By: Erica Sweeney
Read the full article on Business Insider
Residents and businesses in Hawaii pay more for energy than just about anywhere else in the country. Honolulu-based Blue Planet Energy is one organization that's attempting to ease that energy burden.
Blue Planet Energy has created an energy storage system to encourage energy independence and broaden the use of renewable power. The company has about 25 employees and a network of more than 250 certified dealers that have installed thousands of its energy storage products.
"We want to decarbonize our energy system," Chris Johnson, the company's CEO, told Insider. "However, climate is changing. Storms are getting more intense and knocking out the grids, and so that's where we need to make our electricity systems ready."
Climate change conversations typically focus on mitigation and adaptation, he said, and the company aims to make the homes and businesses that use renewable energy, such as solar panels, more resilient.
Since 2013, Honolulu has ranked first in solar power per capita among the country's 50 largest cities and third in the amount of existing photovoltaic solar power, which generates electricity directly from sunlight, installed as of 2020, according to a report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group.
"With renewable energy, you can't control when the sun shines or when the wind blows," Johnson said. "But we need steady, reliable energy for our homes, for our businesses, for our critical infrastructure, and so we create energy storage solutions that allow the energy to be consumed when you need it. And they're also resilient, so even if the grid goes down, you can still stay up and running."
Here's a look at how Blue Planet Energy's renewable energy systems work, and how the company's mission aligns with Honolulu's sustainability goals.
The Blue Planet name has influenced climate change policy in Hawaii
Blue Planet Energy was founded in 2015 by Henk Rogers, who discovered and acquired the rights to the video game Tetris in the 1980s. More recently, he's been committed to expanding clean energy and reducing and ultimately eliminating dependence on fossil fuels.
Rogers also founded the Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit working to solve climate change by leading the way in the transition to 100% clean energy. The organization has been influential in clean-energy policy adoption in Hawaii and Honolulu, including a bill requiring the state's utilities to generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy, which Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law in 2015. Hawaii was the first state to have such a law.
Blue Planet Energy's energy storage systems are an extension of Rogers' vision. While the company was founded in Honolulu and has a strong footprint in Hawaii, Johnson said it now has installations in more than 30 states, Puerto Rico, and several Caribbean islands, and is growing its presence in Mexico, Central America, and Canada.
"Henk, our founder, really thought that if we can achieve this in Hawaii, we could take that as a model to other places," Johnson said. "It's essentially a learning laboratory for sustainability."
Energy storage solutions offer homes and businesses more resilient power sources
In March 2021, Blue Planet Energy launched a new product, the Blue Ion HI. The new energy storage system joins the company's Blue Ion LX.
"Those are basically similar in approach and functionality but designed for slightly different situations," Johnson said. "The LX is for larger installations, including commercial and industrial or community resilient infrastructure. Our HI offering is residential and small commercial."
The Blue Ion LX accommodates on- or off-grid requirements for facilities like warehouses, corporate headquarters, and manufacturers. The battery stores excess solar energy or adjusts to traditional energy sources to avoid power interruptions, and increases the value of a company's investment in renewable energy.
The Blue Ion HI is a solution for homes and businesses. It captures energy from renewable and traditional sources, easily switches from grid to battery power, and provides on-demand energy. The products are also stackable and can be configured in different ways to suit the needs of the property.
Henk, Johnson said, "likes things to be able to fit together nicely," so they made the batteries stackable and easily scalable.
Blue Planet Energy's customers mainly use its batteries to store excess solar energy, either displacing their use of a grid or a generator, Johnson said. This is a valuable service as energy bills continue to rise and natural disasters impact power grids.
Hawaii has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It's also vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding, and tsunamis, causing a loss of electricity. The cost of power is also going up across the country, where natural disasters also knock out power. For instance, Texas saw massive power outages after a major snowstorm and unusually cold temperatures hit in February.
"We need to have resilient infrastructure so we can bounce back quickly," Johnson said. "If we put a lot of renewables out there without balancing it out with energy storage, the grid could be unstable or not available when you need it, and so we're part of making sure that the grid can absorb a lot of renewables, it can recover and always be on."
Expansion plans aim to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible
Helping to create more resilient and affordable energy systems aligns with the initiatives of Honolulu's Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, Johnson said. Blue Planet Energy has worked with the office on developing renewable energy and resilience best practices, and the company plans to continue this work with the city's new administration under Mayor Rick Blangiardi, which just took over in January.
To further address affordability, Johnson said the company recently launched a new financing product to make its energy storage systems more accessible to commercial customers. It doesn't require a down payment and offers instant energy savings on solar power and Blue Ion storage installation.
The cost of Blue Planet Energy's installations vary depending on a property's energy needs and can range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands for large buildings with extensive power needs, according to the company. Energy storage installation costs roughly the same as solar installation.
The average cost for solar panel installation in the US varies by state, but averages $17,760 to $23,828 after the federal solar tax credit, which lowers the cost by 26%, according to EnergySage. Some states and local governments also offer rebates and tax credits for solar systems.
Blue Planet Energy is in a period of "scaling and acceleration," Johnson said. Over the next decade, the company plans to expand and strives to alleviate the effects of climate change, which are expected to worsen.
"This is really crunch time," he said. "How do we deliver the highest-quality, most reliable, safest solution at scale as fast as we can? Get it out on the ground, into homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure so that we can stabilize the grid and we can stabilize our climate."