reduce panel prices, and contractors have more time for these projects. As soon as the new tax laws become common knowledge, everyone will want a system, and prices will rise again.

Special thanks to Willy Bennett, who taught me a lot of this. He is available for consultations at 283-0404.

Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC, consults with county and state governments in Hawai‘i to secure a quick transition to a clean energy future. He is also the chairman of South Maui Sustainability’s renewable energy committee.

His goal is to end oil use on Maui by 2020. He can be reached through or at 214-7678

August 2, 2009 at 12:09 am 1 comment

Solar Hot Water News

Stimulus will buy low-income Hawaii families solar heaters
The Honolulu Advertiser, July 27, 2009

About 420 low-income households in Hawai’i will soon be getting solar water heaters paid for with $3.7 million from the federal economic stimulus program. On Maui people looking for more nformation about the Weatherization Assistance Program can call 808-249-2970. Read full article

July 27, 2009 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

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