As Mark Glick grew up in western Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh, he noticed the air quality. He could see it. Sooty clouds darkened the horizon, and urban smog hovered just above the highways.

“I was always disturbed by that,” Glick said. “I had this deep feeling that we could do better.”

Mark Glick stands behind a table with a sign that reads “Hawai‘i State Energy Office” and talks to a person.
As the chief energy officer for the Hawai‘i State Energy Office, Glick performs outreach on each Hawai’ian island. Here, he’s hosting a booth at a Molokai community resource fair.
Photo from Mark Glick, Hawai‘i State Energy Office

Now, as chief energy officer for the Hawai'i State Energy Office, Glick is in the exact right position to do better—specifically, to help his state transition to clean energy. And it’s doing so with help from water power.

In 2015, Hawai'i set a goal of generating 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2045. Although the islands have already made impressive progress—Kaua'i gets about 70% of its energy from renewable sources, according to Glick—the next push might be the most challenging. However, water power’s steady, reliable energy could help fill the last gaps.

“For Kaua'i, hydropower and pumped storage hydropower will be a defining feature of us moving from 70% to close to 90%,” Glick said.

With assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP), which is supported, in part, by the Water Power Technologies Office, Glick and his Hawaiian partners are exploring how to add even more renewable energy, including promising marine energy technologies, to their power grid—edging closer to their 100% clean energy goal.

Glick shared why he went into public policy, how he ended up in Hawai'i, and his grand vision for his state’s future.

When you saw all that air pollution as a kid, you were inspired to do something about it. But there are many career paths you could have chosen. Why go into energy?

I got into energy while I was in undergraduate school and worked at a refinery. My first major job after graduate school was for the Texas Land Commissioner, which was responsible for managing the state’s more than 20 million acres of state public lands where we had 18,000 producing oil and gas wells. But the commissioner’s office also wanted to make the transition to cleaner fuels, and I was given the responsibility of overseeing that effort. That happened a lot for me, this confluence of environment and energy. It became my niche. And I always knew I wanted to be involved in public policy.

four people posing for a photo
Glick, who is pictured here participating in a recent Hawai'ian blessing for a new solar farm, wanted to either be a musician or be like President Kennedy and go into government. “I decided I should probably take the more responsible path,” Glick said.
Photo from Mark Glick, Hawai‘i State Energy Office

Why public policy, specifically?

Growing up in the 1960s, when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I remember being propped up in front of the TV with my parents to watch President Kennedy’s press conferences. For whatever reason, it just seemed like doing that was the greatest thing you could do. I either wanted to do that or be a musician, and I decided I should probably take the more responsible path.

That path landed you in Texas first. So, how did you end up in Hawai'i?

Moving to Hawai'i was primarily a quality-of-life thing. I was lucky; we had a lot of success in the Land Commissioner’s office. Later, I had a fairly successful consulting firm that worked on clean air and water and recycling projects throughout the United States. But I was really putting off my personal life. After my first trip to Hawai'i in 1989 and in subsequent visits, I just fell in love with it. Around 2000, it became clear that I could do what I was doing from anywhere. And where would I have the best quality of life? I decided Hawai'i was the place. And it worked out. I met my wife here and started a family. And career-wise, it was extraordinary.

How did your career progress?

I still had the consulting business. I created a national clean transportation initiative for marine transportation. We were trying to replace ferries that operated on oil with natural gas, which turned out to be an enormous improvement in terms of emissions, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrocarbons. We were really excited about that, but 9/11 dried up all the money for congestion mitigation and air quality efforts that would have supported our efforts in New York City and Boston.

Ripple Effect

WPTO's Ripple Effect series features individuals whose impactful work will help advance hydropower and marine energy technologies to achieve a clean energy future.

Now, as the state’s chief energy officer, what challenges are you seeing?

We are the most isolated, populated land mass on Earth. We’re 3,000 miles from any place. We don't have oil reserves; we don't have coal. We have a diverse mix of renewable energy, but for more than 100 years, we’ve been importing fossil fuels. The big challenge was that we’re subject to extremely high prices of obviously very carbon-intensive fuels, which is extremely depressing to our economy.

What are you doing to change that?

Since 2003, there’s been a very concerted effort to take advantage of our renewable resources and to move ourselves away from this dependence on oil. The price curve for renewables did decline rapidly, and that made all of this very affordable. We have strong pledges to decarbonize transportation and achieve carbon net zero or net below by 2045. So, we’ll sequester more carbon than we consume.

And we've been making progress. Today, Kaua'i Island sits at 69.5% renewable. As one of the wettest spots on earth, it makes sense that Kauai's streams and water resources would play a major role. Hydropower and pumped storage hydropower will be key to getting us up to 90% renewable energy. We also have hydropower on Hawai'i Island, which has reached 48% renewable energy.

A government report from 1981 said that Hawai’i’s hydroelectric resources could provide about 28% of the combined electricity needs of four of our islands: Kaua'i, Molokai, Maui, and the Big Island (Hawai'i). Our energy demands are higher today, of course, but we’re also pairing solar power with hydropower, using solar energy to pump water into pumped storage hydropower facilities where we can store that renewable energy for future use.

So, I got invited to apply for a public-sector job with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The agency was created in 1978 to support the betterment of Native Hawaiians. I consider that my apprenticeship to Hawai'i because I got to work with our native communities and understand the wonderful confluence between our nature and our history.

Hawai'i and the Pacific Region has also received support from ETIPP. Can you tell us about those projects?

Mark Glick shaking hands with former President Bill Clinton, who is holding up an award certificate.
Mark Glick, seen here receiving a Commitment to Action award from the Clinton Foundation, is committed to helping Hawai’i achieve its goal of getting 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2045.
Photo from Mark Glick, Hawai‘i State Energy Office

Prior to my appointment by the governor, I was a faculty member at the Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute and helped secure its role as an ETIPP regional partner. One of the first cohort projects had to do with mapping hybrid microgrid opportunities on the island of Oahu. Microgrids are localized grids that function independently from a centralized grid, making them important for energy resilience. The island gets a lot of big storms, which can cause long outages. And we have a lot of critical infrastructure and a huge military presence. Microgrids could provide back-up power if there is an outage. And water power, because it’s so reliable, could be a critical part of a resilient microgrid.

You mentioned that hydropower, specifically pumped storage hydropower, could help communities, like Kaua'i, to get to 90% renewables. Do you see a role for marine energy, too?

We are home to the U.S. Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site, and the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute supports the testing of marine energy devices there. And we’ve seen some wonderful testing. The technology has come a long way in just the last few years, and the Wave Energy Test Site has supported promising tests. Both wave energy and ocean thermal energy—where we use temperature differences to generate energy—have the potential to contribute meaningful amounts of energy to the state’s future energy mix. But the technologies are still a significant way from producing large amounts of electricity. The marine environment is extremely harsh, particularly in Hawai'i. So, there have been a lot of lessons learned there. The devices are continuing to increase in size, but they’re not quite ready yet for commercialization.

In an ideal world, what would you hope to accomplish in your role?

As Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk said during his January visit to Hawai'i, we have a magic moment to accelerate the pace of our energy transition. The state’s energy office and our partners, like the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute, are firmly committed to take advantage of this moment and help identify the major areas that we can have an impact—and drive forward our transition.

Catch up on WPTO’s other Ripple Effect profiles and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Clean Energy Champions.

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