Hawaii Natural Energy Institute


The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) develops renewable energy resources across a broad range enabling technologies at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (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.

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.

Univerisity of Hawaii logo

SOEST logo


Hawaii Natural Energy Institute


1680 East West Road, POST 109, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

Picture of SOEST building at Manoa Campus, Honolulu, Hawaii (Source: Dr. S. Cerri)

(Photo courtesy of S.Cerri)

HNEI conducts research in several focus areas:

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels are essential for Hawaii to reduce its dependence on imported petroleum for both transportation and power generation. HNEI conducts research, testing and evaluation, and performs analysis, supporting the commercial development of alternative fuels. Current focus areas include biofuels and high value products derived from renewable resources and waste streams, hydrogen and solar fuels, and methane hydrates. HNEI is also supporting studies to assess the potential for use of LNG to meet Hawaii energy needs.

Renewable Power Generation

As a result of technological advances coupled with the high cost of electricity in Hawaii and generous federal and state incentives, deployment is growing rapidly across Hawaii. Specific HNEI activities include:

  • Photovoltaics – HNEI is conducting high-fidelity resource assessments and testing commercial and emerging solar technologies. The objectives are to characterize real-world performance of (Photovoltaic) PV technologies and systems in differing environments;
  • Ocean Energy – HNEI facilitates the development and deployment of wave energy and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technologies.
    HNEI supports the Navy’s development of the nation’s first grid connected wave energy test site (WETS) at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, on Kaneohe Bay, to conduct independent analysis for wave energy conversion device systems performance, and associated environmental monitoring;
  • Wind Energy – HNEI is addressing issues associated with high penetration of intermittent wind on the electrical grid. HNEI has deployed five small-scale (1 kW) vertical-axis wind turbines that are being monitored to evaluate performance for distributed applications.

Energy Efficiency

HNEI’s objectives are to support the development and deployment of energy efficient buildings through research, testing and validation of related technologies, education and training, and project collaboration with private and public sector partners. Moreover, HNEI conducts analysis of design and performance enhancement technologies in Sea Water Air Conditioning (SWAC) to reduce cost, along with modeling efforts to improve understanding of impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Fuel Cells and Batteries

HHNEI researchers conduct testing, modeling and demonstration of fuel cell and battery technologies to enhance performance and durability for commercial and defense applications.

Integrated Energy Systems

HNEI has an established research and technology assessment program in integrated energy and systems analysis of grid power technologies. Through this program, HNEI conducts essential research in areas of relevance to Hawaii and abroad:

  • Grid Systems Integration;
  • Energy Storage Systems;
  • Smart Grids;
  • Transportation.

Portfolio & Projects

Air Filtration for Fuel Cell Vehicles

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is conducting research to develop novel filtration materials and air filtration technologies designed to extend the range of environmental conditions in which fuel cells can safely operate.


Animation Projects

This classroom experience embodies the best of youth development by engaging students in project-based learning, promoting media literacy, increasing creativity and collaboration, and raising awareness on topics of social concern. The real value of the program was that students were learning without realizing it!


Batteries Energy Storage for Grid Management

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is leading a team engaged in the research, development, deployment, and analysis of grid-scale battery energy storage systems (BESS) that are designed for system control and power quality support at the generation, transmission, and distribution levels.


Fuel Cell Contamination

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is conducting a comprehensive investigation of the impact of fuel, airborne and system contaminants on the performance of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs).


HAVO Fuel Cell Buses

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is conducting a comprehensive investigation of the impact of fuel, airborne and system contaminants on the performance of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs).


Hawaii Wave Energy Test Site (WETS)

TThe Hawai‘i Wave Energy Test Site (WETS), the United States’ first grid-connected test site of this kind, will be completed by the US Navy in mid-2015. The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is providing key research support to this national effort in the form of environmental monitoring, independent wave energy conversion (WEC) device power performance and durability analysis, and critical marine logistical support.


Hydrogen Grid Management

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is conducting research to assess the technical potential and economic value of using an electrolyzer based hydrogen production and storage system as a demand response tool for grid management.


Hydrogen Refueling Station

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is conducting research to assess the technical performance and economic value of an electrolyzer based hydrogen production system in a 350/700 bar “fast-fill” fueling station located at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i (MCBH). This system supports a fleet of General Motors Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) operated by military personnel.


Living Life Forwards – Documentary

This video, shot in California, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii in partnership with Royer Studios and the Office of Naval Research, shows how the climate changes that threat our entire planet are already manifesting most acutely in the South Pacific where the battle to save entire island nations is already underway.


Moloka’i Secure Renewable Microgrid Project

The Moloka’i Microgrid Project focuses on improving power system operation with high penetration levels of distributed photovoltaics (PV) on a small electrically islanded microgrid.


Project Frog

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) contracted Project Frog of San Francisco to install 3 high efficiency, energy neutral platforms in two schools in Hawai’i: two are on the Kawaikini New Century Charter School in Lihu’e, Kaua’i, and one is on the ‘Ilima Intermediate campus in ‘Ewa Beach, O’ahu.


Smart Grid Inverters for High-Penetration PV Applications

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is leading a team of energy industry leaders working to develop enhanced capability smart inverters and to demonstrate improved operational performance, control and visibility. Validation of performance will be accomplished by deploying and evaluating smart inverters on operating utility distribution feeders in two locations with very high penetration of rooftop photovoltaics (PV): Maui and Washington DC.


HNEI goes beyond traditional academic research to play a significant role in managing public-private partnerships, conducting testing and evaluation, and supporting analysis for state energy policy and support

These functions are inter-related, and overlap by design, in order to maximize collaboration and leverage resources





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