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Products: Energy Policy & Planning Group

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Balancing Opportunities and Costs in Hawaii's Increasingly Green Grid

Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy and oil-fired power plants make it the most oil dependent state in the United States. It also has the nation’s highest electricity prices, often between 3 and 4 times the national average over the last decade. These high prices, the state’s sunny and windy climate that make it amenable to increasingly economical renewable energy, plus a relatively progressive political culture have pushed the state to adopt an ambitious goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2045. Focusing mainly on the state’s largest grid on Oahu, where most people live, we discuss the cost structure of the current electricity system, the potential benefits and challenges of growing the share of renewable energy, and make a few policy suggestions. In particular, we argue that all homes and businesses should be given an opportunity to buy and sell electricity at the marginal cost of generation. Variable pricing could greatly reduce the cost of renewable energy, and perhaps seed development of Hawaii as a technology center focused on batteries and smart machines that can help shift electricity demand to align with the variable supply of solar and wind energy.

Working Paper

Factors Affecting EV Adoption: A Literature Review and EV Forecast for Hawaii

Electric Vehicles (EVs) reduce or negate gasoline or diesel use in vehicles through integration with the electric grid. Both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)—which can draw from a battery as well as liquid fuel—and battery electric vehicles (BEVs)—solely powered through electricity—provide the opportunity for power-sharing with the electric grid and can potentially ease the integration of sources of intermittent renewable energy. This is a potentially important technology to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, local air pollution, and vehicular noise.

In this paper, we review studies informing the factors that affect EV adoption. We also review and harmonize studies that develop forecasts of EV adoption over time. We select a set of forecasts that represent low, reference, and high EV adoption and apply them to Hawaii-specific EV and car sales data to provide a preliminary forecast of potential EV adoption in Hawaii.

Read the full report at the Electric Vehicle Transportation Center.

Do Energy Efficiency Standards Hurt Consumers? Evidence from Household Appliance Sales

We examine the effect of energy efficiency standards on the clothes washers market using a constant-quality price index constructed from same-model price changes for a significant majority of clothes washer models sold in the United States between 2001 and 2011. We find constant-quality prices fell over time, while quality increased, particularly around times energy standards changed. We estimate total welfare changes by assuming the difference between average price and constant-quality price indicates average quality. Further examination shows product entry and exit are associated with changes federal standard for energy efficiency. With policy changes implicitly coordinating entry and exit, average vintage sharply falls when standards change. Controlling for individual model and time effects, we find that lower average vintage is associated with more rapidly falling prices, an effect we attribute to increased competition. We also find a strong relationship between clothes washer prices and average vintage of the same manufacturer, which indicates cannibalism explains much of the declining price of clothes washers over time. We apply the same methodology to other appliances (clothes dryer, room air conditioners and refrigerators) which did not experience simultaneous efficiency standard changes between 2001 and 2011. We see the same cannibalism in the market for clothes dryers, but not for room air conditioners or refrigerators. We also find notable improvements both in the characteristics of clothes washers that directly improve energy efficiency and those that promote convenience and space-saving. Energy efficiency standards appear to facilitate more rapid innovation and price declines.

Revised version, posted December 22, 2016

working Paper

UHERO Brief: An Economic and GHG Analysis of LNG in Hawaii

Hawaii currently meets the majority of its electricity needs through oil-fired generation – causing rates to be nearly four times the national average. In response to rising oil prices and in line with State-led action combating climate change, Hawaii is aggressively pursuing alternative sources of energy for its electric sector. Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) states that utilities must meet 40% of electricity sales with renewable sources of energy by the year 2030; however, the remaining 60% can come from fossil fuels. Lower natural gas prices as a result of the “shale gas revolution” is in part why the State and key stakeholders are deliberating importing large amounts of natural gas in liquefied form (liquefied natural gas or LNG) for use in the electric sector.

This study builds upon past Hawaii-based LNG studies and extends the analysis by assessing both the macroeconomic and electricity sector impacts of using natural gas for power generation. We draw upon two recent studies, by Facts Global Energy (2012) and Galway Energy Advisors (2013) for price estimates. In addition to economic outcomes, this study estimates GHG emissions impacts as well as qualitatively discusses other environmental impacts related to the extraction of natural gas.



Read the full report here

An Economic and GHG Analysis of LNG in Hawaii

Hawaii currently meets the majority of its electricity needs through costly oil-fired generation causing rates to be nearly four times the national average (EIA, 2013a). The "shale gas revolution" has led to rapidly declining natural gas prices within the continental U.S. The emergence of a natural gas market that is de-linked from oil prices has renewed Hawaii's interest in natural gas imports. Potentially lower natural gas prices as well as the view that it will help to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions and increase energy supply security through domestic sourcing are major reasons why the State and key stakeholders are deliberating over importing large amounts of natural gas in liquefied form (liquefied natural gas or LNG). This study uses detailed models of Hawaii's electric sector and overall economy to estimate the impacts of Hawaii importing LNG for use in the electric sector.


Why Does Real-Time Information Reduce Energy Consumption?

A number of studies have estimated how much energy conservation is achieved by providing households with real-time information on energy use via in-home displays. However, none of these studies tell us why real-time information changes energy-use behavior. We explore the causal mechanisms through which real-time information affects energy consumption by conducting a randomized-control trial with residential households. The experiment disentangles two competing mechanisms: (i) learning about the energy consumption of various activities, the “learning effect”, versus (ii) having a constant reminder of energy use, the “saliency effect”. We have two main results. First, we find a statistically significant treatment effect from receiving real-time information. Second, we find that learning plays a more prominent role than saliency in driving energy conservation. This finding supports the use of energy conservation programs that target consumer knowledge regarding energy use.

Published version: Lynham, J., Nitta, K., Saijo, T., & Tarui, N. (n.d.). Why does real-time information reduce energy consumption? Energy Economics. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2015.11.007

Working Paper



Cost Implications of GHG Regulation in Hawai‘i

The State of Hawai‘i and the U.S. are developing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction regulations in parallel. The State requires that economy-wide GHG emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing new source performance standards (NSPS) for new electricity generation units. The State Department of Health has proposed rules that would reduce existing large emitting electricity generating units by 16% from 2010 levels. The NSPS proposes GHG concentration limits for new electricity units.

We use a comprehensive model of Hawai‘i’s electricity sector to study the potential cost and GHG impacts of State and Federal GHG regulations. Given uncertainty about the final form and implementation of these regulations, we adopt a series of scenarios that bracket the range of possible outcomes. First we consider the State’s GHG cap (for existing units) and NSPS (for new units) being implemented at the facility level. Next, we consider the implications of allowing for partnering to meet the State GHG cap and the NSPS at a system-wide level. We also consider the case where the State GHG cap is extended to apply to both existing and new units. The current proposed State GHG rules exclude biogenic sources of emissions. We address the impacts of this decision through sensitivity analysis and explore the impact of GHG policy on new coal-fired units.

We find that regulating GHGs at the facility level leads to greater reductions in GHG emissions but at higher cost. Over the 30-year period that we study, when biogenic sources of emissions are ignored, facility level implementation of policy will add $3 billion to the cost of electricity generation at an average cost of $180/ton of GHG abatement. If biogenic sources of emissions are included within the accounting framework, abatement costs rise to $340/ton.

Overall, we find that the high cost of Hawai‘i’s current electricity generation provides a strong incentive to move towards less costly alternatives – in this consideration, primarily wind and rooftop PV. This leads to a reduction in GHG emissions. However, this finding would not hold if fuel prices were substantively lower than current levels, either from falling prices or fuel-switching to lower cost products. Regardless, the qualitative implications about the optimal structure of GHG policy are robust to changing assumptions about fuel prices. Implementing GHG policy at the facility level leads to relatively higher levels of GHG emissions reductions, though at substantially higher cost. If a greater level of GHG emissions reduction is desired, the least cost policy is to lower the level of the GHG cap while still allowing for the greatest flexibility in achieving targets.


PURPA and the Impact of Existing Avoided Cost Contracts on Hawai'i’s Electricity Sector

The United States has been trying to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel since the 1970s. Domestic fossil fuel supply initially peaked in 1970, and the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 accelerated domestic policy and investments to develop renewable sources of energy (Joskow, 1997). One such policy—passed in 1978 by the U.S. Congress—was the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

In this policy brief, we identify the existing PURPA-based contracts in Hawai'i and use a Hawai'i-specific electric sector generation planning model, The Hawai'i Electricity Model (HELM), to estimate the impact that PURPA contracts have on both total system cost and the mix of generation technologies. We study a variety of scenarios under the maintained assumption that the state will achieve the Hawai'i Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that 40% of electricity sales are generated using renewable sources by the year 2030.


A Policy Analysis of Hawaii's Solar Tax Credit Incentive

This study uses Hawaii as an illustrative case study in state level tax credits for PV. We examine the role of Hawaii’s tax credit policy in PV deployment, including distributional and tax payer impacts. Hawaii is interesting because its electricity rates are nearly four times the national average as well as has a 35% tax credit for PV, capped at $5,000 per system. We find that PV is an excellent investment for Hawaii’s homeowners, even without the state tax credit. For the typical household, the internal rate of return with the state tax credit is about 14% and, without it, 10%. Moreover, the vast majority of installations are demanded by households with the median income and higher. We estimate that single-family homeowner’s in Hawaii may demand as much as 1,100 MW of PV. There are, however, significant grid constraints. Policy currently limits PV generation to no more than 15% of peak load for any given circuit, or approximately 3% of aggregate electricity demand. Tax credits are therefore not likely to increase the overall deployment of PV, but rather spread the cost of installation from homeowners to taxpayers and accelerate the rate at which Hawaii reaches grid restrictions.

 Published version:  Coffman, Makena, Sherilyn Wee, Carl Bonham, and Germaine Salim. "A Policy Analysis of Hawaii's Solar Tax Credit." Renewable Energy 85 (2016): 1036-043. Web.

Market, Welfare And Land-Use Implications of Lignocellulosic Bioethanol In Hawaii

This article examines land-use, market and welfare implications of lignocellulosic bioethanol production in Hawaiʻi to satisfy 10% and 20% of the State’s gasoline demand in line with the State’s ethanol blending mandate and Alternative Fuels Standard (AFS). A static computable general equilibrium (CGE) model is used to evaluate four alternative support mechanisms for bioethanol. Namely: i) a federal blending tax credit, ii) a long-term purchase contract, iii) a state production subsidy financed by a lump-sum tax and iv) a state production subsidy financed by an ad valorem gasoline tax. We find that because Hawaii-produced bioethanol is relatively costly, all scenarios are welfare reducing for Hawaii residents: estimated between -0.14% and -0.32%. Unsurprisingly, Hawaii’s economy and its residents fair best under the federal blending tax credit scenario, with a positive impact to gross state product of $49 million. Otherwise, impacts to gross state product are negative (up to -$63 million). We additionally find that Hawaii based bioethanol is not likely to offer substantial greenhouse gas emissions savings in comparison to imported biofuel, and as such the policy cost per tonne of emissions displaced ranges between $130 to $2,100/tonne of CO2e. The policies serve to increase the value of agricultural lands, where we estimate that the value of pasture land could increase as much as 150% in the 20% AFS scenario.


Economic Impacts of Inter-Island Energy in Hawaii

This study assesses the economic and greenhouse gas emissions impacts of a proposed 400MW wind farm in Hawaii. Due to its island setting, this project is a hybrid between an onshore and offshore wind development. The turbines are planned for the island(s) of Lanai and, potentially, Molokai. The project includes building an undersea cable to bring the power to the population center of Oahu. It is motivated by 1) Hawaii’s high electricity rates, which are nearly three times the national average, and 2) its Renewable Portfolio Standard mandating that 40% of electricity sales be met through renewable sources by the year 2030.

We use an economy-wide computable general equilibrium model of Hawaii’s economy coupled with a detailed dynamic optimization model for the electric sector. We find that the 400MW wind project competes with imported biofuel as a least-cost means of meeting the RPS mandate. As such, the wind project serves as a “hedge” against potentially rising and volatile fuel prices, including biofuel. Though its net positive macroeconomic impacts are small, the estimated reduction by 9 million metric tons of CO2 emissions makes the project a cost-effective approach to GHG reduction. Moreover, variability in imported fuel costs are found to be a much more dominant factor in determining cost-effectiveness than potential cost overruns in the wind project’s construction


Please contact Makena Coffman at makenaka@hawaii.edu for the full study.


Potential Benefits, Impacts, and Public Opinion of Seawater Air Conditioning in Waikïkï

This report provides a summary of an investigation by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program into the viability and effectiveness of installing a seawater air conditioning district cooling system in Waikīkī. Seawater air conditioning (SWAC) harnesses the cooling properties of cold seawater to provide cool air for air conditioning purposes. In doing so, SWAC reduces the amount of electricity needed for air conditioning. SWAC is particularly relevant to Hawai‘i for two reasons: first, the proximity of deep, cold, ocean water to areas of high population make Hawai‘i an obvious location for implementing the technology; and secondly, with approximately 90% of its electricity generated from fossil fuels, Hawai‘i is the most fossil fuel dependent state in the nation. Unlike the rest of the U.S., where coal, natural gas, and nuclear power are called upon to meet a substantial proportion of the electricity demand, Hawai‘i relies heavily on residual fuel oil (the by-product of refining crude oil for jet fuel, gasoline, and other distillates). As a result, Hawai‘i has very high electricity prices compared to the rest of the country. SWAC has the potential to both cut the cost of air conditioning and reduce the amount of harmful emissions that are released as a by-product of generating electricity from fossil fuels.

Seawater air conditioning works by pumping cold (44-45°F), deep (1,600-1,800 feet) seawater into a cooling station (Figure 1). Here, the cold seawater is used to chill fresh water flowing in nearby pipes. The chilled fresh water is then piped into hotels for cooling purposes while the seawater (slightly warmed to 53-58°F) is pumped back into the ocean at a shallower depth (120-150 feet).


Sustainable Development and the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative: An Economic Assessment

 The connection between the emerging field of sustainability science and the economics of sustainable development has motivated a line of interdisciplinary research inspired by the notion of “positive sustainability.” This notion is founded on three principles or pillars: (1) adopting a complex systems approach to modeling and analysis, integrating natural resource systems, the environment, and the economy; (2) pursuing dynamic efficiency, that is, efficiency over both time and space in the management of the resource-environment-economy complex to maximize intertemporal well-being; and (3) enhancing stewardship for the future through intertemporal equity, which is increasingly represented as intergenerational neutrality or impartiality. This paper argues that the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) fails to satisfy all three pillars of sustainability, and consequently fails to achieve the "sustainability criterion" put forward by Arrow, Dagupta, Daily et al: that total welfare of all future generations not be diminished. HCEI shrinks the economy, contributes negligibly to reduction of global carbon emissions, and sparks rent seeking activity (pursuit of special privilege and benefits) throughout the State of Hawaii.


Tax Credit Incentives for Residential Solar Photovoltaic in Hawai‘i

Solar photovoltaic (PV) tax credits are at the center of a public debate in Hawai‘i. The controversy stems largely from unforeseen budgetary impacts, driven in part by the difference between the legislative intent and implementation of the PV tax credits. HRS 235-12.5 allows individual and corporate taxpayers to claim a 35% tax credit against Hawaii state individual or corporate net income tax for eligible renewable energy technology, including PV. The policy imposes a $5,000 cap per system, and excess credit amounts can be carried forward to future tax years. Because the law did not clearly define what constitutes a system or restrict the number of systems per roof, homeowners have claimed tax credits for multiple systems on a single property. In an attempt to address this issue, in November 2012, temporary administrative rules define a PV system as an installation with output capacity of at least 5 kW for a single-family residential property. The new rule does not constrain the total number of systems per roof, but rather defines system size and permits tax credits for no more than one sub-5 kW system. In other words, it is possible to install multiple 5 kW systems and claim credits capped at $5,000 for each system. There is an additional 30% tax credit for PV capital costs at the federal level. There is no cap for the federal tax credit and excess credits can be rolled over to subsequent years.


Statewide Economy and Electricity-Sector Models for Assessment of Hawai‘i Energy Policies

This paper uses both a "top-down" and "bottom-up" economic model to asses the cost and greenhouse implications of various energy and environmental alternatives. The Hawai‘i Computable Generable Equilibrium Model (H-CGE) is a “top-down,” economy-wide model that captures the interaction between both producers and consumers, including full price effects between sectors. The Hawai‘i Electricity Model (HELM) is a “bottom-up” representation of Hawai‘i’s electricity sector.  The dynamic optimization model solves for the least-cost mix of generation subject to satisfying demand, regulatory requirements, and system constraints.  The models are fully integrated in respect to the electricity sector, where overall economic conditions determine electricity demand and, subsequently, the type of electricity generation has economic impact.


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