Energy savings are a top priority at UH Hilo

UH Hilo is a leader in sub-metering and baseline data recording, bi-level lighting, energy requirements in design contracts, reinvestment account, and Hawai‘i Energy Rebates.

By Anne Rivera.
This story is part of a series on curriculum and projects at UH Hilo focusing on sustainability issues.

Aerial of the buildings part of the UH Hilo PV Array.
UH Hilo’s PV array system has a capacity of about 500 KW and is distributed among the Student Services Center, the College of Business and Economics facility (formerly the old Student Services Building), the Mookini Library, and the Performing Arts Center. The array saves the university approximately $300,000 per year in electricity costs.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is continuing to take the lead in many initiatives that focus on clean energy and sustainability. There are many projects and initiatives happening on campus that stretch across a wide variety of sectors. Some of these projects include repair and renovation, moving the university toward a more sustainable and green future. A major goal of these projects is to become carbon neutral by 2050—the renovations and changes are helping to reach this goal.

“UH Hilo is continually reducing its negative environmental impact and striving to be ecologically restorative in our campus buildings, systems, and operations,” says Jerry Watanabe, director of the UH Hilo Office of Facilities Planning and Construction. Watanabe helps to make these initiatives, whether large or small, possible.

Sign with words "Net Zero Energy"

Battery storage

Currently, the Energy Storage and Green Waste to Energy project is under construction. This project consists of providing a new self-contained turn-key battery storage and power generation system. The battery storage is designed for peak utility rate shaving and storing renewable energy – essentially, energy will be stored during lower demand energy periods and then using said energy during high demand energy periods.

About 84 sub-meters have been strategically placed on and off campus that help to monitor and track energy savings as well as help the university understand how energy is being used on campus.


LED lighting conversions and de-lamping projects are also ongoing all over campus in classrooms, offices, walkways, stairwells, common spaces, and elsewhere. The initiative plans to convert all lighting to bi-level LEDs, which helps to reduce energy use by more than 80 percent.

Bi-level lightening presents an opportunity to save energy by dimming light levels in areas that are unoccupied or turning off light fixtures when there is sufficient daylight in a given region. The installation of such lighting will reduce maintenance costs because there will be fewer burnouts and it increases safety and security.

A student employee in the Office of the Chancellor points up to new light fixtures.
A student employee in the Office of the Chancellor points out the energy saving lighting installed in early 2016.

Energy rebates

UH Hilo also takes part in the Hawai‘i Energy Rebate program, which helps to off-set costs for energy improvement projects. Over the last three years, UH Hilo has been able to off-set about $50K in energy costs.

Through these changes and strategic use of resources, there has been over $400,000 in calculated savings which has been made part of the Energy Reinvestment Projects Account (ERPA) for sustainable energy projects.

The big plan

The energy savings projects at UH Hilo are initiated by different parties on and off campus—larger scale projects tend to be initiated by the UH System. However, maintenance and smaller projects are more of a campus effort and can come from students, faculty and/or staff.

Since there are numerous campus renovations and updates, funding can be tricky. However, each year UH Hilo submits a budget for projects to the State Legislature for approval. The Energy Reinvestment Projects Account (ERPA) was established by the university to help with funding of the energy saving projects.

“This account is intended for planning, design, construction and equipment of retrofit and production projects with a calculated payback period of less than 10 years,” explains Watanabe.

Leading the way

UH Hilo is leading the UH System in sub-metering and baseline data recording, bi-level lighting, energy requirements in design contracts, reinvestment account, and Hawai‘i Energy Rebates. Managing ERPA, which UH Hilo established, and keeping track of savings from energy efficiency improvements falls under the Facilities Planning and Construction Office and has become the model for the UH System.

Watanabe says his goal is, “to meet or exceed the university’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”

With this mindset and ambition, UH Hilo could achieve its goal and much more thus not only benefiting UH, but bettering the community and environment.


About the author of this story: Anne Rivera (senior, communication) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

Also in this series

UH Hilo launches food waste collection program, adding another component to sustainable food system on campus

UH Hilo takes first steps toward a Certificate in Sustainability program

UH Hilo student from Marshall Islands creates performance art about rising sea levels in his homeland

UH Hilo course on climate change challenges students to find solutions

UH Hilo students practice sustainable agriculture in gardens around campus