Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blue Planet Summit Promises To Be Breakthrough Renewable Energy Event for Hawaii & the Pacific

• March 30th Update: Check out today's Advertiser editorial.
• April 1st Update: Today's Star-Bulletin has a story on the Summit; see also a list of some participants (a complete list is on the Summit's website, linked below.) Also, wind energy storage to be studied here.

Current world energy trends reasonably lead to the conclusion that isolated societies like Hawaii and the other Pacific islands are under extreme economic risk unless they find solutions to their dependence on imported fuel oil. There’s no aloha for the Aloha State in oil prices that steadily hover above $100 per barrel, driving up the cost of everything consumed and purchased here – electricity, food, gasoline, clothing, cars, flights, literally everything.

As a state, we’ve been whistling past the graveyard – dabbling in renewable energy alternatives with some success here and there without significantly reducing the state’s fossil fuel dependence. This has to change, and that’s why the Blue Planet Summit promises to be perhaps the most significant conference here in memory.

The Summit will bring dozens of energy and policy experts to Oahu for three days of discussion and visioning next week. The Honolulu Advertiser previewed the Summit in a February story. (See also the Star-Bulletin story linked above.)

Anyone with an ounce of concern about our energy future should pay close attention to this Summit, which will receive local, national and international media coverage thanks to excellent planning and organization by the Summit’s sponsor, the Blue Planet Foundation and entrepreneur Henk Rogers. The Foundation's impressive mission: "To change our world's energy culture."

We’ll be attending the Summit, having received a late invitation to participate and contribute to the discussion about renewable energy options for Hawaii. While we’ll be supportive of all efforts to reduce Hawaii’s massive carbon footprint, you can bet Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion will be our focus.

Mahalo plenty to the Foundation!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Will Palau Show Hawaii the Way to OTEC's Future?

Is it possible that Hawaii will allow our fellow islanders of Palau to be the trailblazers in the development of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) in the Pacific?  No offense intended to the 21,ooo Palauans, but that would be more than a little embarrassing for a state that has been trying for decades to establish a new industry -- any industry -- here.  OTEC could be that industry.

Information about Palau's initiative comes from Guam's Pacific Daily News and a column by its former editor, Joe Murphy, who reports:

"The government of Palau has asked the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to fund a feasibility study on an (OTEC) and fresh water production facility."  He continues:

"I, personally, have been an enthusiast about the OTEC method of producing electricity for years. I have followed the successful building of a trial plant in Hawaii, and have wondered: Why the delay in upsizing the OTEC production to a full-scale plant that could conceivably work for all the islands of the Pacific?"

That's a real good question, Joe.  We don't know about Guam and (until recently) Palau, but here in Hawaii, OTEC usually doesn't even make the list of renewable options available to our isolated society. We think that's because our energy and policy planners are stuck in the past -- about energy economics, about alleged too-expensive production costs, about a lot of things.

Read Joe Murphy's column from earlier this month (here's the link again) and then spend a few moments with our March 16th post about how OTEC could be an ideal solution for Hawaii's island of Lanai.  

If you're an engineer, scientist or otherwise familiar with OTEC, please leave a comment.  This blog's purpose is advanced each time someone leaves a thoughtful contribution.

And if you're a resident of Palau -- well, cut us some slack here in Hawaii.  We're having a little trouble keeping up with you.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Excellent Comment Contributes to the Discussion; Looking to Australia for What Hawaii Could Become

This blog is serving the purpose for which it was created -- attracting attention for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) and eliciting comments from supporters who have much to add to the discussion. For an sample of such opinion, check out the comment left by "robv" to our March 17th post, either by scrolling down or clicking here.

robv obviously is knowledgeable about OTEC and lists several challenges that must be addressed and overcome. Economics, risk and politics are among them, but "robv" concludes the comment with optimism:
"The good news is that now is the time to make it happen -- high oil prices, unacceptable global warming, energy security issues, and even politics are lining up to provide the opportunity to make a run at this technology."

Thanks for the insights, robv; please stay in touch.

Elsewhere, today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports on a Public Utilities Commission decision on net metering that is attracting comments, too, including ours. As we posted there, net metering obviously has a role in reducing imported fossil fuel, but it's a relatively minor roll. OTEC is the elephant in the living room; we have to insist that policy makers acknowledge its presence and potential to liberate Hawaii from our strangling dependence on imported fossil fuel for base load electrical generation. It's an imperative.

Looking 'Down Under' for Inspiration

There's a wealth of OTEC information on the net, and we can't claim any special insight on where to go for it. One of the most impressive sites we've seen was mentioned by a doctoral student at Yale University at his website. It's more than impressive; it amounts to an embarrassment for Hawaii.

Check out this OTEC promotional site sponsored by the port city of Townsville, Australia. This is what Hawaii should be doing! OTEC's potential benefits for the state are obvious, yet we search in vain to see and hear much of anything about OTEC from government and energy industry leaders for reasons known best to them.

Well, let's start asking them about those reasons. Continued denial and avoidance of OTEC's potential would amount to malfeasance of office from our perspective. Kicking and dragging versus nudging and encouragement -- however it happens, policy and opinion leaders must begin to acknowledge the technology's potential.

And with all due respect to the learned scientists and engineers who are infinitely more knowledgeable than we are, you've failed to move the ball. That's what we're attempting to do at this blog.

So jump right in. As you well know, the water's fine.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Readers Weigh In with Quality Comments

Read our first post at this blog and why we've started it.
What's OTEC? Visit this U.S. Department of Energy site.
Thinking big about OTEC for the island of Lanai.
Note: This isn't a "daily blog;" we'll post here as events warrant, as when Hawaii's news media and government officials ignore OTEC in weighing our renewable energy options.

Now we're getting somewhere. St. Patrick's Day around our place is good for something other than grandson Jack's 3rd birthday; we've also used it to note the comments already left at this three-day-old blog. What's especially encouraging is the obvious knowledge and thought behind those comments. Before reading any further, we suggest you scroll down and click on the Comments beneath the Friday and Saturday posts.

Responding to the Comments

Let's begin by thanking Doug, Joe and Concerned Citizen for reading and then writing here at the Hawaii's Energy Options blog. Regarding Joe's comment on Friday, it was our expectation that an OTEC plant for Lanai would be stationed at sea rather than on land. As you point out, the bathymetry off Lanai isn't suitable for a land-based OTEC plant.

But why dedicate the plant for Lanai and not Oahu? As we suggested in Sunday's post, Lanai could be the world's first totally green island. The load is small, so a "starter" OTEC plant could actually make a big difference for the island compared to its potential impact on Oahu.

Importantly, other renewable projects already are moving forward on Lanai, thanks to the man who stands behind everything happening on the island and his plans to develop renewable energy there. David Murdock already has embraced wind and solar technology. One could argue OTEC wouldn't be that much of a stretch -- if Castle & Cooke's commitment and vision match the potential to go totally green. (Do you suppose anyone at the company is reading this?)

Thinking about GOO

To truly Get Off Oil (the GOO concept kicked around inside Hawaiian Electric two decades ago), Lanai would have to replace petroleum-based transportation fuel with something else. Depending on an OTEC plant's configuration, it can produce electricity, pure water and hydrogen -- and maybe other products this non-engineer doesn't comprehend. It's been suggested that Lanai could be the ideal "test track" for vehicles that depend on alternate technology instead of gasoline -- fuel cells, hydrogen and electricity. Nobody could drive into the test zone, making it a seemingly ideal laboratory.

You'd think the possibility that Lanai could get off oil entirely would be enough to make almost any environmentalist's palms sweat. Far as we know, though, it's not even been discussed at the State Capitol. We'd love to know what Dr. Luis Vega at PICHTR thinks about all this, and we thank Joe for mentioning him in his comment. We'll contact Dr. Vega for his reaction.

If Not Now, When?

Concerned Citizen asked in yesterday's comment: "...why won't anybody take the bull by the horn and initiate (OTEC)?" There were other provocative questions, too. Our reaction is that OTEC is still off the radar for nearly everyone who's thinking about renewable energy in Hawaii. Maybe it's because a 100-megawatt OTEC plant would be "big business," whereas just about anybody with the right zoning can throw up a wind turbine in the lower 40 and hope for the best.

As we noted yesterday, the editorial in the Sunday Honolulu Advertiser about renewable energy failed to include OTEC in the list of options, and that's not unusual. For OTEC to progress, it has to become a regular topic in the discussion.

And that's where you come in. This blog is about creating OTEC buzz. If the possibility of a fossil fuel-free Lanai or dramatic reductions in imported fuel oil to generate electricity on Oahu interest you, help create the buzz and bring others to this site.

And keep those cards and letters coming.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thinking Bigger: OTEC Power for Lanai

This blog will have no shortage of material. Both Honolulu papers carry prominent energy-related items today about Hawaii's dependence on imported oil:

Renewable energy for Lanai is the focus of today's post and the Advertiser commentary, but before we go there, consider the last sentence in the Advertiser's editorial:

"Now the state needs to see that the money is used wisely to tap the Islands' reservoir of power -- from the wind, waves, geothermal and, of course, the sun."

That summation is why we've started this blog. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is missing from the mix -- as it nearly always is when editorial writers and reporters list Hawaii's renewable options. (Extracting electrical power from the action of "waves" isn't the same as OTEC.) And where is the "reservoir of power" in the wind? Like the sun, wind power is intermittent, and cost-effective storage of that power isn't here yet. The tropical ocean is the world's largest solar collector and storage "battery" -- so big that small thinking apparently can't detect it.

A Fossil Fuel-Free Lanai

The commentary by Castle & Cooke Hawaii's CEO Harry Saunders discusses the company's plans for solar and wind power on the (former) pineapple isle. But to "...get Lana`i powered 100 percent by renewable energy" as he suggests, they're going to need more than intermittent sun and wind power, neither of which is base load generation. Planning a future wind farm that provides 300 to 400 megawatts of power for export to Oahu, as the company did when it first announced the project in June 2007, is laudable as far as it goes, but that wouldn't be "firm power" -- electricity that Hawaiian Electric and its customers could reliably count on. Optimum power output requires optimum wind performance, and we don't have to belabor the point that the wind doesn't blow 100 percent of the time.

So even with big solar and wind farms, Lanai's going to need a firm source of renewable energy if it's to get off oil. We doubt the viability of a new crop on the island to produce a biofuel; Lanai has already transitioned from agriculture to tourism, so reversing the direction seems implausible. And transporting a biofuel to burn in a generation plant would consume fossil fuel, negating the whole intent.

The OTEC Solution

Lanai could be the perfect location for the first OTEC plant in the islands. Lanai's electrical peak demand is small, so that first plant -- perhaps only 10 megawatts -- could literally satisfy the entire electric load. David Murdock, Castle & Cooke's CEO, already is committed to wind and solar energy to reduce the island's carbon footprint, and that's fine, but those renewables won't wipe away that footprint without a trace. And until an efficient, cost-effective energy battery system is developed, he'll still have to burn something in his generators when the sun's not shining and the winds are calm. Most likely, that something will be fossil fuel.

Castle & Cooke envisions exporting large blocks of electricity to the other islands, so installing an OTEC plant a few miles off Lanai wouldn't interfere with those plans. What it would do is make Lanai the greenest island on the planet. What a vision that would be -- and what a legacy for Mr. Murdock.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

OTEC's "Catch 22" and What To Do about It

The reader who left a comment to our first post yesterday nailed a major issue about developing Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC):

"My exposure to this issue in Hawaii was that there are fiefdoms and personal anonymity (sic) at play among those who could be using/sharing the deep sea pipe already in place at NELHA. Maybe when the Japanese snap out of the almost-jumped-the-shark "deep sea drinking water" fad... That, and the fact that nobody (and this is a worldwide problem) wants to be the first to commit to an expensive large system. Everybody wants to dabble in pilot projects that are lower cost:benefit."

We don't know anything about fiefdoms and personal animosity at the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority -- NELHA. To the extent they exist and impede OTEC's rollout, that's unfortunate, but let's move beyond NELHA and see the bigger picture. The "first customer" problem is real; nobody wants to be the first to stake companies, reputations and careers on a technology that's untested on a big scale.

Wanted: Vision and Guts

What are we waiting for -- $200/barrel oil and $10/gallon gas? The crisis is upon us, folks. As an isolated island society, Hawaii can't afford to dance around our state's energy peril like children waiting for someone else to be first in the ocean on a cool winter morning.

It's going to take vision and commitment to give OTEC a realistic test -- starting with a relatively small operation to demonstrate the technology. The first customer wouldn't even be at risk; OTEC's supporters say the technology's potential upside is so great investors are waiting in the wings. All Customer #1 has to do is guarantee a market for the plant's output, and where's the risk in that? No output, no sale.

Who will be the first to really embrace OTEC in Hawaii? An agency of state or federal government? A visionary business leader who secures a place in the energy hall of fame as OTEC's champion?

Hawaii residents can't afford to be idle bystanders. According to yesterday's Pacific Business News, Hawaiian Electric's fuel charge has increased 21 percent since October. As it continues to increase, we won't be impressed with our elected representatives and their agents unless they show new commitment to creating base-load alternatives to fossil fuel electricity generation -- and we're not talking about a biofuel that creates more problems than it solves.

OTEC is the answer. The question is, who's going to lead?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Let's Get Real about Hawaii's Energy Options

This is post #1 -- and we'll have much more in this space later. But for starters, let's put it out there right from the top:

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is the best long-term technology solution to reduce Hawaii's dependence on imported oil. OTEC is far superior to the other energy alternatives touted for electric power in the Aloha State -- so superior in replacing oil for baseload electricity generation that any legislator, government official, utility executive, energy expert or environmental leader who doesn't support OTEC is simply not believable.

Wind power, solar water heating, conservation and photovoltaic technology all reduce the amount of fossil fuel that must be burned to meet Hawaii's energy needs, but they are not baseload energy sources that contribute around the clock, throughout the year. OTEC is the only widely available renewable resource in Hawaii that can do that (geothermal energy is confined to the Big Island), a point apparently lost on too many opinion leaders in the energy debate.

OTEC's too expensive, you say? Shake out the cobwebs! This is 2008, not the 1980s; oil traded at $111 a barrel today! OTEC became economically viable long ago, and its technology is much improved over the OTEC process that was originally tested and proven in waters off the Kona Coast two and three decades ago.

We'll have plenty to say about OTEC and the other energy options here at "Straight Talk." For now, read up on OTEC; the web is loaded with information. Post your comments, ask questions or take issue with what we write. We should also mention this at the outset: I'm a consultant, but I have no OTEC client. I'm just a 35-year Hawaii resident whose grandchildren live here, too. I want to see realistic solutions proposed and implemented that will meet the islands' energy requirements and serve my grandkids' needs 10 to 50 years from now.

Join the discussion. Contribute to the buzz on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and how it can tap into the planet's greatest energy supply -- the tropical ocean that surrounds our tropical state.

Afternoon Update:
The lead in a page 1 story in today's Honolulu Advertiser reads:

"With the price of oil surpassing $100 a barrel, state lawmakers are taking a serious look at requiring new homes in Hawai'i to have solar water-heating systems."

The goal of using solar energy for heating residential water is reasonable, but heating water represents less than half the typical household's energy load. What about the other 60 percent? What about the rest of the economy?!

It's past time for lawmakers to look beyond the obvious and get serious about how to exploit the solar energy trapped in ocean waters surrounding Hawaii. Using existing technology, OTEC can extract that energy and create enough electricity to power tens or hundreds of thousands of island homes, as well as commerce and industry.

Lawmakers have the means to help make Hawaii a world leader in this technology, creating new career options for our young people. Any legislator curious enough to read up about OTEC can start at this US Department of Energy website. (BTW, this site was last updated in 2005 and noted then that OTEC plants aren't likely to be economically viable "...until the price of fossil fuels increases dramatically or until national governments provide financial incentives." Do you suppose $111 per barrel oil is dramatic enough? And isn't it time for the DOE to update its OTEC website?) (DOE updated its OTEC site in December 2008 -- and several times since then.)