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.)


Doug said...

Good luck with this latest blog.

My exposure to this issue in Hawaii was that there are fiefdoms and personal anonymity 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.

Joe said...

The reason for the location of OTEC facilities at NELHA is due to the steep slope of the sea floor off Keahole point. The bathymetry off the coast of Lanai makes it very unsuitable for land based OTEC. Of course it might be possible to install a floating OTEC plant many miles off shore, but then why send the power to Lanai in particular, when the demand is on Oahu.

A better baseload power source for Lanai (and any Hawaiian island without geothermal potential) would be concentrating solar thermal, with large amounts of sensible heat storage.

A world-class expert on OTEC lives in Hawaii. Anyone who is really serious about OTEC should contact Dr. Luis Vega at PICHTR to learn about the real potential for OTEC in Hawaii, or just Google "Luis Vega OTEC" to read some of his publications.

cmj said...


I think you may need to explore/comment on whether OTEC is eligible for tax credits.

What little I know about renewable's ---particularly, wind --- is that the wind folks have lobbied congress and gotten substantial tax credits to build and operate these systems.

Have the OTEC folks done the same and/or is OTEC eligible for favorable tax incentives to build an OTEC plan under the current tax code?

I may be wrong, but my impression is that tax credits are what's driving Castle and Cook's decision to build wind systems.


MauiBrad said...

Good work here, Doug. I'll be following this blog. Aloha, Brad

Mist said...

Makai Engineering announced their investigation of "Mist Lift" OTEC in spring of 2010.

Time for a progress report?