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Energy Excelerator Provides Boosts for Clean Energy

An agency called the Energy Excelerator is giving 15 clean-energy startups a boost this year with cash, good advice, synergy and the most important fuel for success: connections

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The Author

Scott Cooney’s company, Pono Home, is one of the 15 energy startups that are getting a boost from the Energy Excelerator in 2014. Hawaii Business asked Cooney to write this inside report on the Excelerator and the startups it’s helping.

Pono Home is an interesting company that our readers should know about, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for Cooney to write that story. Instead, we asked another writer to file that report:

Sustainability, One Home at a Time

We all want to live sustainably, so what better place to start than in our homes?

Scott Cooney, founder of a startup called Pono Home, can show you how. In fact, he and his colleagues will do the work for you. One of them will come to your home, ask how you’re using energy, answer your questions and provide immediate fixes.

“We provide a ton of solutions on the spot to help people reduce their energy and water (use and costs),” Cooney says. “Instead of just auditing, we actually do. We bring in light bulbs, faucet aerators, shower heads, flow valves, flow restrictors – plenty of efficiency hardware – and we do a bunch of installations and help save people money.”

Pono Home service began in August and the two- to three-hour service includes installations and costs $80. Cooney is so confident in the service that he guarantees “if people don’t save $80 in the course of a year, they get their money back.” In fact, he says, most people save the $80 in two to six months.

Cooney’s background is in sustainability education and he teaches a sustainability course at UH’s Shidler College of Business each fall.

“I created a business case for sustainability by educating people about it. What it means to be sustainable: cutting waste, cutting energy, cutting paper, cutting water use.”




The Energy Excelerator has a startup story itself. It officially launched less than two years ago, but its roots go back to 1983, when a state charter helped found the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), which operates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. PICHTR’s mission: catalyze development and deployment of sustainable energy and infrastructure technologies.

The energy startup program at PICHTR began in 2009, when it received $9 million in grants from the federal Department of Energy. The program leveraged that funding into more than $13 million in projects with 17 clean-energy companies, including Pacific Biodiesel, Sopogy, Referentia, HNu Energy and Kuehnle AgroSystems. The companies have already experienced some early successes, including pioneering the use of oil-refinery waste for algae cultivation and integrating real-time grid-visualization tools into utility control rooms to help operators manage renewable energy.

The companies also hit some roadblocks in bringing their technologies to market. So Dawn Lippert and Maurice Kaya from PICHTR crisscrossed the mainland researching different approaches to tech commercialization and interviewing dozens of clean-tech entrepreneurs. They created the Energy Excelerator in late 2012, with a focus on funding companies’ go-to-market strategies (not just their technology scale-up), recruiting energy entrepreneurs as mentors, and supporting a mix of mainland and Hawaii-based companies to encourage peer-to-peer learning and network sharing.

Over the years, Lippert and Kaya have worked with 32 clean-energy companies. Those companies have generated almost $20 million in revenues and raised an additional $55 million in follow-on funding, Lippert says.


Hawaii’s Advantage

Many economic-development agencies in the U.S. have created and subsidized clean-tech incubators like Hawaii’s Energy Excelerator. Silicon Valley may get most of the clean-tech headlines, but Las Vegas, Austin, San Diego and other areas have made incubating a clean-tech industry a key part of their strategy for economic growth. However, Hawaii provides clean-tech companies with many advantages:

  • Electricity that costs more than three times the national average;
  • 90-percent dependence on foreign oil for electricity and transportation, meaning high prices and high volatility;
  • An aggressive statewide energy policy of 70-percent clean energy by 2030;
  • Motivated customers, including the U.S. Pacific Command; and
  • A geographic gateway for U.S. companies into fast-growing Asian markets.

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