The Big Island goes green, and we get to watch

Renewable energy may be trendy on the U.S. mainland, but on Hawaii’s Big Island, it’s a reality.

And before you ask me — yes, we visited Hawaii, and we toured its green initiatives. I promised you the real Hawaii, didn’t I?

Our visit started at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, where its executive director, Guy Toyama, explained why Hawaii has no choice but to find and tap renewable resources, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy. There are no naturally-occurring fossil fuels here.

That’s Hiroshi Arai showing Ōlelo pa‘a Faith Ogawa and Aren a sample of his Big Island Abalone. It’s just one of the companies in the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center that uses renewable energies (in this case, cold sea water) to farm tasty Abalone.

Ōlelo is one of the most sought-after chefs on the island and she later prepared an authentic Hawaiian meal with the Abalone. It was one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Also on our itinerary: A tour of the Keahole Solar Power array (picture at top) where plant operator Dean Towle showed us how the sun’s energy is turned into electricity. The company is developing a technique called Micro Concentrated Solar Power, a small, inexpensive solar power plant that could provide enough solar power for 250 homes.

Our son Aren, who is an aspiring scientist, thought this was much cooler than going to the beach.

All of the kids were fascinated by our final stop, Cyanotech, which uses renewable energy to farm algae. Here’s an picture of Valerie Harmon, the company’s director of cultivation, showing the children how algae is grown and harvested in large circular pools. Cyanotech produces BioAstin Natural Astaxanthin and Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica.

Related story:   Bring a big appetite to the Big Island

And why would kids be interested in an algae farm? Because they got to visit a lab and look at real algae through a microscope.

Kids these days. You just don’t know what is going to impress them.

The business reporter in me wonders how profitable some of these ventures are, but the idealist in me says it doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether these kinds of initiatives are sustainable over the long term, and after touring the energy center, I think — I hope — they are.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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