Pu'u Wa'awa'aPu'u Wa'awa'a in North Kona on the Big Island of Hawai'i.As Big Island residents will tell you, this really is a big island. With countless unique communities and micro-climates, there is always somewhere new to explore. A recent island journey brought me to Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch in North Kona. Pu'u Wa'awa'a is home to amazing scenery, roaming livestock, a tight-knit community, and Blue Planet Energy’s state-of-the-art research lab. I drove over to the ranch with David Sands (Co-Founder and Chief Architect at Bamboo Living). My father tagged along, too. I had been on a tour of the lab previously, but I was extra excited this time because Blue Planet’s Blue Ion batteries had just been installed at my new off-grid bamboo home!

 

Henk labHenk Rogers in front of Blue Planet Energy's research lab.All of the power used at Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch is generated on site at Blue Planet Energy’s research lab. It’s like a dream from the future. The roof of the lab is covered with 360 photovoltaic panels, which capture about 85 kilowatts of power. (My house has eight panels, and that’s plenty for me!) The building is situated to maximize intake of sun rays and designed to stay naturally cool - with the panels on the south-facing roof and the windows on the north side to let in light but not heat. Although the panels are a sight to behold, the main focus of the lab is the testing and development of the Blue Ion energy storage system. Blue Ions are lithium iron phosphate batteries. They have a longer life expectancy than standard lead acid batteries, require zero maintenance, and are super safe because they stay cool (no fire hazard, thank you very much). Plus, they look darn cool. That may not be important to some people (and I didn't think it would be for me), but I have to admit that owning batteries that look like a fancy stereo system is fun.

We were lucky enough to visit the lab on a day when Henk Rogers, the CEO of Blue Planet Energy, was leading the tour. Henk is a fascinating fellow, and I encourage you to read more about his life journey and his pioneering efforts to move Hawaii toward energy independence (links here and here). In short, his goal is to end the use of carbon-based fuel, and he sees Hawaii as the perfect place to model that reality. After we had some time to admire the large battery bank, Henk gave us an overview of their electrolyzer, which is powered by the extra solar power that is generated during peak production hours. You see, in most scenarios, once batteries reach their storage capacity, any extra energy is wasted. But the electrolyzer harnesses that extra power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Then the hydrogen gas is stored in large tanks until it is needed for use in hydrogen fuel cells (in the rare case that back-up power is required). Brilliant. This place is full of great ideas that have turned into real-life solutions.

After the tour, we enjoyed a first-class, Hawaii-grade potluck. There was a particularly festive mood in the air for three reasons: Henk was in town, two birthdays were being celebrated, and Blue Ion 2.0 had just been launched! The crowd was buzzing with excitement. This new series of Blue Ions incorporates improvements generated from studies at the lab and puts the technology within reach of more homeowners by dropping the price significantly. My thoughts, of course, go to Bamboo Living. Our homeowners are always eco-conscious and many choose to go off-grid for their energy needs. I can't wait to share my experience with Blue Ion batteries with new "Bamboodists". Strong, sustainable bamboo and high-performing clean energy seem like a match made in paradise.

Angela Sugar & Henk RogersBamboo Living's Angela Sugar and Blue Planet Energy CEO Henk Rogers.Blue Ion 2.0Blue Ion 2.0 batteries.Hydrogen tanksHydrogen tanks behind solar panel testing area.

Back at my tiny bamboo bungalow, my 6 kWh system is doing great. I haven't seen the charge dip below 60% yet, but it wouldn't be a problem if it did. One of my favorite things about the Blue Ions is that you don't have to worry about draining them. Using all available power doesn't harm the battery as it does with the lead acid type. That lends an even more peaceful vibe to my bamboo abode. I also love that they charge so quickly! After an evening of using lights, electronics, and appliances, the batteries are usually fully charged again the next morning by 10:00 am. Oh, and did I mention that they look darn cool?

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Visiting Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch really does feel like stepping into the future. But this self-sustaining community is real, and it exists today! If you're on the Big Island, I encourage you to take a tour of the lab and to see what is possible. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

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