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?


Concerned citizen said...

The BIG question remains: Here in Hawaii we hear about OPEC, we read about it, too, and our representatives at the capitol even mention it as an alternative, so why won't anybody take the bull by the horn and initiate it? The cost today will be far less than the cost in fifteen or twenty years. We can ill-afford further delay. Living on an island in the Pacific does not exempt us from the reality of the current energy crises, indeed we are more vulnerable than ever. Does anyone really believe that Hawaii will come first if and when oil becomes a prohibitive energy resource? And, what about greenhouse emissions? Do we wait until Hawaii becomes an undesireable rain island before we take action? Any suggestions to concerned citizens who really think it's time for the government to show some responsibility toward its citizens?

Olomana said...

OTEC is certainly a strong contender for 5yrs from now. But what I ask about, conservation? Simply using conservation technology we all can save piles of money, provide some leeway for new technologies to come online whilst enjoying the fruits NOW!
And, when a majority of properties become PV generators, the aggregate effect of these nodal connections becomes a locus of generation. That is, there is power for all homes if we all generate power. Hook'em together - voila the ElectraNet - and do for power what the internet did for information.