Henk Rogers, Blue Planet Energy
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In the 1980s, Henk Rogers made a name for himself in the global gaming industry as the producer of Japan’s first role-playing video game and the entrepreneur behind the popular Tetris franchise, which sold more than 35 million units via a partnership with Nintendo. Today, Rogers is dedicated to putting the building blocks together to enable a transition from a fossil fuel–based economy to one based on renewables integration at a global scale. Rogers is a resident of Hawaii, which mandates 100% renewables by 2045, so this is not an academic exercise for him. To prove the viability of a carbon-free future, he built a state-of-the-art energy lab at his Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch facility, which serves as a real-world solar-plus-storage test bed that stores excess generation as hydrogen. After successfully taking his Big Island ranch off the grid, Rogers founded Blue Planet Energy to commercialize safe, reliable and easy-to-install energy storage solutions.
SP: You are a gaming industry executive working in the energy storage space. How did that transition come about?
HR: It’s funny, because I’m not the only one. Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos got off track from what people originally thought they were doing. One reason is that I can—I have the wherewithal. Another reason is that desire for sustainability has always been dormant in me. It is something that needs to be done. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life making games and making money. That’s not part of my mission in life. I found my life’s missions 10 years ago after a heart attack. My first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuels. Our children and their children need a future they can live in. As a serial entrepreneur, I got into renewables and energy storage because the transition to a sustainable future was taking too long.
SP: In 2007, you established the nonprofit Blue Planet Foundation, which has successfully executed a number of grassroots energy efficiency campaigns and influenced policy outcomes in Hawaii. What are the foundation’s top priorities?
HR: As a start, we got Hawaii to agree to a 100% renewables mandate by 2045. Now we need to figure out why Hawaii isn’t moving faster in terms of getting off oil and gas. As a state, we import $5 billion in oil every year. It’s insane. Some people are working two jobs. Others are homeless. So many are struggling. If we could reduce the amount of oil we buy by 20%, we could put that money back into people’s pockets, raise standards of living and build decent housing for the homeless. That’s just based on a 20% reduction. Imagine if we could eliminate oil entirely. If we really thought our way of life depended on it, we could transition to 100% renewables in 5 years.
During World War II, we went from biplanes to jet planes and invented the atom bomb, sonar and radar in a period of just 5 years. We made a mountain of progress because there was a sense of urgency. Today, we are facing another existential threat. Look at all the storms hitting the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast. The intensity and frequency of these storms is unprecedented. Human beings are at risk, but our actions are just making things worse.
SP: Why did you chose to build a microgrid research facility at your Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch?
HR: When we talk to electric companies about eliminating carbon-based fuels, they say, “We can only handle 15% renewables on our grid because wind and solar are intermittent.” Okay, if they’re intermittent, why don’t you store the energy so you get rid of the intermittency? Then they argue that there is no such thing as storage at this time, which just supports the status quo. The truth is that it’s hard for them to switch over because they make 10% on top of the price of oil. However, they will go out of business if they don’t switch over.
So we started to look at what it means to become energy independent. The first thing my research group, Blue Planet Research, did was take the ranch off-grid. In the process, we learned a lot of interesting things. We found out that in order for us to make it through a cloudy day, we needed to have a certain amount of energy stored, and that meant that on a sunny day, we had all kinds of extra energy. Rather than throw that energy away, which is what the electric company does, we started looking for ways to use it.
That’s when we started making hydrogen. We don’t have that much use for hydrogen on the ranch yet, but we are experimenting. We are learning how to cook with hydrogen, which is a whole different way of cooking. When you cook with hydrogen, your foods taste moist because you are creating H2O instead of carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. The heat also goes straight up, meaning there’s no wasted radiant heat.
The hydrogen economy is coming. We believe Hawaii can use hydrogen as a fuel for moving trucks and buses and even cars. If you’re not throwing away renewable energy that you can’t use immediately or store in batteries, you cut the cost of solar and wind energy in half. We would also like to see people in the Third World cook with hydrogen because it eliminates dangerous gases. People die all the time because they are burning charcoal or wood inside their houses.
The net result of all of this is that I took my ranch off the grid, and I took my home in Honolulu off-grid. Then I started to show other people how easy it is to use solar and storage to eliminate carbon-based fuels. We have over 100 kWh of storage at the ranch and over 60 kWh at my Honolulu home. One day, I got this wonderful call from the electric company. “Mr. Rogers, we think there’s something wrong with our meter at your house.” I told the caller, “There’s nothing wrong with your meter. I’m just not using any of your electricity.” He said, “Do you mind if we go and have a look?” And I said, “No, not at all, you can look away.” If and when they look, they will see that the wires coming out of their meter are capped and taped off. I’m not connected to their meter in any way. And if they want to take their meter back, they can have it.