The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) conducts essential energy research relevant to Hawaii and the world.  Programs focus on identifying technically sound, cost effective solutions and practical strategies that can be implemented to deliver commercially viable renewable energy.  The ultimate goal is to achieve a stable and cost-effective energy mix for Hawaii, while reducing our dependence on oil and other fossil fuel resources. 

HNEI brings together people from a wide range of disciplines and different types of organizations to tackle the urgent and complex sustainable energy needs of the state and the nation. Analysis, research, engineering, economics, and policy are integrated to develop technology, strategies and policies that will have significant positive impact on the energy mix.

HNEI is committed to supporting the State, Federal agencies and industry in planning and implementing clean energy initiatives.  HNEI’s activities can be grouped into five core functions:

  • HNEI ActivitiesResearch & Development
  • Technical Validation & Implementation
  • Analysis & Modeling
  • Education & Training
  • State Energy & Policy Support 


The schematic shows how these functions are inter-related and overlap by design to maximize collaboration and leverage resources.   


State Energy & Policy Support

HNEI was established in 1974 to coordinate and undertake the development of natural energy sources for Hawaii.  In 2005, HNEI faculty developed a strategic plan which called for HNEI to be the UH and State focal point for multidisciplinary research and education on the energy supply for Hawaii. In this plan, HNEI proposed to take a leadership role in the development of public-private partnerships for sustainable energy deployment and demonstration projects in Hawaii. 

The significance of HNEI’s contributions to the State was recognized by the Hawaii State Legislature which, in 2007, established HNEI in statute (ACT 253) and expanded its mandate to explicitly include coordination with state and federal agencies; and the demonstration and deployment of efficient end use technologies including those that address peak electric demand issues.

HNEI Mission

In executing this mandate, HNEI has assumed an important role within the state to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels, serving as the implementing organization for several large, public-private partnerships to develop, deploy and demonstrate renewable energy systems.  HNEI continues to forge strong partnerships with industry, state and national organizations creating a thriving synergy that expands resources and accomplishments for all involved.  HNEI works closely with federal funding agencies, industry, the State Energy Office, our State legislators, Public Utilities Commission and our Congressional delegation, providing stability and enhancing the benefits afforded to residents of Hawaii and beyond. 

HNEI Partnerships

HNEI has become recognized as an independent organization providing trustworthy and practical information to support the safe, reliable, and economically viable development of renewable energy technologies and systems.  The foundation of HNEI’s strength lies in its people and partners.  The diversity of talents, education, experience, and the entrepreneurial spirit of this team creates flexibility in performing a range of renewable energy development responsibilities.  HNEI also serves as a critical bridge between State and Federal initiatives, supporting for example the “Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, to achieve the goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030, and the state's more recent 100% renewable portfolio standard. In summary, HNEI’s responsibilities go beyond traditional academic research, playing a significant role in public-private partnerships and supporting analysis for state energy policy. 


Research & Development (R&D)

As an Organized Research Unit within the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH), HNEI has maintained a strong core research effort. HNEI’s faculty and staff are truly multidisciplinary, with a wide diversity of backgrounds.   For efforts requiring additional expertise, HNEI also works closely with other units on campus, including the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology (SOEST), College of Engineering, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, and College of Social Sciences.  This critical mass allows HNEI to conduct increasingly comprehensive and complex research.   With a strategic focus on remaining flexible to support the dynamic needs of renewable energy development, HNEI’s direction continues to evolve.


Technology Validation & Implementation (TV&I)

Moving R&D discovery from UH labs to market is an important aspect of HNEI’s TV&I mission.  HNEI faculty and staff have been successful in transferring patented HNEI technology in a variety of areas to demonstration scale, and even commercial implementation. 

Additionally, there are many emerging technologies of potential significance to Hawaii’s energy needs developed elsewhere.  Under our TV&I efforts, we identify and bring to Hawaii technologies of interest, for validation and assessment for use in Hawaii.  These activities are frequently guided by our analysis and modeling efforts and supported by our R&D activities.  HNEI’s TV&I projects usually involve industrial partnerships and often include cost share.  A good example is the ongoing effort to evaluate emerging grid scale battery energy storage technology as a solution to both transmission and distribution level issues associated with high penetration of intermittent renewable energy technologies. 


Analysis & Modeling

HNEI conducts and supports analysis and modeling to analyze important forward looking scenarios for Hawaii’s energy mix.  This analysis is critical to identifying optimal and realistic paths forward to meet Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative goals.  Results from these studies are used as to guide state policy and help identify important validation projects in areas such as biofuels, grid integration, and hydrogen. 


Education & Training

As a research institute, HNEI does not have its own academic program but has active partnerships throughout the university.  Faculty members develop and present courses for academic units in SOEST, the College of Engineering, and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.  HNEI faculty support and supervise graduate students and post docs across these departments.  Additionally, HNEI’s state-of-the-art research facilities are used by UH research collaborators.  HNEI also currently provides funding to Maui Community College, Kauai Community College and the College of Engineering (UH Manoa) to support curricula and workforce development.  Other funded projects include the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship and E-Business (PACE), which supports several fellowships at the UH College of Business to develop a workforce cross-trained in the business, legal and technical aspects of future energy systems.  HNEI also supports the Asia-Pacific Technology and Education Partnership (APTEP), funded by the Office of Navy Research (ONR).  


HNEI conducts programs in the folllowing technical areas of focus: