The eco-friendly rumble over rooftops

Hawaii ranks #1 in electric energy costs, ranging from 33-44¢ per kWh (the national average is 11-12¢ per kWh), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But the state wants to achieve 70% clean energy usage by 2030, and in 2010, became the first state to require solar water heaters in new homes. Today, Hawaii ranks second in the nation for cumulative installed photovoltaic per capita, according to a 2010 U.S. Solar Market Trends report; and ranks first in the nation for investment in energy savings performance contracting (ESPC) for public buildings per capita, spending over $150 million to date, according to the Energy Services Coalition.

It’s not just homes, businesses, and government buildings; solar energy is in our public schools too. Recently, the Hawaii Department of Education has taken advantage of power purchase agreements, meaning that there are no upfront costs to install solar photovoltaic power systems in 19 public schools on Oahu and Kauai. The Aiea High School project alone could save the DOE as much as $150,000 in electrical costs over the next 20 years, according to Hawaii Pacific Solar. And 33 other Hawaii public schools have already installed solar energy in partnership with Hawaiian Electric’s Sun Power for Schools program.

But in the rush to save money on electrical costs and save the environment with clean energy, we’re filling our rooftops with solar panels – and giving up the opportunity to use our rooftops for gardens.

This year, Honolulu will have its first urban rooftop farm. Installed by FarmRoof and planted on a 38,000 square rooftop above AutoMart in Kaka‘ako, the rooftop farm will grow organic crops such as heirloom kale, arugula, and mustard seeds. The FarmRoof system uses 90% less water than conventional farming, can be powered by a 9-volt battery, and can yield it’s first harvest in as little as three weeks. The farm will also realize a 20% energy savings, by insulating and cooling the building; and take advantage of rainwater, helping to prevent stormwater overflows.

Hawaii imports almost 85% of its food, leaving us vulnerable to food shortages and high shipping costs. “If even 25 percent of the available flat rooftops in Kakaako, Honolulu and Waikiki had FarmRoofs installed, we could grow enough loose leaf lettuce to feed every man, woman and child in Hawaii, with Zero Food Miles,” claims FarmRoof founder Alan Joaquin.

As Hawaii builds more homes and high-rises… As more ofHawaii’s agricultural land is converted to residential and commercial property… As we have higher expectations for our food in terms of organic farming, food miles, land stewardship, and community…

Are we rushing to take advantage of sun power, instead of considering earth power? Can we find a balance between clean energy and gardens?

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