Sunday, July 02, 2006

Will Energy-Poor Nations (and States) Become Models for the Rest of Us?

Interesting article from today's Honolulu Star Bulletin that compares the US' only island state to South Korea in terms of energy use and production: both have to import roughly 90% of the energy that they use. In both places, the governments have implemented ambitious conservation, renewable energy and green building standards that they hope will lessen their dependence on imports. What really got me thinking, though, was this statement: "With a unique, island economy isolated from the rest of the country, Hawaii hopes to become a renewable-energy model for the United States."

Of course, that makes perfect sense: with no local sources of fossil fuels (correct me if I'm wrong), Hawaii seems like the idea place to focus on building a completely local and renewable energy infrastructure. As the article points out, the state has ample solar, wind, tidal and geothermal resources, in addition to biomass produced from various agricultural activities. Why not focus some serious federal resources there, as it could prove a real boon to the economy, and then look at the process as a model for other regions of the country?

I'm thinking of a sort of "necessity is the mother of invention" strategy: Hawaii (or South Korea, or even Japan) has a lot to gain from moving aggressively towards energy independence. While we couldn't apply their model wholesale to other regions of the country, it would be an exercise in looking at what resources are available locally, and making the most of them by combining energy production efforts with conservation practices. I think most importantly, especially in the US, we really need a model that shows us "This can happen." I'm certainly not suggesting pouring all of our resources slated for alternative energy development into the Island State, but focusing there seems like a smart investment. From there, we can also push the concept that local generation is a concrete possibility, and perhaps even preferable. This could even spur competition: wouldn't it be wonderful to have US states competing with each other to see which one could become the first that's truly "energy independent?" Wouldn't this appeal to our senses of both competition and innovation?

This is another one of my "lightbulbs going off," so fire away...

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