The Green Leaf

IUCN Spotlight: Jeff Mikulina

September 3rd, 2016
Solar panels at Kapiolani Medical Center. Courtesy

Solar panels at Kapiolani Medical Center, Honolulu. Credit:

Island nations, most vulnerable to climate change, are also innovators in adopting renewable energy.

The Blue Planet Foundation and IUCN Caribbean host a workshop, Windows to the Future: Islands as Innovators for a Renewable Energy Transition, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center (Room 319A) as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, joins Franklin Hoevertsz, managing director, Utilities Aruba, Dutch West Indies, Utu Abe Malae, executive director, American Samoa Power Authority, Spencer Thomas, energy economist, government of Grenada, Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Ambassador to EU for Climate Change from the Republic of Palau,  and others for a discussion on strategies leading to 100-percent energy. Race car driver, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, electric vehicle advocate, will also be on the panel.

Following the workshop, at 1:15 p.m., leaders from Tonga, American Samoa and other island nations join Blue Planet Foundation founder Henk Rogers for an announcement regarding their shared vision for a 100-percent renewable energy future at the center's main lobby fronting Atkinson Avenue. (Rogers also speaks on an Oceana panel from 5-6 p.m.).

Island nations around the world have made substantive plans and commitments toward 100-percent renewable energy, many by 2030, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, by a power plant in downtown Honolulu. Star-Advertiser ARchives/ Cindy Ellen Russell.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, by a power plant in downtown Honolulu. Star-Advertiser Archives/ Cindy Ellen Russell.

The Green Leaf sat down for a Q&A with Jeff Mikulina.

GL: Why is it significant for the IUCN WCC to be held here in Hawaii? How can Hawaii contribute to the conversation this year?

JM: It is a remarkable privilege for Hawaii to be hosting the 2016 World Conservation Congress...It is also very timely and appropriate. The title of this year's Congress, "Planet at the Crossroads," reflects the urgent need for climate and conservation leadership. Here, Hawaii has the clear opportunity to demonstrate solutions.

Hawaii island has long been at the forefront on climate science, hosting the longest-running carbon dioxide sampling experiment on Earth. Hawaii is also a global leader in aggressive clean energy policy, enacting a law in 2015 that requires 100-percent renewable energy. Blue Planet Foundation believes that islands are serving a key role in accelerating clean energy innovation, policy and progress. The World Conservation Congress gathering in Honolulu will be our opportunity to help illuminate a sustainable path forward.

GLDo you think Hawaii is at an energy crossroads, given the Public Utilities Commission's recent decision not to go through with the NextEra merger and our need to meet our 100 percent renewable energy goals?

JMHawaii is certainly at a crossroads for how we produce and use energy. The decisions we make today about our energy system cast a long shadow on the future. Our existing electricity system is aging and outdated. It was built for a different era — an era when oil was cheap and the climate wasn't changing. In fact, the largest power plant on Oahu today was running before Zippy's existed. This old system is being pushed to its limits with the addition of new clean energy sources, like the almost 80,000 rooftop solar systems helping to power our state today. We need to re-envision our energy systems to accommodate our clean, renewable sources of power.

Our 21st-century system will likely be more flexible, more distributed, more reliable — and more affordable. But we need to make those choices today. The utility is currently going through its long-term planning process. The energy landscape is changing more rapidly today than any other time in Hawaiian Electric's 125-year history. The plans must accommodate the quickly evolving technologies, disruptive ideas, and new business models to accelerate our 100-percent renewable energy future.

Similarly for transportation, which is increasingly intertwined with our electricity system. How do we enable new transportation options, such as electric and hydrogen vehicles, bicycles, and shared transit, that don't rely on fossil fuels? To solve our increasingly urgent climate crisis, these are questions we need to answer today.

So we are at a turning point technologically, socially, and politically. Ten years ago we were almost 100-percent dependent on fossil fuel for electricity. Today it is down to about 75-percent dependent, and we've passed a law bringing it down to zero within a generation.

GL: Do you think there are any lessons we can learn from other island nations? What’s a good example?

There are many lessons that we can learn from and share with other island nations. Since islands are not connected to a larger energy grid, they must "go it alone" and develop ways to match energy supply and demand on the small island system. This makes islands the perfect testbeds for new technologies, policies, and programs to demonstrate 100-percent renewable energy.

Examples can be found around the globe. Iceland put its abundant geothermal and hydroelectric resources to work decades ago to rid itself of fossil fuel. Today they produce more renewable energy than they use on the island, enabling new, energy-intensive industries, such as aluminum production for export.

The island of Tokelau off of New Zealand was one of the first to go 100% renewable using solar with battery storage. In overcast weather, they use backup generators that run on local coconut oil, providing power while recharging the battery bank.

El Hierro in the Canary Islands uses an innovative wind and energy storage system that began operations last year. Their energy storage system works by pumping water uphill when they have excess wind power. That water is then used to run a hydroelectric generator when they lack enough wind power. Lessons like these can be found on islands everywhere — it's up to us to develop the right set of clean energy solutions for our home.

NW: Do you see great potential for community solar projects in Hawaii?

JM: Community solar has the potential to make our clean energy revolution accessible to all families and businesses. Over the past decade, a new solar system was installed every hour in Hawaii. But most of those systems were installed on single-family homes. Most renters, businesses, nonprofits, and residents who live in condos or multi-unit dwellings simply don't have the option today of going solar. Community solar, or community renewables, changes that. Anyone –regardless of where they live on the island — will be able to participate in and benefit from solar and other renewable systems, even if those systems weren't directly on their property.

Community solar — which has been too long in coming — brings some equality to our clean energy policy. Everyone should be able to participate in Hawaii's clean energy future, not just those fortunate enough to have a big roof over their heads.

Community solar also allows residents to "hui up" to find energy solutions. For example, several condo owners in different buildings may collectively install solar panels in another location with spare rooftop capacity. Even larger communities can join together to install renewable energy in ways that are most effective and efficient for their particular community. Or public agencies, such as schools, colleges, universities, and local governments will have more flexibility to access renewable energy across their systems.

Getting to 100-percent renewable energy is important. But it's equally important how we get there. Community solar lets everyone participate in the power of our shared energy future.

Wind and solar power are both present in Hawaii. Associated Press.

Related Video: Monster Tajima's Run for the Record, Pikes Peak (2014)

Posted in Blue Planet Foundation, climate change, IUCN, IUCN World Conservation Congress, solar | Comments Off on IUCN Spotlight: Jeff Mikulina

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