The University of Hawai‘i at MÄnoa is the second-largest electricity user in the state, and the electrical bill is paid with student tuition. But within the next few years, the Solar Project feasibility plan could take UH MÄnoa and all residence halls 100 percent off the electrical grid.
"Technically it's possible. It's just a question of getting the land, doing engineering and financing it. I think all three of those are within our grasp. There's no reason for us not to be able to do this," said David Hafner, assistant vice chancellor for campus services.
The Solar Project is a new initiative to designate 300 acres on the west side of O‘ahu for a solar plant that would satisfy all the electrical needs of UH MÄnoa. Currently, the proposal is being considered by the chancellor, the governor and the president. If approved, the project would be underway within a year and completed in two to three years.
"After nine years it would essentially have paid for itself, and then we would be paying ourselves $20 million a year," said Hafner.
At present, students cover the cost of electricity through tuition. Instead of paying HECO, students' money would be redistributed to help finance the photovoltaic generation plant. The most costly building to operate on campus is POST, with close to $6,800 in electrical expenses a day. This is a few thousand more than a single student's in-state tuition. The total amount needed per day, to run all buildings on campus, is around $89,000.
When asked how the Solar Project would help with tuition, Hafner commented that "It will certainly provide cost stability for the tuition itself. … I would expect those savings to be passed on to the students because that will be one less cost pressure that the university will face."
Since 2004 the university has reduced its net average energy usage by 22 percent. Although usage has gone down, prices for electricity have steadily gone up. A portion of the remaining money saved through these initiatives is reserved for such things as energy spikes and sustainability projects. Some upcoming projects include the five megawatts worth of solar panels to be set up on campus and a $15,000 million-light retrofit program. As for the renewable energy plant, it is at a standstill until the approval for the land goes through.
Hafner said, "I think we are better positioned than anyone to do this because we have the property, we've got the customer, we have the relationships and we're a research university. We've got the technology and the skill sets to execute this. We've got a whole college of engineering. If we can't do it, who can?"
Electricity expenses for each building