President Obama has called for a “national mission” to end America’s dependence on oil. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, however, isn’t national will—a majority of Americans now back an energy overhaul—so much as finding a workable template. Could Hawaii fill the void? The archipelago is more than twice as oil-dependent as the U.S. at large, drawing about 90 percent of its energy from imported crude. And because of the exorbitant transport costs, it also has the highest gas and electricity rates in the country—and some of the most ambitious plans for keeping them down.
The effort launched in 2008 when Hawaii set a goal of getting 70 percent of its power from clean sources—including more efficient technologies and renewable fuels—by 2030. That’s led to personnel sharing with the Department of Energy, as well as big investments in solar and wind. And according to energy administrator Ted Peck, the Aloha State is now on track to halve its emissions within a decade.
The big prize may be still to come. The state has attracted an enviable amount of private research money, spurring efforts to glean power from algae, animal fat, sea waves, and the islands’ plentiful volcanic heat. The goal, according to a 2008 DOE presentation, is a “replicable model” of energy independence. Of course, a workable model would be a start.