By Julia Hamm, President and CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)
When historians, years from now, write about the great 21st century clean energy transition, one person they’ll mention is Dora Nakafuji, director of the renewable energy planning division at Hawaiian Electric Company. The more you talk with her, the cooler and more impressive she is.
Dora started at Hawaiian Electric in 2009—well before the state’s solar boom led to panels on one third of the houses on the island of Oahu. She quickly foresaw that the utility would need a range of data-driven tools to maintain grid reliability. She assembled a cross-disciplinary, highly collaborative team to develop new programs for forecasting renewable output on the islands, mapping renewable project locations and supporting renewable integration.
Dora and her team have laid the foundation for the partnerships and innovation needed to reach the state’s goal of 100% renewable power by 2045. The programs she developed are being studied and replicated across the country.
Dora’s came to renewables somewhat circuitously. She has Ph.D. in aeronautical-mechanical engineering—designing airplanes—which, she says, was a major influence on her collaborative work ethic. Getting flights out on time is an exercise in goal-oriented teamwork which she has adapted to her work at Hawaiian Electric.
Nakafuji knows that one of the biggest challenges for utilities is changing their internal culture. She also knows getting to Hawaii’s 100% renewables goal will mean the emergence of a new kind of utility—one built on collaboration and a deep understanding of how customers use and manage energy.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dora is that she is always learning, always looking for new models and mentors to improve the work she and her team are doing. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.