Boosting teacher, student STEM learning while upgrading campuses


This update on the Department's Ka Hei program, in partnership with OpTerra Energy Services, was penned by Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for school facilities. It ran in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Feb. 8, 2015.

​Over the last two years, the state Department of Education (DOE) has publicly shared its ongoing systemic transformation. As the largest state agency, the DOE has layers of systems that work toward educating our children and preparing them for life once they graduate. Among those systems is School Operations, which is focused on improving energy efficiency.

The DOE has been working on "low-hanging fruit" for the last seven years to reduce the cost of school operations. This included installing fluorescent lighting department-wide and solar-powered parking lamps at some schools, netting $800,000 in savings. Since 2007, all new building construction meets the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver standard.

On a grander scale, we've been installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at schools on Oahu and Kauai. Since 2010, 21 schools on Oahu have PV, resulting in an estimated $878,000 in savings.

On Kauai, the DOE entered into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) contract in 2011 to install PV systems at 15 Kauai schools. The installation of the PVs, now underway, will save an estimated $30 million over the life of the 20-year contract, taking into account a projected 3 percent annual increase in commercial electricity rates. By entering into the PPA, DOE will receive solar power without any up-front costs. The DOE plans on pursuing PPA opportunities in the future.

Enter Ka Hei

In 2014, DOE announced its Ka Hei program created under a new five-year strategic partnership with OpTerra Energy Services. This program is designed to improve the learning environment while:

  • implementing renewable energy sources, and
  • modernizing aging campuses.

Professional development is provided so teachers can customize student learning in science, technology, engineering and math that have real-world applications.

Due to the closing window of opportunity with Hawaiian Electric Co. on entering net energy metering agreements, DOE and OpTerra agreed that Ka Hei's first phase needed to capitalize on that vanishing opportunity. Like many homeowners, DOE faces the same grid limitations and time constraints in approving net energy metering agreements with the utility. This is why we are limited to the amount of schools for the initial phase.

The first phase consists of 30 schools. We conducted energy audits, designed school-specific plans, reached agreements with the utility to interconnect the majority of these schools, and will begin construction in the next month. This is remarkable progress, considering the first contract order with OpTerra was issued in September 2014.

The Phase One audits showed that lighting represents the greatest and quickest opportunity to reduce energy consumption even further. Thus, the DOE will be moving toward even more efficient LED at our schools. As Ka Hei progresses, DOE plans to use battery-storage solutions to maximize renewable energy integration. In other words, stand-alone schools will generate the power they individually need to operate. Ka Hei will eventually touch all 255 DOE schools.

This program is funded by the cost savings from the agreed PPAs. Phase One of Ka Hei will deliver $1 million of savings in 12 months once the systems are in place. (Visit the Ka Hei program page for the latest deployments.)

The DOE is working with OpTerra and HECO to find solutions to anticipated limitations on distributed generation on some neighborhood circuits. Energy generation, in combination with efficiency efforts, will over time reduce the department's net electricity expenditure to zero, saving millions of dollars.

This type of systemic change takes time. The DOE is undeterred in improving learning environments while reaching its goals for a more sustainable future.

​Ka Hei

The Department's multiyear plan to improve student learning while boosting energy efficiency at and modernizing DOE campuses.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232


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