The 7,400 people living on the island of Molokai share a special bond. That was the sense Francois Rogers got during his many visits to the small island.
As special project director of The Blue Planet Foundation, Rogers depended on the fact that these people talk to each other and influence each other through word-of-mouth recommendations.
That's why Blue Planet's program, Go Green & Carbon Clean, was successful. On the most fundamental level, one inefficient light bulb was exchanged for a more efficient one through the power of suggestion.
Let's face it: you're more likely to do something if your neighbor is doing it, said Rogers.
The island has one of the priciest electricity rates in the nation, with electricity costs soaring at $0.37/kWh. That's why switching out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) was a big deal to this community — one that ultimately will save $6.5 million and eliminate the need to import 24,000 barrels of oil.
The residents save $200 per swap, based on the life of the bulb. Do that calculation during this three-month engagement with the community and this translates to a savings of 17 gigawatt-hours of electricity. What's more, it prevents more than 16,000 tons of carbon dioxide from ever being emitted.
"They worked together towards one common goal," said Rogers. "This island struggles with water shortages and simple lack of funding on every level. By working on energy, they can now use that money for education or other issues."
Rogers sees Molokai as a role model for other places. Students and community leaders put in more than 200 volunteer hours: 5th graders and senior citizens alike put in their time. "The leg work was done by the community," Rogers said.
Certainly, having the kids nag their elders helped even the most stubborn to change behavior. Word-of-mouth with a little bit of peer pressure thrown in for good measure was enough to penetrate the community.
In three months, 36,000 incandescent light bulbs were replaced with ENERGY STAR CFL light bulbs.
Based on a survey from 300 homes, 60% of participants exchanged bulbs and reported a decrease in their energy bill (about $10 a month). Each participant swapped an average of 15 bulbs. Nearly 90% of the participants felt that the program was effective.
"They are tight and they talk to each other. We hardly advertised — maybe we put one ad in the local paper," he said. Blue Planet wanted to show how one small change can make a huge difference. Citing the 2008 McKinsey and Company study that identified residential lights as the most cost-effective way of cutting energy costs, the CFL project was born.
In truth, Hawaii has been pondering life after oil for the past couple of years to kick its oil addiction. The U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Hawaii established The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative to set a goal for the state to use 70% clean energy by 2030.
Howard Wiig, energy analyst at Strategic Industries Division, said, "It's going well. Blue Planet wants to make Hawaii as energy efficient as possible. The prices of electricity on Molokai are incredibly high and you couple that with the fact that most of the people on the island are low income — the cost of living is high. That's what makes Molokai an excellent pilot project."
Every action that we take is a step towards that goal, Wiig said.
"We have a whole bunch of demonstration projects. We want to show builders that you can be extremely efficient in a cost-effective manner. And a lot of people are offering us demos on LED lights, indoor and outdoor. This will reduce outdoor lighting by 50 percent," Wiig said.
GTM has previously covered other notable renewable projects deployed throughout the island state: Hawaii weighed undersea cable to deliver wind power, Honolulu is putting its next air conditioners in the oceans depths, and Kauai is facing some PV challenges.