Communicating Innovation

John Savageau

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Not So Green Hawaii

A look at Honolulu's use of solar reflective paint on rooftops

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has evangelized the simplicity of painting rooftops white to save energy. We believe a simple thing like painting a rooftop with solar reflective materials can reduce carbon dioxide production on a scale of billions of tons.

A black rooftop near WaikikiThink Green Hawaii, a local website highlighting local green initiatives notes that even tourists are starting to look for environmentally friendly hotels for their vacations, using examples such as the Hyatt Regency Waikiki which has implemented energy-efficient LED lights in public areas to reduce the use of energy.

Other local initiatives, such as the mbbEMS (Energy Management System) uses wireless communications connecting things such as lanai (balcony) doors to air conditioning units, shutting down the fans when doors are opened, and sensors to determine if guests are actually in their room (Hmmm…., that might not be so "cool'), shutting off lights and closing drapes to reduce the cooling load within a hotel. Great ideas.

Then I look out of my high rise condo window, and see around 100 rooftops scattered around the neighborhood below. An unscientific count of the area gives me a tally of about 65% of Waikiki/Honolulu rooftops within my line of sight have black, tarred, asphalt, or dark colored tiling.

If the energy savings buildings expect to receive using solar reflective materials start at around 15% (at the low end) and work their way up, then it appears that Honolulu may be wasting a lot of energy on cooling systems.

Hawaiian Electric Company/HECO may have the highest electrical rates in the country, coming in at something over $.25/kw hour. Today, A white rooftop near Waikikimost of the energy produced in Hawaii comes from oil. The risk in Hawaii is not only using fossil fuels for energy, but also what might be the impact if Hawaii is hit by a natural disaster that disrupts the ability of HECO to provide power, which is mostly from oil-driven power plants.

"Hawaiian Electric Company shares the very serious concerns of many regarding the potential effects of global warming, and human contributions to this phenomenon, including the burning of fossil fuels for electricity production, transportation, manufacturing, agricultural activities and deforestation."

(Policy Adopted in January 2007 by the Hawaiian Electric Companies' Board of Directors)

However, the good news is HECO, at least publically on their website, fully promotes use of renewable energy, and is actively participating in finding energy sources to meet a state-mandated (Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative) to provide 40% of electrical needs through renewable energy by 2030.

So Why the Asphalt Rooftops?

Another black rooftop near WaikikiMaybe it is because solar reflective issues have not been a mainstream topic of conversation until the past few years. Maybe the building code is not enforced or strong enough to drive builders and landlords to either build all new buildings with solar reflective materials, or require all new roofing projects to include use of efficient materials.

Maybe people simply don't care – "green" is a really nice buzzword to use, but to be green actually takes a bit of effort. This simple act (using solar reflective materials on rooftops) may help bring Hawaii (and HECO) to the state's clean energy initiative goals – as well as saving a tremendous amount of money over the long run in air conditioning costs. Saving something higher than 15% in possibly 50% or more of the addressable buildings amounts to a bunch of kilowatts. Kilowatts provided today through fossil fuels.

"What is more, a white roof can cost as little as 15 percent more than its dark counterpart, depending on the materials used, while slashing electricity bills." (NY Times, 29 July 2009)

When I ask friends and acquaintances, even in the real estate industry, why they don't push the topic, sadly the normal responses I get include "what are you talking about? what is with painting your rooftop white? I have no idea what you mean, first I've ever heard of it."

Sitting in my admittedly cool condo, high above Honolulu, I have never in my memory actually used the central air available in my unit. Tradewinds provide a very nice breeze nearly all the time, and in fact almost makes the room cold at night. My building has a white roof. If your's doesn't, maybe it is time to have a heart-to-heart with your landlord. If not for the environment, think about your energy bill, and how much you could potentially save with a cooler building.

More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood.

Savageau is currently focusing efforts on data center consolidation strategies, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing migration planning in developing countries, including Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam.

John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California.

A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.