WAP Recovery Act Success Story: Hawaii

In the last several years, the WAP network has placed increasing emphasis on warm climate weatherization strategies, resulting in state-of-the-art best practices for hot climate states and a large boost to the delivery of quality WAP services.  In spite of these strides, you still may not think WAP is as relevant in a tropical climate as in colder climate. However, the state of Hawaii contradicts this by operating its Weatherization Assistance Program using cutting edge technology and forward thinking, ultimately providing much needed, effective services to its residents.

Hawaii’s unique situation, due to high electricity costs and the complicated logistics of managing multiple islands, means that they must take a different path to tackle energy efficiency needs.  As a testament to Hawaii’s creative approach to managing WAP, the state is consistently ranked as high-performing. As a network, they are conditioned to emphasize air sealing, insulation and mechanical efficiency, while in tropical climates greater emphasis is placed on baseloads and cooling systems, making refrigerators, domestic hot water heating, and lighting priority measures.

Along with the challenges of high energy costs (up .37 kHw cents in some locations), the high costs of real estate and an overall increase in occupancy rates over time has precipitated a need for greater water storage technology and delivery systems. With nearly one-third of a Hawaiian’s electricity bill in most homes without air conditioning going towards heating water, it should be no surprise that efficient water heating technology is a large focus. Along with concentrating on domestic hot water technology, integrating low flow water fixtures, smart-strips, and other baseload measures are common. In addition to various baseload measures, agencies conduct client education using comprehensive training materials and videos. Some providers offer site specific training for a client’s home.

Traditionally, the most frequent water heating retrofits in Hawaii were to install solar hot water systems. The landscape is changing now due to the introduction of hybrid electric heat pump water heaters since they have significantly lower upfront costs and yield short payback periods. Many hybrid electric water heaters are plug and play, meaning their installation is no more complicated than a conventional replacement. Sonya Seng, WAP Specialist for the State of Hawaii, suggests that they see impressive Savings to Investment Ratios (SIR) that range from 2-4 for direct install replacements. With such high fuel costs, turning to solar and hybrid technologies is a practical solution for tackling energy efficiency retrofits.

One might ask: how does a program allocated approximately $200,000 a year and so geographically disconnected become a top performer? The answer is simple, says Sonya, “leadership at a local level.” With the introduction of increased funding due to the Recovery Act, Program Managers at the local level quickly evaluated their strengths and assessed their deficiencies and swiftly made sure areas requiring additional assistance got what they needed. The State also adopted and standardized improvements in technology that yield more cost-effective returns. This refreshing, innovative approach is helping to insure that “Weatherization Works” in Hawaii.

If you would like to learn more about hybrid heat pump technology visit: http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12840.

1 State of Hawaii, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Solar Water Heating Fact Sheet

by Ameer Bishay