Engineering students create energy efficiency technology

Published on Nov. 27, 2014.

In an effort to address the state’s need for energy efficiency, a team of engineering students is developing software that monitors and analyzes the energy usage of household appliances.

“I think there’s a big growing industry for energy efficiency,” electrical engineering graduate student Andy Pham said. “Especially in Hawai‘i. You pay electricity bill, but it’s really high price right now. We feel there’s a need for it.”

The team, called LoadX, participated in the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship’s (PACE) Breakthrough Innovation Challenge (BIC) and received a $250 prize. The three-member team had been mentored by two sustainability-related companies – Energy Excelerator, which works with select startup companies looking to solve energy challenges in the state, and Ulupono initiative, an investing firm that uses investments to improve the quality of sustainable life – to help them with their business pitch.

LoadX’s energy efficiency software

The team’s software uses the data that’s already available on an energy monitoring system to save energy.

“There’s smart plugs commercially available that monitor and can shut off your circuits for appliances, and the idea is our company would suggest smart plugs and then we would interface our possibly, well, ideally, our free software, to their device,” electrical engineering graduate student Nick Fisher said.

The software, which integrates into a mobile app, will help homeowners save energy.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to see what kind of energy loads their appliances and stuff,” electrical engineering senior Kenny Luong said.

According to Pham, the software makes “the dumb home appliance smart.”

“For example, if your fridge is not fully closed, the software would track based on the pattern of your usage, and notify you, ‘Hey, your fridge is open,’” he said.

The software can also monitor the energy usage of a water heater.

“The program will watch your energy usage and notify you that the hot ready is ready for shower instead of you waiting randomly,” Pham said. “Of course water heater have reheat cycle so LoadX will, based on learning your behavior, cut off those reheat time, which mean you save energy.”

He added that the team is trying to provide a low-cost alternative solution to save energy. In the future, they hope to give away their software for free.

Murray Clay, managing partner for Ulupono Intiative and one of the team’s mentors, thinks this idea’s time has come.

“It is starting to be applied at the commercial and industrial level but there doesn’t yet seem to be a cost-effective home solution,” he said in an email interview. “If they can crack that problem, they could have a compelling business offering.”

The challenge

The goal of the BIC is to showcase the innovation that’s happening at the university, according to Krystal Lee, PACE program manager.

“This is a way to showcase those type of innovations and ideas that are happening on campus and the ideas that students have while giving them an opportunity to do something about it, to commercialize their innovation and meet people in the business community, as well as people here on campus that can help further their technology along,” she said.

The competition gives students a chance to win prize money to move their business forward.

“Personally, for BIC, for me, it’s just a good way to like practice a pitch or even test if your idea is actually valuable based on a few business representatives locally,” Fisher said.

According to Lee, two coaches, who came from the business community and volunteered their time, were assigned to each team to mentor the students.

Receiving advice from sustainability organizations

Lauren Tonokawa, who handles communications for Energy Excelerator, was the team’s second mentor.

“The university is actually a really great place to … make the jump from the idea to actually developing something like a product or whatever your innovation is,” Tonokawa said. “It’s important for programs like PACE to support those programs that can eventually lead into ours.”

She began working with LoadX earlier this month. The team was able to see Energy Excelerator’s nine startup companies pitch to and meet one-on-one with representatives from various companies such as Hawaiian Electric Companies, UH, the Hawai‘i State Energy Office and Hawai‘i Energy.

“She has experience in this field that we’re trying to go into so she can give us tips … and ideas to help us in that market and in that sector,” Fisher said. “Just meeting her is nice to know because Energy Excelerator funds future energy-type companies. So just allowing PACE and introducing us to them could be a future business venture to enter into Energy Excelerator in the future.”

Clay said he enjoyed working with the team.

“They’re motivated and open to new ideas and approaches,” he said. “I haven’t had the chance to work with engineers in a while [usually finance folks and lawyers] so that was refreshing.  I hope they were able to get some useful business insights from our session.”

The best advice the team received, according to Fisher, was to find a niche that its software can address in the market.

“We come from engineering background, and we think we have to have these amazing ideas, but sometimes amazing ideas fail in the market,” he said. “We hope to continue to work on it.”


Bill seeks to add three members to Board of Regents

Published on Jan. 26, 2015.

Faculty and an additional student perspective would be added to the university’s governing board under Rep. Isaac Choy’s bill.

House Bill 552 asks that the Board of Regents expand to compose 18 members with two voting faculty regents and one additional voting student regent. The bill was introduced and passed its first reading Jan. 26.

“The bill introduced is not viewed by me as a restructuring of the Board of  Regents,” Rep. Choy said in an email. “I see it as giving voice to the three main  constituencies of the University of Hawaiʻi.  As tuition plays more of  an important role in supporting the University, these constituent voices  should be considered.”

The university’s two missions

According to UH Mānoa Faculty Senate Chairman Ron Bontekoe, the university has two missions: one of which is to provide broad-scale undergraduate education, which is reflected in the community colleges, and the other being research and graduate supervision, which is representative of Mānoa.

“My argument was that those two missions are already in a sense  reflected in having an undergrad student rep and a grad student rep,” he  said. “And it was appropriate that there be a similar  representation of those two missions at the faculty level; where there  be somebody who represent the broad-scale provisional undergraduate  education perspective and somebody who represented the research and  graduate student supervision perspective.”

One student regent would be known as the undergraduate student member and the other would be known as the graduate student member, both of which can come from any of the ten campuses at the time of appointment.

According to Sara Perry, chairwoman for the UH Student Caucus (UHSC), the student regents would not be directly answerable to the student body for their actions.

“We hope that they think about all their fellow students when they do make decisions because they are a student as well,” she said in a phone interview. “But at the same time, we don’t want them to be beholden to us because then they may not be able to be voting freely.”

The bill also calls for one of the faculty regents to come from a graduate or research program and be known as the research faculty member. The other faculty regent would be the at-large faculty member. Both can come from any campus.

“So what we’ve got here is a parallelism,” Bontekoe said. “So that way we cover both missions for both ends, student and faculty.”

Each of these regents would serve two-year terms.

According to BOR chairman Randy Moore, the board has not yet discussed this proposal so he is not speaking on behalf of the board.

In general, he said, governing boards don’t represent constituent groups but are stewards of the institution charged with continuously improving the institution.

“Current students and current faculty, if their “job” as  regents is to represent their constituencies, do not necessarily have a  perspective that is consistent with this responsibility,” he said in an email. “The  student regent we currently have does not ‘represent’ the students.   He/she brings a student perspective to the board, but is appointed by  the governor just like all the other regents and has the same  responsibilities as the other regents.  If you’re not elected by the  students, it’s hard to argue that you represent the students.  Ditto for  any faculty member that would be appointed to the board.”

Representing the students and faculty

Leaders from the UHSC, a group of 22 delegates with representatives from each of the system’s 10 campuses, had been working with Rep. Choy on the bill, according to Perry.

In December 2014, the UHSC passed a resolution in favor of restructuring the BOR with its current 15 members.

The resolution asked to add an additional student member and a faculty member to the board.

“With 55,000-60,000 students in the university system as a whole, having only one student on our board that governs us doesn’t seem like enough to give us enough student input and student voice,” Perry said. “We figured that our faculty were just as important as students and that in the spirit of shared governance we found that what faculty have to say in how the school is governed is also very important. So we wanted a faculty member on there as well.”

The additional student member and the faculty member would replace the current at-large regents.

Leaders from the UHSC, along with leaders from Mānoa’s Associated Students of the University of  Hawaiʻi (ASUH,) Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and Mānoa Faculty  Senate met with Rep. Choy earlier this month to request that the house bill ask for two student and two faculty members, according to  Bontekoe.

Presidential policy to set sustainability goals

Published on Jan. 12, 2015.
Published on Jan. 12, 2015.

Tasked by the Board of Regents’ (BOR) executive policy, the president’s sustainability policy will outline what the university hopes to achieve regarding waste management, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“It comes from the office of the president, but it’s broadly applicable as a university system, all 10 campuses…” Matthew Lynch, interim University of Hawai‘i system sustainability coordinator, said. “This is how we’re going to approach our waste management, our water stewardship, all of these different aspects about sustainability, our cultural engagement, our curriculum development; all of these different pieces are there.”

The president’s policy is part of the UH system’s sustainability strategy, following the statement in the Board of Regents’ executive policy passed in January 2014. The BOR statement tasked the office of the president to decide how the university will achieve its sustainability goals.

The policy is almost done and once complete it will be a living document with a mechanism for revisions and updates to reflect changing conditions, Lynch said.

Ka Leo was not able to obtain a copy of the drafted policy, as it will be discussed at this month’s BOR meeting for approval.


“Sustainability is the most important issue of our times. And if it’s important that the university embrace it, systemically, if we are going to not only remain relevant to students that we serve, but, more importantly, if we’re going to be able to create capable and informed citizens that are equipped to address these challenges that we face,” Lynch said.

According to Jan Gouveia, vice president for administration, the purpose of the president’s policy is to execute the spirit and intent of the board policy through measurable expectations that the system wants to hold the campuses to.

“The spirit behind the policy is a broader concerted effort where we hope to be able to take advantage of other people’s knowledge and progress,” she said. “So if one campus does something well, let’s extend it and do it at another campus and vice versa.”

According to Lynch, the value of having such a system-wide policy is that steps will be taken to aslign system resources.

“We’re embedding sustainability as a priority into the very DNA of the institution, if you will,” Lynch said. “And then the next thing we’re doing is we’re starting to align system resources with all of these different things that are going on across the system.”

Gouveia said the framework for executing the policy is to have task groups that continue to get together and share ideas, challenges and successes.

A group that has been referred to as the UH sustainability task force has been working on this policy and the system’s sustainability strategy, Lynch said. The voluntary group — which has branched off into two parts: one focused on curriculum and one focused on operations — consists of representatives from the 10 campuses and meets for a fall planning session and at the annual sustainability summit.


Sustainability is now under the jurisdiction office of the vice president for administration.

According to Gouveia, the position had been unfilled for many years. In 2013, the Board of Regents re-established the position to focus on sustainability, one of the president’s initiatives.

She believes sustainability has taken a grassroots by being embraced by the student body along with some faculty, administrators and programs. Hoewever, it hasn’t had a formalized structure.

“I think the beauty of it, to me, the contagiousness of sustainability is not only its message and why it’s something that we need to do to ensure that our institution and our island and our future is able to enjoy what we enjoy today,” she said. “That kind of contagiousness is really what the president has embraced, I personally embrace. And I want to now bring a lot more formalized structure around it and build a program that we can now measure progress and successes.”

Gouveia, who started as vice president for administration in August 2014, is also in charge of procurement for the entire university, real property, risk management, human resources, capital projects, government relations and external affairs.

With her position, she is able to influence how the university conducts business.

“Whether that be through the classroom experience, through the purchases that we make, through the operating decisions that we make, you name it,” she said.

Group calls for UH to divest from fossil fuels

Published on Jan. 12, 2015.
Published on Jan. 12, 2015.

After hundreds of written and public testimonies, the Board of Regents (BOR) Committee on Budget and Finance authorized a task force that will evaluate and recommend how the university can divest itself from fossil fuel-related stocks or those with the greatest carbon reserves.

The committee made this decision at its Jan. 8 meeting after members of the Divest UH coalition — a group of students, faculty and community members in support of UH divesting from fossil fuels — presented its petition with more than 1,000 signatures.

“A place like University of Hawai‘i. …  We are supposed to be cultivating a bright future in educating future generations for this state,” Leilei Shih, an at-large representative for Mānoa’s Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and member of Divest UH, said. “It should be very future-focused and it should be for the benefit and advancement of future generations. It’s not consistent to be investing in something like fossil fuels, which is harmful to Hawai‘i.”

According to the Divest UH website, the campaign is part of an international movement and calls for endowments that are “entrusted for the education and welfare of future generations, to divest from the stocks of companies with the greatest carbon reserves, and the least-demonstrated conscience about committing humanity to a climate catastrophe.”

“The university has led the state in many major public policy issues, and this is clearly one of the biggest policy issues that the state is facing. This is not a simple issue – we have to evaluate what currently exists and evaluate what other universities have done,” Regent Jan Sullivan, chair of the Committee on Budget and Finance, said in a UH news release.


According to the UH news release, members of the BOR, UH administration, UH investment advisers, GSO, the Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (ASUH) and Divest UH will comprise the task force.

The group would study broader sustainability policies and practices as well as the university’s energy reduction.

“Divest UH is very optimistic that the full board will approve a task force,” Brodie Lockard, founder of the chapter and is working on the Divest UH campaign, said. “Today, UH took a large stride on the road to sustainability as well as divestment. We look forward with hope and excitement to working with the regents on the task force to improve sustainability at UH and raise awareness amongst students. And we hope make them better stewards of the climate.”

According to Jodi Leong, director of communications for the UH system, the proposal to form the task force will go before the full board, likely at its Jan. 22 meeting.


Increasing effects of climate change is one reason the group began its campaign at the beginning of the fall semester, according to Shih.

“That’s [divesting] something that, whether or not we want to, we’re going to have to do sooner or later, and it’s obviously better for us to address it while we still have a tiny bit of wiggle room rather than to adjust it when it’s too late,” she said.

According to Lockard, another reason for starting the campaign is the research showing that fossil fuel companies plan to take a large amount of oil out of the ground, which would lead to a change in global temperature.

“If we keep 80 percent of their assets in the ground in order to maintain the civilization that we are used to, then their stock prices are far overvalued, and eventually people are going to realize that, and their value will drop greatly,” he said. “So we are using UH to take them, take their money out of fossil fuels before that huge drop in value occurs.”


Divesting from fossil fuels is regularly discussed with UH Foundation’s investment advisers, according to Paul Kobayashi, UH Foundation’s chief financial officer.

 “All the UH Foundation endowment investment decisions are guided by the commitment to having the best possible return on investment. Having the best possible return is an expectation of our donors and a necessity if we are to address the rising cost of education,” he said.

According to the UH Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2014 Endowment report, the university has an endowment of $261.5 million invested in different funds, each under different asset-allocation categories, whose purpose is to reduce volatility, minimize risk and maximize return.

In the foundation’s Investment Managers 2014 document, 12 percent of the endowment is invested in Real Assets — composed of real property and commercial property as well as commodities — has real estate, natural resources and private oil and gas investment styles, among others.

According to Kobayashi, the natural resources investment style is diverse with constantly changing allocations. This investment style could have stock in companies dealing with metal, gas, timber or oil.

Kobayashi added that it’s almost impossible to say how much is invested in fossil fuel-related stock because it could be in any fund.

“There’s no specific direct investment in any [funds]; if it says oil and gas, I can tell you that’s not a direct investment; it’s comingled with other funds,” he said.

It would also be almost impossible for UH Foundation to divest from fossil fuel-related stock.

“Given the complexity, size and dynamic nature of the investment pools, it is very difficult to get real-time snapshots of all the investments in fossil fuel-related stocks,” Kobayashi said. “This is a topic regularly discussed with our investment advisors, and they are working diligently on getting more exact information regarding where the investments of large global funds, as part of a global enterprise, are.”


An endowment is meant to be everlasting, according to Kobayashi.

“The purpose of an endowment is to preserve assets so they perpetually fund programs, faculty and students,” he said. “The earnings of the endowment must be spent according to donors’ wishes. The goal is to have the best possible return, so we have a payout and a return to keep the endowment investments growing.”

According to the foundation’s 2014 report, in the 2014 fiscal year, the endowment provided $9.8 million in earnings to support students, faculty and programs. The endowment also had a 14.9 percent return.

The UH Foundation investment committee, composed of nine trustees, oversees the endowment, and uses Cambridge Associates as an investment adviser. The committee meets on a quarterly basis.


According to Shih, many foundations have already divested from fossil fuel-related stocks.

In September, the New York Times reported that the Rockefeller Foundation divested from these fuels. In May, Stanford University reported on its news page that it will not make direct investments in coal mining companies.

According to Lockard, a number of financial institutions have found that there is little risk involved in divesting from fossil fuels.

Advisor Partners LLC conducted an analysis on divesting fossil fuel-related stocks. Its analysis found that “removing these energy stocks from a well-diversified portfolio has little impact on investment risk; however, the evaluation of the impact on portfolio performance will depend on an investor’s perspective.”

According to Kobayashi, the foundation’s investment managers are working to determine the feasibility of divesting.