The 2020 Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC), postponed in March due to Covid-19, aired in July as a live-stream online event. Presented by the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and supported by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, the virtual conference explored the theme Imagining a Just Recovery: What would that look like for the Grid? The free event included industry experts discussing how the energy sector can and should respond to our current challenges by creating a ‘just’ electrical grid.
“With HEC going virtual, it attracted a bigger and broader audience than its traditional base of energy leaders from Hawaii, Continental U.S., Japan, and Europe,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “The conference welcomed over 600 participants from 24 different states and Puerto Rico. An exciting feature this year was our international participation. Six countries joined us, spanning time zones from Europe to Asia.”
One of the nation’s leading energy conferences, HEC brought together professionals on energy policy, strategies, leadership, and innovation to focus on how the energy sector should respond to the challenges imposed by the pandemic. The program included four panels plus brief video presentations with information related to the theme. Hawaii Clean Power Alliance presented The Macroeconomics of Change and Ulupono Initiative’s video presentation was on Why We Should All be Talking More About Performance Based Regulation.
“The HEC provides a vital service to our state by convening policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss our energy future,” said Murray Clay, President of Ulupono Initiative. “As we all work together to help Hawaii stabilize and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is especially important to embrace innovative technology, policies and regulation within the renewable energy sector, which will help protect our natural environment, shielding our island state from volatile world fossil fuel markets, strengthening its overall resilience, and aid in its economic recovery.”
Given the importance of these issues across the globe, HEC recognized that Covid-19 has laid bare the stark reality of pre-existing inequalities in society. The elderly, the poor, and minorities have suffered tremendously in the pandemic’s wake. An equitable or ‘just’ recovery is the only path forward to heal communities. Participants discussed what strategies policy-makers and regulators will use to achieve results that benefit broad sectors of society. Also, how will utilities and companies in the energy sector contribute?
In his keynote, Why Energy Equity Matters, Especially to the Electric Company, Scott Seu, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company explained, “Fairly serving all customers is essential to how we run our programs and offer just and reasonable rates. As we transform our energy system to one that is decarbonized, decentralized, and more resilient, the elements of equity, opportunity, and participation are as important as any field source or technology for our successful transition to renewable energy. Working our way through this crisis, I challenge our Hawaiian Electric team to lead with empathy and to consider the level of anxiety and even hopelessness that a lot of people are experiencing.”
Seu continued, “It is not enough anymore to simply say we will all benefit from cleaner, cheaper renewables someday. The duration and the depth of our current economic downturn is unlike anything we have ever experienced; so someday is not soon enough. The leaders of Hawaiian Electric are looking at what bold strategies we can use to benefit the most people, the most quickly.”
Seu added, “The renewable energy transformation must include everyone. That is what equity looks like to me. Then, no one gets left behind. Working our way through this crisis, I have challenged myself and our team to think outside our traditional role of keeping the lights on; to be bold, creative, and come up with ideas, such as a community solar program, that will strengthen our economy; to be the better Hawaii we can all imagine.”
The Hawaii Energy Conference serves to exchange ideas on how to better serve customers in the Islands’ rapidly changing energy environment. This unique opportinuity to hear from industry leaders and innovators attracted keen interest nationally and internationally. Attendees were able to network with each other through a conference browser app, and to access resources provided by sponsors through the virtual Exhibit Hall and digital swag bag.
Participating sponsors were: Hawaii Clean Power Alliance, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), Ulupono Initiative, Hawaii Energy, Hawaiian Electric, Powin Energy, Progression Energy, 174 Power Global, Burns & McDonnell, Dudek, Elemental Accelerator, Greenlots, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, OpusOne Solutions, Par Hawaii.