Energy
Daren Kimura
President, CEO and Chairman of Sopogy Inc.

There is no one technology that will solve all that ails us.

But if we take wind and combine it with photovoltaic and hydro-generation, and combine that with traditional generation, now you have gotten ourselves into a situation where the cost of generation goes down because we are no longer tied to fossil fuels and we have a reduction in greenhouse gases.

There are things in place to get us there. The state has enacted what’s called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which put a mandate on the utilities that a percentage of their generation come from renewable resources Ð 20 percent by 2020 is the goal. The challenge is that our RPS is not defined as in other states. For instance, most utilities give their consumers the opportunity to pay a penny or two more to buy their power from green energy sources. That penny or two more then goes back to the green energy project developer to help incentivize the development and expansion of his project. That option is not available here yet. Because it all starts with money. Once you have the capital available, anything is possible. You can build a large wind farm. You can build solar farm.

It also takes having the early adopters come into the market and take the risk and demonstrate the model. The entrepreneurs. And having some of the more prominent leaders do something about it. When you have one or two successful demonstrations of how the model works, it is easy for everyone to say, “Hey these guys did it, let’s do it.” We also need public awareness, because the public can apply pressure to the government, the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission.

If we can figure out a way to insulate ourselves and lower energy costs, we stand a better chance as a society of giving people a better way of life. Maybe people can cut back on that second job and spend more time with their kids. This is the kind of thing that drives me. ÐAs told to SR


A Honolulu-based solar-energy firm is expected to be the second tenant at Avista Utilities’ test bed for clean energy sources.

Sopogy Inc. plans to use the Rathdrum facility to assess its concentrated solar power technology on the mainland, said Jim Maskrey, vice president of business development and sales.

“We really want to demonstrate the favorability of the area for concentrating solar,” Maskrey said.

Like some other concentrated solar systems, two-year-old Sopogy’s technology uses troughs outfitted with highly polished mirrors to focus sunlight on tubes containing a fluid, heating it for use in a process to create steam-generated electricity. Such systems traditionally have been large and set in desert environments, Maskrey said, but Sopogy claims its SopoNova product is smaller and more rugged.

And the system could be set up to store energy as heat for use at peak times or when the sun isn’t shining, he said.

Sopogy initially will test the tracking system, but a later phase should generate a maximum of about 50 kilowatts of power at any given time, he said. The company hopes to break ground in about a month.

Avista and Sopogy should sign an agreement Monday, said Hugh Imhof, utility spokesman.

Avista and other utilities are feeling the squeeze of recent state renewable-energy mandates. A voter initiative passed last year requires Avista to use 3 percent renewable by 2012 and 15 percent by 2020. About two dozen other states, including Hawaii, had similar requirements as of this month, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

In June, San Francisco-based startup GreenVolts Inc. unveiled plans to install a roughly 2.4-kilowatt sun-tracking solar array at the site. GreenVolts’ system, made by Ecolite Manufacturing Co. of Spokane Valley, uses photovoltaic cells to turn sunlight into electricity.

While the two types of concentrated solar may have different applications, Maskrey said, the cost of Sopogy’s system should be lower than photovoltaic. He declined to give specific price information.

“There is going to be a little bit of overlap, but there’s going to be a lot more differentiation between us where the market will adapt to what it is we’re delivering,” he said.

The Sopogy system, which will be aligned north-south and pivot to track the sun, may require six or seven acres per megawatt of power generated, Maskrey said. It also can be used for agricultural drying, air conditioning and desalinization, he said.

Heat-transfer oil piped through the system could be heated to 250 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, Maskrey said.

Sopogy is a spinoff of Energy Laboratories, a private energy-concept incubator in Hawaii. The firm has received about $3 million in a round of venture capital funding and has 11 full-time employees, Maskrey said.

The state of Hawaii this summer approved Sopogy for $10 million in revenue bonds to help it design, build and operate a large-scale solar farm there.


Thursday, August 9, 2007 11:03 AM HST

CEO of renewable energy firm found his calling at an early age

by Bret Yager
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

Darren Kimura learned early to use his imagination.

Growing up in Hilo, the emerging renewable energy entrepreneur didn’t have much entertainment to distract him.

“A lot of successful business people come from Hilo,” he said. “The key about Hilo is you go out and make something happen.”

Kimura, 32, is president, CEO and chairman of Sopogy Inc., which the state in June approved for $10 million in special purpose revenue bonds for a new solar farm power plant in West Hawaii.

Kimura has been passionate about renewable energy since his teen and college years. He spent that time founding two energy and communication companies and teaching computers to Waiakea Intermediate School faculty.

And Kimura intends, in a modest way, to take over the world, applying the “make it happen” philosophy to a 15-hour work day that centers entirely around renewable energy, infants and home life.

He used to surf at Honolii. Surfing was one of the first things to go. He doesn’t watch TV or go out to movies anymore.

“It comes down to priorities,” he said. “Always the most important thing to me has been my family, and business. Anything that doesn’t fit into that is no longer around.”

 

Kimura founded Energy Industries when he was 19. Fourteen years later, the energy solutions company is on the cutting edge of renewable energy research and engineering, with 12 offices and more than 200 employees in the U.S., Guam and Hong Kong.

Kimura founded Energy Laboratories in 2000 to expand and diversify Energy Industries. He describes the company as a place where energy innovations can incubate until they are ready for the market. The company has more than 20 such concepts in incubation and has turned nine others into multi-million dollar companies geared at solving energy problems.

The top earner garners $50 million in annual revenue. All of the companies started in Hawaii.

Kimura attended Waiakea High, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he studied business, and Portland State University, where he studied electrical engineering. He started Energy Industries here in Hilo while on summer break from Manoa.

From there, Kimura’s resume of start-ups begins to resemble that of a tycoon. In 1996, he created Energy Conservation in Hawaii; in 1998, Pacific Energy Services; in 2000, eCONTROLS; in 2001, EnergySmart; in 2003, Lighting and Electrical Company; in 2004, Facility Solutions. In 2006, he acquired Quantum Lighting and Quantum Energy.

Kimura lives on Oahu now, but both he and his wife, Kelly, are from Hilo. Kimura attended Waiakea Intermediate School, where he was a computer geek. He remembers enjoying the contact with nature: Camping, hiking, fishing and scouting. He wasn’t an exceptional student, he says. He attributes his success to what he calls “laser beam focus.”

After all, you have to eat your Wheaties if you want to wean a state of its dependency on foreign oil. Kimura sees that as a personal quest.

“I want energy independence for Hawaii,” Kimura said. “It’s a big task, and I want to do it in my generation. We’re 89 percent dependent on foreign oil.”

Sopogy Inc. today offers new concentrated solar power collectors to generate electricity and air conditioning, industrial steam and agricultural drying, with the potential for creating drinking water from evaporated sea water along the way. Kimura is still working to shrink the technology down to where it can be used by individual households.

“The markets we can go after now are the larger businesses and utilities,” he said.

Kimura’s new 3,000-reflector solar farm, under the name Keahole Solar Power, will be built on six acres at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona. Capable of producing a megawatt of electricity and powering 500 homes, the $8 million project will likely be online by July 2008, Kimura said. The farm will be able to produce electricity about 25 percent more cheaply than conventional means, he said.

Keahole Solar Power is in the design phase, about a month away from breaking ground if its permits come through.

“The good thing about solar is it’s typically a lot faster to construct; you’re dealing with traditional metal, glass and concrete, and you’re not dealing with rare or toxic materials,” Kimura said. “This is a good project and we want it to happen as soon as possible.”

In addressing climate change, energy security and sustainability, Kimura can’t say enough about solar. Its production cycle meshes perfectly with the human use cycle, he says, and on the sunny west side of the island, solar is very cost effective, even if it’s less so in the rainy and cloudy east side climate.

Kimura said the Big Island’s efforts at geothermal and wind-powered ventures are a step in the right direction. But with fossil fuels dwindling and global warming looming, renewable energy is not just an option, but a growing imperative to Kimura.

“Renewable energy is good for the environment, the pocketbook and society,” he said. “These are the kinds of things we have to do now. The incentives are there. There is no better time to go green.”

Bret Yager can be reached at byager@hawaiitribune-herald.com



The Big Island is blessed with many renewable energy resources—solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and run-of-the-river hydro. About 1/3 of the electricity generated on the Big Island is produced from renewable energy resources. In fact HELCO, as a stand-alone utility, is a world leader for the amount and diversity of renewable energy used to generate electricity, as well as for the proportion of intermittent renewable energy resources being used.

Intermittent sources of electricity rely on nonconstant sources of power, such as wind, stream flows, and sunshine. HELCO has committed to increasing the amount of renewable resources, both intermittent and firm, used to generate electricity and is aggressively working to mitigate potential system reliability impacts of intermittent renewable energy resources.

Independent power producers in Hawaii can take advantage of beneficial financing options and generous federal and state energy tax credits that may not be available to a public utility like HELCO. However, HELCO continues to support the development of renewable energy by purchasing renewable energy from the independent power producers.

Additionally, HELCO supports the installation of customer-sited renewable energy systems under the state’s net energy metering
legislation, which allows excess power generated by customers from renewable energy sources to be fed into the power grid.
Current independent power producers include: Puna Geothermal Venture, with 30 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power; Hawi Renewable Development, with 10.6 MW of wind power; Pakini Nui, with 20.5 MW of wind power; and Wailuku Hydro, with 12.1 MW of hydropower; along with other smaller producers.

Looking forward, independent power producer Sopogy, Inc. is planning to construct a 3.5-MW concentrating solar energy farm.
With so many renewable energy options available, we at HELCO can foresee no circumstance under which we would seek to construct a new fossil fuel plant.

View full story: helco_consumer_lines_aug07.pdf


  

Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - August 3, 2007

Tina Yuen, PBN

View Larger

The aluminum trough-shaped solar collectors developed in the warehouse of Honolulu-based Sopogy Inc. do not represent the next revolution in solar energy generation.  The company doesn’t revolt. It specializes in evolution, fashioning design improvements that increase the practicality of proven technology.  “We try to go after markets that already exist, providing near-term, modest solutions,” said Darren Kimura, president and CEO of the company he founded in 2006.

Next-generation technology

Sopogy builds next-generation parabolic reflectors that concentrate solar power, maximizing energy output from a low-cost, durable system that can be set up on or off the power grid.  The strategy has earned Sopogy the attention of two local venture capital groups, as well as the state, which this year made available up to $10 million in special-purpose revenue bonds to finance a one-megawatt power plant to be connected to the Big Island grid.  “Darren’s company is taking technology that has been proven to work in other areas, but has not been fine-tuned in Hawaii,” said state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-Makiki-Tantalus-Punchbowl, who proposed the legislation to provide the revenue bonds. “He has been very innovative in his approach.”

The 3,000-reflector plant will be built on six acres of lava rock at the Big Island’s Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority for an estimated $8 million and run by a newly formed Kimura company, Keahole Solar Power.  “Our goal is to use this as a showcase,” Kimura said. “We’re a Hawaii-based company, but our market is the world.”

Kimura isn’t ready to put a price tag on his units yet, but said Sopogy’s focus has been to build a system that costs about half as much as a comparable photovoltaic system, with a return on investment in three to five years.  Sopogy’s solar units differ from the more widespread, flat-paneled photovoltaic systems seen on residential and commercial rooftops. The company’s researchers focus on concentrated solar power designs, models with oil- or water-filled pipe that runs through parabolic reflectors, capturing heat used to generate steam.

That concept isn’t new.

The innovation comes in the form of nanocoating that insulates the reflectors from salt damage, of axes that allow the reflectors not only to track the sun in quarter-degree increments, but also to be flipped over and protected with additional casing in a hurricane.  A California company manufactures the units from glass, aluminum and concrete — an attractive element of the project for investors.  “They figured out how to use a low-cost manufacturing process,” said Joelle Simonpietri, a partner at Kolohala Ventures, which invested in Sopogy last year.

Sopogy is working with two different commercial models — the 2.5-foot-wide SopoFlare and the 5-foot-wide SopoNova.  “We’re the only company out there that is trying to shrink these systems,” Kimura said.

Building the ranks

Over the next year, Sopogy will build its ranks from its current 11 employees, looking to grow into a 100-employee company, Kimura said. A second round of financing should bring an influx of at least $5 million, he said.

The company has an eye on going public in the next three years, he said, a move that would give it more liquidity and bolster its research and development, as well as manufacturing, efforts.  “Hawaii is really only our lab,” Kimura said. “Our market is California, Asia.”

But the entrepreneur from Hilo has no plans to see his company leave the state.  “I want to leave a legacy in Hawaii,” he said.

cwoolard@bizjournals.com | 955-8039


Avista considers concentrated solar

When most people think of Northwest energy sources, hydropower is at the top of the list. But Bob Cart, CEO of GreenVolts Inc., a San Francisco-based designer and developer of high concentration photovoltaic systems, thinks about the untapped solar resource in much of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Idaho.

Cart — a Bay Area entrepreneur and solar industry “hobbyist” — has raised $1.5 million in seed money, including funds from in-kind services and his cash winnings from the renewable energy prize at the 2006 California Clean Tech Open. GreenVolts recently received an investment of an undisclosed amount from Spokane, Wash.-based utility Avista Corp., which is working with GreenVolts to build a demonstration solar power plant in Rathdrum, Idaho.

“It’s an R&D type of project,” Cart says. “Our goal is not to deliver a certain amount of capacity, but to really understand and characterize the technology.”

Avista’s new integrated resource plan, which is due to be released in August, calls for an increase in renewables, according to company spokesman Hugh Imhof. The Rathdrum test site is close to a substation and has room for five other projects, Imhof says.

“We’re very impressed with their technology and their business plan,” Imhof says. “They seem to really have their act together, and the technology looks like it has the potential to be viable.”

Cart says concentrated solar power systems are practical — even in the Northwest — for a number of reasons. Concentrated solar systems create high outputs of energy by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a super-efficient solar cell. “You get the low cost of a mirror delivering the light on a very efficient cell,” he says. “And you end up using less than one-thousandth of the active solar cell material than you would on a conventional solar panel.”

A typical commercial solar cell has an efficiency of 15 percent, meaning about one-sixth of the sunlight striking the cell generates electricity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Low efficiencies require larger arrays of solar panels, which increase costs. By replacing expensive silicon semiconductor materials with simple mirrors, concentrated solar systems further reduce the cost of energy. Concentrated solar systems also achieve much more energy per unit land area, Cart says, claiming that Greenvolts’ technology produces at least twice the energy per unit of land area as do other solar technologies.

GreenVolts’ patent-pending technology uses mirrors licensed from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a super-efficient solar cell made by Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab. Its technology is not to be confused with concentrated solar thermal technology, in which the device that converts the sunlight into electricity is done so thermally rather than through photovoltaics.

Jim Maskrey, vice president of business development and sales for Sopogy Inc., a Hawaii-based manufacturer of concentrating solar thermal power systems, is managing a handful of demonstration projects in Hawaii. The company is targeting commercial clients with large roofs and tracts of land that have the need for systems in the 200 kw-10MW range. “One of the advantages of concentrated solar thermal is that you are able to store the thermal energy and then generate electricity after hours when the sun is not shining,” he says.

Recent legislation in Oregon and Washington has mandated that privately owned utilities acquire a percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Washington’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), passed by a ballot initiative in November 2006, requires privately owned utilities to acquire 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020 and undertake cost-effective energy conservation. The Oregon legislature recently passed an RPS that requires Oregon’s largest utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. It also extends the life of the Oregon Energy Trust to 2025 and increases the trust’s ability to fund energy conservation.

The legislation has led many utilities to study the potential energy output of concentrated solar systems in the sunniest areas of the Northwest region. Seattle-based Puget Sound Energy announced in June 2006 that it chose San Rafael, Calif.-based EI Solutions to build a 500-kilowatt solar power generating facility adjacent to its Wild Horse wind farm near Ellensburg, Wash. [See “Gone with the wind,” nwcurrent, January 2007]. The $3.7 million Wild Horse solar project will have more than 2,500 photovoltaic solar panels, mounted in two separate locations across five acres, according to the utility.

When completed, the project will be the country’s first large-scale combined solar and wind power plant, and the Northwest’s largest solar power-generating plant.

While the Northwest’s solar resource is not as good as Southern California’s or Nevada’s, it is relatively strong in the summer, when the wind is not spinning the region’s many wind turbines as fast and demand for power in the region is strongest.

“One of the advantages of concentrated solar is, even though it costs more to make the power in Washington, it’s still cheaper than any other solar technology,” Cart says. “And it’s still competitive with other sources of daytime peak, especially when it needs to be renewable.”


Sopogy News from the Honolulu Advertiser

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Governor OKs bond issuance for solar project

Advertiser Staff

HONOLULU — Sopogy Inc. has received Gov. Linda Lingle’s approval for the issuance of special purpose revenue bonds. Act 229 authorizes the issuance of $10,000,000 in special purpose revenue bonds to Sopogy Inc., to assist with planning, designing, constructing, equipping and operating a solar farm power plant at the Natural Energy Laboratory or another suitable site in Hawaii.”This is an important step in supporting renewable energy and helps break Hawaii’s bonds to imported fossil fuels. We commend the leadership and vision of Vice Chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu who authored the bill, the 2007 Hawaii State Legislature, and Governor Linda Lingle” said Darren T. Kimura, President and CEO of Sopogy Inc. NELHA (Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii) is an important location for this project as it has some of the highest solar energy of any coastal location in the USA. “With new technology companies seeking its unique deep ocean water comes new electric power needs. Sopogy’s clean power solutions will help NELHA continue to grow, while achieving the energy park’s mission and focus on natural energy. We are excited to lead the next generation of renewable energy research at the park and look forward to working with Hawaiian Electric in making this clean solar power project a reality.”

June 30, 2007 - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sopogy Inc., a local renewable energy company, has received state approval to issue $10 million in special revenue bonds to build a solar farm tentatively planned for the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai’i Authority facility in Kona. The company specializes in development, manufacturing and distribution of solar power systems for electricity generation. Sopogy was founded in 2002 by local entrepreneur Darren Kimura with the goal of addressing environmental issues, such as climate change, energy security and sustainability.


Renewable Energy Access

Hawaii Approves $10 M for Solar Farm Bonds

June 29, 2007 - Honolulu, Hawaii [RenewableEnergyAccess.com]

Sopogy, Inc. recently announced it received Governor Linda Lingle’s approval for the issuance of special purpose revenue bonds. Act 229 authorizes the issuance of $10,000,000 in special purpose revenue bonds to Sopogy Inc., to assist with planning, designing, constructing, equipping and operating a solar farm power plant at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority or another suitable site in Hawaii. “This is an important step in supporting renewable energy and helps break Hawaii’s bonds to imported fossil fuels. We commend the leadership and vision of Vice Chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu who authored the bill, the 2007 Hawaii State Legislature, and Governor Linda Lingle,” said Darren T. Kimura, President and CEO of Sopogy Inc.

Sopogy in VentureBeat

Sopogy — The Honolulu solar thermal concentrator company had already raised $3 million in financing. The company has now just received $10 million more in a revenue bond from Hawaii’s governor to help construct a thermal plant there.


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