Honolulu-based energy storage company Blue Planet Energy hopes to bring sustainable, renewable power to Hawaii – and the world

Henk Rogers Hawaii Big Island Ranch Lab
Henk Rogers, founder of Blue Planet Energy.

  • Energy storage company Blue Planet Energy is focused on energy independence and sustainability.
  • It was founded in 2015 by Henk Rogers, who acquired the rights to Tetris in the 1980s.
  • It’s part of Hawaii’s climate change initiatives and hopes to make renewable energy more accessible.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

Residents and businesses in Hawaii pay more for energy than just about anywhere else in the country. Honolulu-based Blue Planet Energy is one organization that’s attempting to ease that energy burden.

Blue Planet Energy has created an energy storage system to encourage energy independence and broaden the use of renewable power. The company has about 25 employees and a network of more than 250 certified dealers that have installed thousands of its energy storage products.

“We want to decarbonize our energy system,” Chris Johnson, the company’s CEO, told Insider. “However, climate is changing. Storms are getting more intense and knocking out the grids, and so that’s where we need to deal with it.”

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Chris Johnson, CEO of Blue Planet Energy.

Climate change conversations typically focus on mitigation and adaptation, he said, and the company aims to make the homes and businesses that use renewable energy, such as solar panels, more resilient.

Since 2013, Honolulu has ranked first in solar power per capita among the country’s 50 largest cities and third in the amount of existing photovoltaic solar power, which generates electricity directly from sunlight, installed as of 2020, according to a report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group.

“With renewable energy, you can’t control when the sun shines or when the wind blows,” Johnson said. “But we need steady, reliable energy for our homes, for our businesses, for our critical infrastructure, and so we create energy storage solutions that allow the energy to be consumed when you need it. And they’re also resilient, so even if the grid goes down, you can still stay up and running.”

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Blue Planet Energy solar panels on a home on the Big Island in Hawaii.

Here’s a look at how Blue Planet Energy’s renewable energy systems work, and how the company’s mission aligns with Honolulu’s sustainability goals.

The Blue Planet name has influenced climate change policy in Hawaii

Blue Planet Energy was founded in 2015 by Henk Rogers, who discovered and acquired the rights to the video game Tetris in the 1980s. More recently, he’s been committed to expanding clean energy and reducing and ultimately eliminating dependence on fossil fuel.

Henk Rogers Founder Blue Planet Energy 2
Henk Rogers, founder of Blue Planet Energy.

Rogers also founded the Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit working to solve climate change by leading the way in the transition to 100% clean energy. The organization has been influential in clean-energy policy adoption in Hawaii and Honolulu, including a bill requiring the state’s utilities to generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy, which Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law in 2015. Hawaii was the first state to have such a law.

Blue Planet Energy’s energy storage systems are an extension of Rogers’ vision. While the company was founded in Honolulu and has a strong footprint in Hawaii, Johnson said it now has installations in more than 30 states, Puerto Rico, and several Caribbean islands, and is growing its presence in Mexico, Central America, and Canada.

Blue Planet Energy Violeta Reyes Perez School Puerto Rico 2
Violeta Reyes Perez School in Puerto Rico.

“Henk, our founder, really thought that if we can achieve this in Hawaii, we could take that as a model to other places,” Johnson said. “It’s essentially a learning laboratory for sustainability.”

Energy storage solutions offer homes and businesses more resilient power sources

In March 2021, Blue Planet Energy launched a new product, the Blue Ion HI. The new energy storage system joins the company’s Blue Ion LX.

“Those are basically similar in approach and functionality but designed for slightly different situations,” Johnson said. “The LX is for larger installations, including commercial and industrial or community resilient infrastructure. Our HI offering is residential and small commercial.”

The Blue Ion LX accommodates on- or off-grid requirements for facilities like warehouses, corporate headquarters, and manufacturers. The battery stores excess solar energy or adjusts to traditional energy sources to avoid power interruptions, and increases the value of a company’s investment in renewable energy.

Blue Planet Energy Blue Ion LX Brick Warehouse
Blue Ion LX by Blue Planet Energy.

The Blue Ion HI is a solution for homes and businesses. It captures energy from renewable and traditional sources, easily switches from grid to battery power, and provides on-demand energy. The products are also stackable and can be configured in different ways to suit the needs of the property.

Blue Planet Energy Blue Ion HI Stacked
Blue Ion HI by Blue Planet Energy.

Henk, Johnson said, “likes things to be able to fit together nicely,” so they made the batteries stackable and easily scalable.

Blue Planet Energy’s customers mainly use its batteries to store excess solar energy, either displacing their use of a grid or a generator, Johnson said. This is a valuable service as energy bills continue to rise and natural disasters impact power grids.

Hawaii has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It’s also vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding, and tsunamis, causing a loss of electricity. The cost of power is also going up across the country, where natural disasters also knock out power. For instance, Texas saw massive power outages after a major snowstorm and unusually cold temperatures hit in February.

“We need to have resilient infrastructure so we can bounce back quickly,” Johnson said. “If we put a lot of renewables out there without balancing it out with energy storage, the grid could be unstable or not available when you need it, and so we’re part of making sure that the grid can absorb a lot of renewables, it can recover and always be on.”

Expansion plans aim to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible

Helping to create more resilient and affordable energy systems aligns with the initiatives of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, Johnson said. Blue Planet Energy has worked with the office on developing renewable energy and resilience best practices, and the company plans to continue this work with the city’s new administration under Mayor Rick Blangiardi, which just took over in January.

To further address affordability, Johnson said the company recently launched a new financing product to make its energy storage systems more accessible to commercial customers. It doesn’t require a down payment and offers instant energy savings on solar power and Blue Ion storage installation.

The cost of Blue Planet Energy’s installations vary depending on a property’s energy needs and can range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands for large buildings with extensive power needs, according to the company. Energy storage installation costs roughly the same as solar installation.

The average cost for solar panel installation in the US varies by state, but averages $17,760 to $23,828 after the federal solar tax credit, which lowers the cost by 26%, according to EnergySage. Some states and local governments also offer rebates and tax credits for solar systems.

Blue Planet Energy Life Edited Maui Hawaii 1
Blue Planet Energy in Maui, Hawaii.

Blue Planet Energy is in a period of “scaling and acceleration,” Johnson said. Over the next decade, the company plans to expand and strives to alleviate the effects of climate change, which are expected to worsen.

“This is really crunch time,” he said. “How do we deliver the highest-quality, most reliable, safest solution at scale as fast as we can? Get it out on the ground, into homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure so that we can stabilize the grid and we can stabilize our climate.”

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How Honolulu, Hawaii is working toward sustainability and supporting its residents in the process

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Solar panels on top of homes in a Honolulu neighborhood.

  • Honolulu has been focused on sustainability and climate change since receiving a grant in 2016.
  • Its resilience plan has promoted access to renewable energy and expanded clean transportation.
  • Other initiatives include reducing energy bills and addressing hunger by supporting local farmers.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

In his first state-of-the-city speech in mid-March, Rick Blangiardi, mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii, emphasized the city’s commitment to “climate resilience.”

“From sea level rise, rain bombs, and increasing temperatures, we’re taking steps toward a climate-ready Oahu,” said the mayor, who was sworn in at the start of 2021. The island of Oahu is home to the city and county of Honolulu.

“We’re shifting from talking about policy to doing something about it,” Blangiardi added.

Sustainability and climate change are issues that Honolulu’s leaders have been working to address for years. In 2016, the city was awarded a 100 Resilient Cities Initiative Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help fund the hiring of a chief resilience officer to work with the city on crafting climate change and resilience plans.

Since then, Honolulu has debuted a Resilience Strategy and a Climate Action Plan, which have helped inspire citywide legislation to reduce the energy burden on residents, promote access to renewable energy, expand clean transportation, and support locally grown food producers.

Here’s a look at some of Honolulu’s sustainability initiatives.

Codifying the Resilience Office’s responsibilities will help Honolulu meet its sustainability goals

Oʻahu Resilience Strategy Steering Committee members meeting during development phase of the strategy, which includes Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.
Oahu Resilience Strategy Steering Committee members meeting during the development phase of the strategy, which includes Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

The Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency was created by a city charter amendment that was approved by the public in 2016. A new bill signed into law in December 2020 “codifies the duties, responsibilities, and reporting requirements” of the office to ensure Honolulu meets its climate change and sustainability goals. 

Bill 65 establishes an energy benchmarking system, requiring Honolulu to create and report energy and water use benchmarks for city-owned buildings. The rule is estimated to save the city $7 million over the next decade. The bill also specifies that the city will transition to 100% renewable energy and become carbon neutral by 2045.  

It also addresses many other climate change and sustainability measures, including a One Water policy, examining efficiencies across the city’s water system. 

The Resilience Strategy addresses affordability and climate change

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The Resilience Office engaging community members on their perspectives of “Resilience.”

One of the central initiatives of the Resilience Office is the Oahu Resilience Strategy, which aims to address “long-term affordability and the impacts of a climate crisis that is already driving islanders from their homes,” according to the office’s website. 

Planning began in 2017 when the office met with Oahu’s 33 neighborhood boards to survey residents about what concerned them most about climate change and how they thought it could be addressed, Matthew Gonser, chief resilience officer and executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, told Insider. 

Hundreds of ideas were gathered from the community. Those concepts were narrowed down into 44 actions, comprising the Resilience Strategy. The strategy focuses on four broad subjects: long-term affordability, natural disaster preparedness and response, climate change, and local community leadership. 

By the end of 2020, significant progress had been made on about half of the 44 resilience actions, Gonser said.

The Climate Action Plan outlines what’s needed to address climate change long term

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The City and County of Honolulu Climate Action Plan open house community engagement session with Hawaii Pacific University and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

Honolulu’s Resilience Office released the city’s Climate Action Plan in December 2020.

The plan was developed based on scientific evidence and community input to fight climate change and reduce fossil fuel emissions on Oahu. It spells out the needed programs, policies, and actions for the city to become carbon neutral by 2045 — and includes nine strategies to focus on over the next five years, including increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency. 

To develop the Climate Action Plan, community meetings with Honolulu City Council members, Hawaii Pacific University, the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii were held, and working groups with stakeholders were set up, Gonser said. 

During the first few months of 2021, the public had the chance to share their opinions and concerns about the plan before it goes to the city council. Gonser said the Climate Action Plan will likely be adopted this year. 

Honolulu updated parking ordinances to promote walkability and the use of clean energy transportation

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Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet, speaking at the signing of Ordinance 20-41, related to off-street parking and loading.

At the end of 2020, former mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 2 to update Honolulu’s mandatory parking requirements for new developments. It gives developers more flexibility in how much parking to build and allows opportunities for the land to be used for other purposes, such as affordable housing. 

“It’s making sure that our rules and regulations don’t force overbuilding of parking, empowering more choice and leaving it to developers to determine what’s needed,” Gonser said. 

The bill supports walkable neighborhoods and cleaner transportation options, such as biking and public transportation, which Honolulu plans to transition to clean fuel. 

It could also make housing more affordable since constructing and maintaining parking is sometimes a hidden cost for renters, according to an analysis by the Ulupono Initiative, a Honolulu-based organization that provides grants, investments, and advocacy to support renewable energy, locally produced food, and other sustainability-minded projects.

For urban Honolulu renters, up to 37% of their rent may go toward parking, which, for decades, has often been built based on city regulation rather than actual need.   

“The bill makes progress in the right direction, better aligning with city climate and community goals, while allowing parking to remain accessible for those who genuinely need it and not requiring it of those who don’t,” Kathleen Rooney, Ulupono Initiative’s director of transportation policy and programs, said when the bill was signed

Making solar power more accessible eases Honolulu’s energy burden

Solar array installation on top of the Board of Water Supply, City and County of Honolulu
Solar array installation on top of the Board of Water Supply.

Hawaii has one of the highest average electricity retail prices in the country, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and the state relies on petroleum for most of its electricity generation. 

Reducing the energy burden is a key focus area of Honolulu’s Resilience Office. In December, the city enacted Bill 58 to streamline the permitting process for residential clean energy products, such as solar power, energy storage, and electric vehicle chargers. The goal is to cut down on the costs and time it takes to install solar systems. 

Creating more equitable access to renewable energy is an important component in making Honolulu an affordable place to live, Gonser said. 

“We have one of the highest energy burdens in the nation,” he said. “It’s updating our energy code and making sure that all new things that are being built are ensuring long-term affordability for residents and that they can benefit from progressive infrastructure so that we can reduce the energy burden over time.”

New performance-based regulations could lower energy bills for residents

Infographic HPUC Timeline with PBR
A timeline of the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission.

As another initiative aimed at reducing energy bills, Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission approved a new Performance-Based Regulation Framework in late 2020. The framework would transform utility company Hawaiian Electric by making its operations more efficient, lowering electricity rates, improving services, and meeting the state’s clean energy goals. 

“That’s really groundbreaking,” Amy Hennessy, senior vice president of communications and external affairs at Ulupono Initiative, which provided research and other information to guide the framework’s adoption, told Insider. “The impacts toward changing the incentives for our utility to transform into a renewable energy future are significant.” 

The new structure provides financial incentives for the electric company to meet certain goals, like creating savings for lower-income customers and reducing greenhouse gases. It also separates the utility’s profits from capital investments, creating a cost-of-service approach. 

Matching grant provides $1 million to fight hunger and support local food producers

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The Hawaii Farm Bureau.

Hunger has been an ongoing problem for many communities, but the pandemic worsened the situation, as unemployment increased and many families have faced new financial struggles. 

To address hunger in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige announced in October 2020 that the state would provide a $500,000 matching donation to the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program, which doubles the amount of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, that are spent on locally grown food. 

Several private-sector organizations raised $500,000 for the program, including the Stupski Foundation and Ulupono Initiative, which each provided $200,000. The state match offers $1 million total for the program. 

Addressing hunger and providing incentives to encourage residents to buy more locally grown and produced food are part of Honolulu’s Resilience Strategy. The DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program also aims to strengthen the local economy because it keeps residents’ food budgets on the island.

“A million dollars going out into communities for not just those who need access to food, but also our local farmers who needed a market — it’s actually putting dollars in their pockets while they’re growing to help provide healthy options for the community,” Hennessy said. “So it’s really a triple win.”

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