Hawaii Sunshine Not Just for Tanning

SATURDAY, JULY 12, 2008

Hawaii Sunshine: Not just for tanning

See that solar water heater in the photo at right? We have one just like it on the roof of our present house, which was built in 1997. In all that time, we have never run out of hot water. There have been times — such as after a spell of three rainy days in a row — when we had to turn the hot water on all the way when we showered instead of diluting it with cold as we usually do, but those instances have been few.

Hawaii, where I happen to live, is a sunny place. Everyone knows that. So I have wondered forever why more of my neighbors don’t install solar water heaters in their homes. Now that energy costs are greater than ever before, it is even more of a head scratcher that so many people in Hawaii still rely on electricity to heat water for their homes, especially since Hawaii currently has the highest electricity costs in the United States.

That situation soon will change, at least for newly constructed homes. On June 26, 2008, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle signed into law a bill that requires all new homes built after January 1, 2010, to be equipped with solar or other energy efficient hot water systems. Hawaii is the first state in the nation to pass such a law.

“This solar power legislation is another important step in our long-term plan for energy independence in Hawai‘i,” said Governor Lingle. “In addition to solar, it is critical that we continue to develop innovative energy solutions that capitalize on our natural renewable resource advantages in order to achieve our goal of having 70 percent clean energy in Hawai‘i by 2030.”
Here on the Big Island, another step was taken recently toward that clean energy goal at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) facility in Kailua-Kona, where ground was broken for a “solar power farm.” The facility, near the Kona International Airport at Keahole, will be run by Hawaii-based solar power and technology company Sopogy. The solar farm will not use traditional photovoltaic panels but will instead use new concentrated solar power technology, according to an article about the project in West Hawaii Today.
“If it performs like it’s performed in tests, we will be able to cut the cost of energy for people in Kona by half,” said Sopogy President and CEO Darren Kimura. “As planned, it’s the largest solar project in Hawaii. If we’re successful, we could cover from here (NELHA) to the airport with solar panels and power Kona.”
The new facility will use a technology, called MicroCSP, which was developed in Hawaii for local conditions. The technology already has been tested successfully at some Hawaii hotels.

Mr. Kimura explained that, while Hawaii gets lots of sunlight, its proximity to the ocean — and the resulting humidity — increases cloud cover, which limits the effectiveness of the traditional photovoltaic panels that need direct sunlight. Unlike photovoltaic panels, the MicroCSP collectors concentrate thermal energy, which is present even when there is no direct sunlight.

Traditional photovoltaic panels, which are made mostly of glass, are fragile and can break when storms or strong winds pass over them. Sopogy’s MicroCSP collectors are less fragile, and are designed to flip over at night to prevent damage from wind and rain. Another feature of the MicroCSP collectors is their energy storage capability, which will enable them to provide consistent energy that will not fluctuate.

Sopogy hopes to have the new solar farm operational by the end of this year. Dare I say — this is a bright development for Kona.

Jay Fidell on Think Tech Hawaii

Reaching out to the Frontiers of Solar Power

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

sopogy.com - the website for Sopogy founded by Darren T. Kimura

Darren Kimura – an amazing young man, who keeps going and going with local style and global courage.

He founded Sopogy, an alternative energy company, only a few years ago, and it has been going gangbusters ever since. You need to know about it, so you probably want to check out its site, sopogy.com.

Not only has Darren developed innovative use of his favorite solar collection technology, which will have a great place at the energy table in years to come, but he’s ridden the very crest of the energy wave in Hawaii and for that matter set up a number of offices on the mainland and in Asia too, one after the other, easy as falling off a log.

Leadership is so important, and in him so recognizable. In the clever concepts he’s used to build his company, develop and leverage his IP, design his corporate culture, and light up his staff (now 40). And in his early pay-back to the community. He sits on the Energy Policy Forum and the Innovation Council with people twice his age.

It gets better. Darren has extended himself to the national energy industry as an advocate for federal policy. He threw himself in with a group of energy companies working to extend solar tax credits in Congress. They tried to beat a veto by George Bush (based on big oil) with a filibuster strategy, but it failed for one vote (John McCain). The bill was then vetoed, and for now there is no extension of the credit. Thank you, Mr. President, but this doesn’t bode well for alternative energy when oil has already gone north of $125.

Undaunted, Darren trundled off to Europe, where there’s lots of solar power in the sunbelt, all the way from Portugal to the underbelly, as well as greater access to the grid and better development incentives. In no time at all, he cold-called his way into deals with an impressive array of European strategic partners, and set up a network of sales offices, and voila, he is selling his technology all over the Continent. Go Darren!

He does all this unhesitatingly, and with panache, as if he was born for every step of it. It’s all about making friends and building relationships, he says. Meanwhile, here’s a 30-something Hilo boy who took a BA from Manoa and studied Electrical Engineering at Portland State University, and who now has an empire on which the sun only sets once in a while, ranging from Asia to Hawaii to the mainland to Europe. And who does in fact refreshingly want to help the world on the way to his IPO.

At home, Sopogy is building a “power plant” at NELHA, the first of its kind in Hawaii, with acres of Darren’s solar collection devices pumping megawatts out to the grid without using a drop of fossil fuel. This plant should be operating in the next few months. It will be a magnificent showing of Sopogy’s prowess and clear proof of concept for Hawaii’s energy future. Hopefully, Hawaii will recognize the concept and the company, and hold on to both.

I interviewed Darren on these things this past week, and took great video of his comments. When I’m done editing that video, I’ll post a part of it on my Advertiser video blog, and the whole of it on Olelo and ThinkTechHawaii.com, so stay tuned to hear more about Darren and about Sopogy.