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Will Hawai?i Youth Stay to Help Build Clean Energy Future?


Hawai?i has all the ingredients for a thiving clean energy economy – high energy prices and an abundance of renewable energy sources. But persuading local youth to stay in the islands and help build this economy will be one of the state’s biggest challenges. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has more.

If Hawai?i is going to reach its goal of 100 percent clean energy in the next 30 years, it?s going to need a workforce to get it there.

Credit Department of Business, Economic Development, and Technology
Department of Business, Economic Development, and Technology
A group of 10 students from high schools across the state took part in the 2018 VERGE Hawai'i conference. The four-day event focused on solutions to building the state's clean energy economy.

“My name is Valeria De La Mora. I’m from Kaua?i and I’m 16-years-old.”

“Hi, my name is Cassidy Hollenbeck. I’m from O’ahu and I am 16-years-old.”

These are some of the voices of the next generation of Hawai?i?s clean energy workforce. They represent the youngest stakeholders at Verge Hawai?i – a four-day conference in Honolulu focusing on solutions to building the state’s clean energy economy.

“It’s important to have someone who is going to be affected by these policies,” says De La Mora, “To see how they think it can help or how it can’t help.”

“Clean energy is for the future,” says Hollenbeck, “And this next generation – the youth is the future.”

Hawai'i high school students at the 2018 VERGE Hawai'i conference.

Both girls were fresh out of kindergarten when the state passed the Hawai?i Clean Energy Initiative, which set Hawai’i on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“We’re the ones who have to live here, and we want our kids to be able to live here as well to see the beauty that we see today,” says Hollenbeck, “So it’s important for us to be involved in the solution.”

Hollenbeck says she could see herself in a clean energy job in Hawai’i – in the tourism industry of all places.

Credit Flickr
Tourists line the beach in Waikiki.

“Because it’s like where Hawai’i gets most of its economy,” says Hollenbeck, “And it’s also very prevalent because transportation is one of the leading causes of carbon pollution.”

De La Mora on the other hand needs more convincing. When asked if she has any clean energy career aspirations, she says…

“Not, not right now, but after this conference I might start looking into that because it does look like something that could help and is very interesting,” says De La Mora.

Elemental Excelerator CEO Dawn Lippert opens the Hawaii Energy's Innovation Symposium with thoughts on the importance of innovation to achieve our clean energy goals.
Credit Elemental Excelerator

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While the number of jobs in the clean energy sector aren’t as high as those in tourism, the military or government in Hawai’i, Dawn Lippert says the clean energy industry is growing.

“There are over 15,000 clean energy jobs across the state now, so this is really a sector where people can make a living wage. Right now, clean energy jobs pay $3 - $7 more per hour than median wage in Hawai’i of $20 an hour."

Credit Department of Business, Economic Development, and Technology
Department of Business, Economic Development, and Technology
Hawai'i high school students selected to speak at the 2018 VERGE Hawai'i Conference pose with DBEDT Director Luis Salaveria.

Lippert is the CEO of Elemental Excelerator, an accelerator for clean tech start-ups. The organization is one of the event sponsors. Lippert was impressed by the youth at the conference.

“You know they are incredibly talented. One of them can recite Pi to 80 digits. Others have other superpowers,” says Lippert, “And I think it’s our job in the business sector and the government to be open to innovation, to be willing to take risks, to try new things, to be beta testers of new ideas and products, innovations coming out of our youth.”

Local students are closing out the conference today by sharing their vision for Hawai?i?s energy future and the tools they?ll need to trhive in the state’s clean energy economy.  

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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