Karl Stahlkopf

Karl E. Stahlkopf

Karl E. Stahlkopf, PhD has served as a member of our board of directors since July 2002. Since May 2002, Karl has been Senior Vice President, Energy Solutions and Chief Technology Officer of Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. Since December 2002, Karl has also served as President of Renewable Hawaii, Inc., a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. From November 1973 to April 2002, Karl served as Vice President of Power Delivery and Utilization at Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI, an independent, non-profit center for electricity and environmental research. During his tenure at EPRI, Karl was also a founder and served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of EPRI Solutions, a subsidiary of EPRI, and was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sure-Tech, LLC, a manufacturer of power electronic devices. Karl has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Naval Science from the University of Wisconsin and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.


Karl Stahlkopf: Engineer in Paradise ANYBODY WHO GULPS his morning coffee out of a paper cup while stuck in traffic or on a lurching commuter train will surely envy Karl Stahlkopf's morning caffeine ritual. He sips his coffee while gazing out at the deep blue Pacific Ocean from halfway up Pali Mountain, northeast of Honolulu, Hawaii. Then, wearing an aloha shirt, he climbs into his car, drives the back streets down the mountain, and rolls into the company parking lot in downtown Honolulu 10 minutes later. There, as chief technology officer of the Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO), he presides over the energy future of all the islands except for Kauai, which has its own electricity co-op. He is also the company's senior vice president for energy solutions and president of Renewable Hawaii Inc., the company's renewable energy subsidiary. Arriving in Honolulu last spring after 30 years with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, Calif., where he was vice president of power delivery, Stahlkopf was given a simple but sizable mandate: reduce the amount of fuel the islands must import to generate electricity. He's doing it by pushing the development of renewable sources like wind energy and by encouraging hotels and other big customers to generate power on- site. Wind is the most abundant source of renewable energy in Hawaii, says Stahlkopf. But tapping into it is not exactly a breeze. Each island has its own grid, completely disconnected from those of the other islands. "With a very small grid like the one on the Big Island or on Maui," he explains, "a wind farm of even 20 MW, which wouldn't be a pimple on the mainland, can make a big difference to a small system." THE POWER GAME: It was the chance to be at the cutting edge of alternative energy that lured Karl Stahlkopf to Hawaii. But Oahu's beautiful beaches didn't hurt. That's because the wind is, of course, unpredictable, buffeting and changing directions. That point was driven home for Stahlkopf when he visited the control room of HECO subsidiary Hawaiian Electric Light Co., in Hilo, a small city on the southeastern coast of the Big Island. The frequency meters were showing wild variations due to surges of power from a wind farm. "I thought I'd seen it all," Stahlkopf relates, "But, boy, I hadn't." The phenomenon led him to design an electric shock absorber to smooth out such power surges, allowing the connection of more wind farms to the grid. He applied for a provisional patent last spring and had just signed the final patent papers when this reporter walked in for the interview. But in his quest to cut Hawaii's oil dependency, Stahlkopf is looking far beyond wind. Renewable Hawaii is aiming to partner with developers of such other renewable resources as sun, hydro, biomass, ocean, and geothermal energy. The HECO subsidiary will, as a minority partner, help finance the most promising projects. Another venture on Stahlkopf's front burner is the use of power lines for broadband communications, now called broadband over power lines, BPL. In the past, he explains, the big stumbling block has been how to get the data through power transformers in one piece. But he and his engineering staff have found new technologies to overcome that limitation. He led the formation of a consortium to run initial market trials in single and multi-family dwellings in downtown Honolulu. "We have seen data rates in individual homes from 1.5 to 4 Mb/s," he says. The next generation of chip sets, which he expects to arrive this quarter, will increase these speeds by a factor of 10. He is now working with the consortium on a business plan for a commercial rollout. Stahlkopf extols the virtues of a broad and diverse education, citing his own experiences. Working his way through college in the 1960s as a guitar player and folk singer at coffeehouses, he received degrees in electrical engineering, naval science, and nuclear engineering. He spent seven years working as an engineer on nuclear submarines and at the Pentagon before joining EPRI. But, not surprisingly, the HECO job ranks as the pinnacle for him, and not just for the location. Aggressive use of new technologies is "part of HECO's corporate culture, and it's what drew me here from California," he says. Of course, living in paradise is nothing to sneeze at, either. It falls right in with his two main hobbies-golf (at which he claims to be terrible) and scuba diving. His office wall sports a stunning photograph of a shark, taken when he and his wife, Carole, were diving off the coast of Fiji along with a native guide and another couple. They had gone into a small cave that had only one narrow entrance. The guide went first and Stahlkopf was second, followed by the other couple. Carole brought up the rear. Inside they found a large shark at rest. "I snapped a picture of it," says Stahlkopf, "and the strobe scared the living daylights out of it." The shark made a beeline for the entrance just as Carole was swimming through and knocked her head over heels. "I didn't know it was possible for someone to scream underwater, but she did it. And I don't think she has ever forgiven me."