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Kimura, who started ECH more than six years ago, has developed into quite a businessman, recently being named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) 2002 Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Hawaii. Not only that, he was named SBA’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Region 9, which includes California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, and Guam.
“It’s an honor,” is all Kimura could say, reluctant to brag or boast. Winners must be under 30 years of age and have owned their business for at least three years.
Gwen Yamamoto, the business banking manager with City Bank who nominated Kimura for the SBA award, said she knew as soon as she met Kimura that he would be successful in business.
“He has all the qualities everyone wants,” she told the local newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “He’s very focused, goal-oriented, articulate, and mature. As soon as I got to talk to him, I knew he was the right candidate.”
Kimura turned a one-time division of a large electrical contractor in Hawaii into the multi-million dollar energy conservation business it is today. In 2001, ECH oversaw nearly $3 million in construction and energy upgrades, he noted.
“We are proud of our growth and are excited to offer energy services that continue to provide Hawaii’s businesses with an opportunity to reduce their overhead, increase energy savings, and improve their indoor working conditions,” said Kimura.
SLOWLY BUT SURELYGetting started was not easy.
“I started the company as a division of a larger electrical contractor here in Hawaii,” said Kimura. “They were interested in adding more services to their existing business, thus I was brought in to be the director of the new division. In this role we studied lighting, energy management systems, UVC systems for hvac, efficient pumps, efficient motors, and hvac replacements/retrofits.
“Because we were formed as a larger company focusing mostly on contracting, it was difficult to begin to educate our customer base of the energy efficient side of things, where traditional contracting has been about value engineering projects and cutting costs. Additionally, Hawaii is historically behind the curve as far as trends go and at that time, many businesses were not aware or as receptive to energy efficiency.
“Things were slow moving in 1995, but we continued to push forward and we continued to grow.”
In a matter of three years, ECH had performed and installed hundreds of lighting projects on the Big Island. These projects included the Ululani Professional Building, Puuhonu Professional Plaza, Hilo Lanes, Kona Professional Building, and Hilo International Airport.
By 1998, Kimura decided to split off from the electrical firm to become an independent energy service company.
“We added a new name to our company, called Pacific Energy Services,” he said. “Pacific Energy Services is the division of Energy Conservation Hawaii where we provide energy engineering solutions. ECH, on the other hand, provides the project management, technical assistance, and field support to our projects. Combined, the companies provide turn key energy efficient services for our customers.”
With success on the Big Island, Kimura decided to move the company’s head offices to Honolulu, the center of business in Hawaii. A year later it opened a Maui operation. Here ECH designed and implemented lighting projects for such Maui businesses as Napa Auto Parts; McDonald’s of Hawaii-Kihei, Wailuku, and Kahului locations; and several large office buildings.
A NATURALEnergy conservation was just a natural in Kimura’s eyes.
“For our energy conservation measures, we focus on air conditioning in a big way,” he said. “Because we’re here in Hawaii, our ambient temperatures call for space cooling nearly year round. Air conditioning and water heating in a condominium, apartment building, or hotel can account for 40%, up to 65%, of a facility’s gas and electricity utility cost.
He said Hawaii’s year round warm ambient conditions and high cost of synthetic natural gas (SNG) or propane, provide a great opportunity to take advantage of heat pumps, not for space cooling and heating, but as an efficient source of water heating.
“Air source heat pumps are providing COP of 2 to 3 year around,” he said. “Water source heat pumps, using waste heat from either the chilled-water return or condenser water system can provide combined COPs over 4. The use of waste heat for hot water generation provides an additional benefit in reduced cooling tower and chiller operation cost.
“It is the integration of multiple facility needs and the implementation of efficient technologies that has provided the utility cost reductions.”
Believe it or not, finding qualified workers has not been a problem for Kimura.
“Finding skilled workers in Hawaii isn’t difficult,” he said. “In fact, we have many advantages to gaining good, qualified employees. We have the obvious tropical climate that people enjoy and actually seek out, as well as a geographic advantage where Hawaii is a bridge from the U.S. to Asia.
“Some of our engineers or consultants are actually Hawaii residents now, who visited on vacation and enjoyed it so much they decided to make it home here. Our employees range from administration, project managers, engineers, project engineers, sales people, and field technicians.”
Sidebar: One Example — Arcadia Retirement ResidenceBy installing several technologies in the Arcadia Retirement Residence, Energy Conservation Hawaii (ECH) president Darren Kimura said it has help the Hawaiian retirement facility see a 33% reduction in electrical cost and a 75% reduction in gas consumption.
A feasibility study of the facility was conducted over a six-month period to identify energy conservation measures that could be implemented to reduce operating cost. The study identified the need to do the following:
“A guaranteed savings contract for the installation, commissioning, and maintenance of the facility was completed,” said Kimura. “The installation was completed in April 2001. We are in the process of completing the first year’s summary, but to date we have exceeded the guarantee by 18%.”
— Mark Skaer