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.


RobV said...

OTEC clearly promises a renewable energy solution that has the potential to provide alot of capacity for places like Hawaii. The advantages are so great, that I can understand the frustration of those who wonder why it isn't in place today.

The basic answer is economics and risk, along with a smattering of politics.

By economic, I mean those who will build the plants have to have funds in the $100M's for small plants and $B's for larger plants. Lining up funding for a "new" technology requires much preparation.

By risk, I mean the technical, operation & maintenance, and political uncertainties that need to be understood so that companies and financiers will be willing to agree to long term, fixed price power purchase agreements.

By political, I mean the regulatory and permitting requirements, not to mention the important environmental requirements that must be addressed. The OTEC Act of 1980 gave regulatory responsibility to NOAA, but no permits have, to date, been issued. I believe OTEC to provide the most benign environmental impact, yet we still need to assess how specific designs will impact specific installation areas.

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 the technology.

We want to see a pilot plant in the water in five years. Too slow some might say - I would respond that in spite of the work that has been done to date, much work remains.

I look forward to comments and interchanges with this blog. Thanks to Doug Carlson for initiating it.

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