Friday, May 2, 2008

WSJ Reports on Potential Utility, Plug-Ins Conflict; Hawaii’s Renewable Energy Options Would Avoid It

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal -Utilities, Plug-In Cars: Near Collision? -– highlights the potential negative consequences plug-in electric vehicles may have on a power company's grid. Here’s the lead:

“Car makers are preparing to introduce plug-in electric cars in 2010, but their success will depend on players beyond their control: the electric utilities.”

Charging a large number of electric vehicles during the day when a utility’s load is the greatest could push the peak demand higher, requiring more expensive “peak units” to fire up and meet the demand, thereby spewing more pollution, etc. Push up the daytime peak enough and a utility might even have to build more fossil fuel generation to meet it, the story says.

Nobody wants that. As we pointed out last month, Hawaii will be an ideal location for widespread use of plug-ins. Commute distances are short compared to the mainland, and the potential to energize plug-ins with renewable technologies is vast.

Zero Emissions All Around

As the Journal story notes, utilities have some concerns, among them:

“Utilities worry that their power-plant emissions could rise if they have to produce a lot more electricity to power plug-in cars.”

But what if that electricity were generated without creating emissions? Hawaii is on the brink of a renewable energy revolution. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative collaboration between the state government and the U.S. Department of Energy has a goal of meeting 70 percent of its energy needs with renewable resources by 2030.

Our blog argues that a direct path to achieving that goal is through aggressive development of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). The technology transforms the energy absorbed by the ocean to electricity. All of Hawaii’s potential renewable sources deserve development where feasible, of course, but OTEC stands apart from the rest by being base-load generation.

Emission-free base-load generation at that, with a “fuel” that is limitless and free.

OTEC development will require significant investment to build commercially viable plants. But if it’s true that investors are waiting in the wings to finance new plants, as some would-be developers insist, the old paradigm that OTEC is “too expensive” is no longer operable. Today’s closing oil quote was $113 per barrel.

Zero-emission generation + zero-emission vehicles. There's no way that equation adds up to anything but paradise on Earth.

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