Ka Hei FAQs

Common questions about the Department's sweeping energy efficiency and sustainability program, Ka Hei.

​​​​​​​​​​​What is the Ka Hei program?

Ka Hei is a Department program designed to boost student success through the implementation of renewable energy sources, campus modernization and increased real-world educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a five-year program in partnership with OpTerra Energy Services and in collaboration with Hawaiian Electric Company.

How many schools does this program involve?

Ka Hei is a comprehensive program involving all 256 public schools in the State of Hawaii. The program includes comprehensive energy efficiency and water conservation initiatives, sustainability measures, microgrids, STEM curriculum, and community involvement.

What is involved in the rollout of Ka Hei?

Over the past seven years alone, the Department’s electricity bill has soared from $30 million to more than $46 million. In addition, over $16 million was spent on gas, water and sewer charges the past year.

The Department is ready to move toward a more sustainable future. The Department has created a framework for Ka Hei to transform that budgetary drain into a financial asset by using the positional power of the Department’s facilities. Ka Hei will involve a rollout of distributed clean energy generation, energy efficiency improvements and water conservation measures, for all public schools and department’s facilities. The combined effect of these measures is aimed to reduce the department’s net electricity expenditure to zero.

What are the projected cost savings of the program?

The initial assessment of the opportunities are estimated to save more than $24 million in operating expenses over a five-year period, with achievable reductions in energy use by 25 percent and water use by 30 percent.

How and why did the Department choose OpTerra Energy Solutions for its partner to implement Ka Hei?

OpTerra Energy Services, formerly ​Chevron Energy Solutions, a division of Fortune 3 company, was chosen after a competitive review and evaluation process for its successful track record of developing and delivering comprehensive energy projects with location-specific educational programs in more than 80 school districts across the nation. Learn more about their K-12 education program.

Is Hawaiian Electric Co. prepared to make this type of commitment to the Department, when the utility has had difficulty accepting photovoltaic (PV) requests from individual homeowners because of grid saturation?

The Department and OpTerra Energy Solutions are working with Hawaiian Electric to find solutions to anticipated limitations on distributed generation on some neighborhood circuits.

How is the Department working with Hawaiian Electric to bring new PV systems online?

Success of the program in part will rely upon Hawaiian Electric’s ability to allow for interconnection of renewable energy systems. The innovative nature of Ka Hei will allow the Department to assist Hawaiian Electric with some challenges integrating renewable energy. 

As part of Phase I, the Department plans on implementing microgrid solutions at three schools – one each on Maui, Hawaii Island and Oahu. Preliminary engineering to better evaluate this opportunity is underway. The Department will not circumvent restrictions by Hawaiian Electric. Instead, the Department intends to utilize the microgrid to maximize renewable energy integration.

How does the microgrid solution work?

The microgrid solution enables the ability to become a net-zero energy site in a reliable manner. The Ka Hei microgrid solution drives innovation by helping overcome the challenges of increasing renewable integration onto the individual island grids by providing benefits to both the schools and the Hawaiian Electric circuits.

A microgrid is a group of interconnected electrical loads (e.g. a school’s energy needs), distributed on-site generation (e.g. PV systems) and usually some type of energy-storage device (e.g. batteries) that are contained within a defined boundary. A microgrid is capable of acting as an independent power grid for that particular site with the ability to function independently from the grid when necessary (e.g. during an interruption of utility power), and can connect, disconnect, and reconnect to the grid in a seamless, safe, and reliable manner.

What follows Phase I of Ka Hei?

Following the initial rollout in Phase I, the next phase will be to furnish the Department’s 256 schools with appropriate, and community-tailored, clean-energy generation. This will include the evaluation and comprehensive audit of all 256 schools and implementation of the cost-effective and viable opportunities identified through these audits. Such opportunities include solar PV, LED lighting, natural ventilation, and improved efficiency and control of existing heating, ventilating, and air condition (HVAC) systems.

What does the Department mean when it says Ka Hei will expand real-world educational opportunities in STEM?

As an extension of the facility upgrades, the program will have a suite of educational opportunities that engages students and staff in energy awareness and STEM experiences.

Components of the program include living laboratories, energy conservation hands-on learning, green energy stimulators, STEM career exposure and student and school contests. Data dashboards will provide classrooms with real-time data from the installed systems in instructional formats targeting specific grade levels. In addition to data dashboards, living labs will also include hands-on kits, teacher/staff curriculum training workshops, student-engagement programs, and educational awareness campaigns.

How are we networking with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative to set and achieve targets?

Ka Hei is a pivotal piece to achieve the goals of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). In 2006, Act 96 was passed which defined the State’s goal to provide a comprehensive set of proposals to assist the State in achieving energy self-sufficiency. Two years later, HCEI was created as a partnership between the State and the U.S. Department of Energy, bringing together business leaders, policy makers, and concerned citizens committed to leading Hawai‘i to energy independence. The HCEI target across the islands is to have 70 percent clean energy by 2030.

The Board of Education Policy 6710, which was first approved in 1980, was amended in 2010 with bold and visionary language setting the DOE’s goal to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel-based energy by 90 percent by 2040. Ka Hei will empower the Department to surpass the State’s clean energy goals and share in its best practices and lessons learned with HCEI as well as other interested parties.

Contact Information

Riki Fujitani

Phone: 808-586-3452

Email: riki_fujitani@hawaiidoe.org

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