Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Energy Consumption in Hawaii

I'll soon be working with WattDepot, so this week I've been learning a bit about energy consumption in Hawaii as background.

First, I had to review bit of high school physics regarding the difference between energy and power. Power is rate at which work is done or energy is converted over time. Power is measured in watts. One watt is equal to one joule/second. So a 60W lightbulb burns 60 joules/second.

Energy is... well, energy--the stuff that makes things move, go, change, or happen. It is force applied over a distance. When related to household electricity, it is usually measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh. One kWh is equal to 3.6 megajoules.

I also learned that Hawaii is in a pretty unique situation when it some to exploring alternate/green energy sources. Our energy on Oahu costs about 30 cents per kWh, which is 3x what it costs on the mainland. (And on the neighbor islands it costs 6x mainland prices!) This is because we rely predominantly (70+%) on shipped oil, whereas the mainland can also rely on nearby coal and natural gas sources. We have a number of small, discrete electrical grids here, rather than the massive interconnected grid that spans much of the mainland. This means we can't buy, sell, or shift extra energy around to neighboring states (or even neighboring islands) as demand shifts. This is fairly inefficient.

But, on the bright side, this expensive energy means that alternative energy sources may be more attractive here in Hawaii than they would be on the mainland. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative has also mandated that 70% of Hawaii's energy come from clean sources by 2030. To our benefit, we have nearly every kind of potential renewable energy source here: wind, solar, waves and tidal motion, hydrothermal, and geothermal sources.

Data about current energy use and how this usage will be affected by alternative sources will be essential. This information can also provide feedback to end-users to help them reduce their consumption, which is also an important goal. There is currently some interesting research going on at the University of Hawaii regarding smart sensors and tracking current use... which brings us back to WattDepot. It is currently being used to track energy use in some of the UH dorms.

I'll be learning more about the specifics of WattDepot this week. Check back again soon for more info!

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