Friday, June 27, 2008

Hawaii Is First State to Require Solar Water Heating In New Homes; Oil Rises to Yet Another Record

• June 29 Update: Star-Bulletin editorial chimes in.
Organizations that believe Hawaii can be a renewable energy role model for the nation – the Sierra Club and the Blue Planet Foundation are among them – have cause to celebrate today following Governor Linda Lingle’s signature on legislation mandating solar water heaters on new homes here beginning in 2010.

And just to show that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, the Star-Bulletin covers the story from a different perspective. Lingle’s press release points out some flaws, but on balance, this is a good-news story that’s being covered by the national and international media.

As for perspective, oil rose today to a record 142.99 per barrel, which isn’t far from the $150 level that we speculated back in April might be reached in June.

With each bump in oil’s price, Hawaii tourism shudders. State officials now worry that the current downturn could be worse than what followed 9/11/01, when streets seemed nearly empty during what should have been the high season.

That prediction is all the more reason to applaud the Governor’s decision to enact the solar heater mandate, flaws and all, as an important step in reducing and eventually eliminating Hawaii’s dependence on oil.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leaving “Lease-Gate” Behind for Some Travel

• June 26 Update: Oil price passes $140, a new record.
The more things change, the more they don’t. Our last word for now on the lease of a fuel-inefficient (12 mpg) SUV for Governor Linda Lingle’s use takes us back to December 2002, when the new Governor was deciding what to drive.

A Star-Bulletin story noted then that Governor Ben Cayetano had been criticized for selecting a 1999 Lincoln Navigator (above) for his official vehicle because of its fuel inefficiency -- only 12 miles a gallon. (Now, that’s ironic!)

Lingle said she wouldn’t use Cayetano’s Navigator, and her communications director explained: “She is simple in her tastes, not flashy. The material things just don’t interest her. I would call her low-maintenance.”

Maybe the Governor’s tastes haven’t changed, but her staff hasn’t done her any favors by selecting a luxury sport SUV, the Infinity QX56. With the average price of regular gas in Hawaii at $4.40 a gallon, the Governor would have set a positive example in the fight to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on oil had she selected a hybrid vehicle, as Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann has. Instead, the Administration has defended its selection because the Infinity costs less than the hybrid allegedly under consideration.

Maybe “Lease-Gate” will blow over as the Administration begins an austerity program, but let’s hope other opportunities for on-the-street leadership in the fight to get off oil won’t be passed over so easily.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Governor Rationalizes Selection of 12-mpg Car; HECO Seeks Proposals for Renewable Energy

A nerve has been whacked in Governor Lingle’s office. Criticism of the decision to lease a 12-mpg luxury sport SUV as her vehicle has produced a column under her name in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin: “State can’t afford to choose symbolism over savings

Where to begin, and why don’t they get it? The Star-Bulletin’s editorial on this issue revealed that hybrid cars weren’t even in the bid documents. How could they have missed the opportunity to lease a eco-friendly vehicle in times like this?

Symbolism is important. The flag’s a symbol, the Arizona Memorial is a symbol and hybrid vehicles are symbolic of a determination to reduce both gas usage and air pollution. The Governor’s office has lost an opportunity to use the power of symbolism and set an example others could emulate for a lousy $6,000 in annual savings.

And while we’re at it, couldn’t they have found a car to lease for less than $900 a month? This issue doesn’t have to die and won’t if someone uncovers which fuel-efficient vehicles could be leased for $900 or less – hybrid or not.

HECO’s Renewable RFP

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has approved Hawaiian Electric Company’s Request for Proposals for approximately 100 MW of renewable energy. The PUC’s letter of transmittal said the Commission believes “that it is important that this RFP proceed promptly to the bid submission and evaluation stage.” (Check out HECO’s website on the process.)

Taking it a step further, development of the renewable power also should happen as fast as possible. Oil prices edged up today to $137 per barrel, and nothing is happening internationally to suggest the price will fall.

Still unresolved is whether the cost of renewables will continue to be tied to the utility’s avoided cost – i.e., what HECO avoids spending on oil to generate electricity by purchasing green power. Legally, independent power producers can negotiate to be paid that avoided cost, which means renewable energy won’t necessarily be cheaper than fossil fuel-generated power.

That often comes as a shock to the newly informed. If the wind is free for the taking, wind energy should be relatively less expensive, they reason, but it doesn’t work that way. In addition to costs associated with development and maintenance, there’s that business about avoided cost to consider.

And symbolism, too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Governor Won't Veto Solar Mandate Legislation

• June 24 Update: The Governor's list of bills she may veto doesn't include the solar water heating mandate for new homes built in 2010 and beyond.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser’s Capitol Bureau, the solar water heater mandate legislation is not on the list of 52 bills Governor Lingle has under consideration for a veto. The Advertiser’s website mentions only a few of the 52, and the bureau chief says SB 644 isn’t among them. That is welcome news, indeed.

Now, let's see if the responsible party in the Governor's office will undo the luxury sport SUV lease and find a vehicle for her that gets at least 20 mpg. The Infiniti should go.

Governor’s Decision on Solar Mandate Due Today

Stay tuned for Governor Lingle’s decision on whether she’ll sign or veto legislation requiring solar water heaters on all new homes built in 2010 and beyond.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lanai’s Plan for Fossil Fuel Freedom May Have a Hole in it: No Baseload Power Source (like OTEC)

(June 23 Update:  See the comment by "prh" below for an observation that blows at least a small hole in the thesis of this post. Nevertheless, a lot has to happen for Lanai to obtain power from Oahu in exchange for its own wind energy via an inter-island cable.)
Lanai will be the first Hawaiian island to achieve a significant percentage of its energy requirements from renewables – no question. A small population plus the unlimited resources of its billionaire owner make it a certainty.

Less certain is whether Castle & Cooke will achieve its goal of complete fossil fuel independence with only solar and wind power, which seems to be the plan.

A story in the current edition of Pacific Business News (it’s viewable only by print subscribers) details the company’s aggressive green energy effort – a 1.5-megawatt solar farm and up to 300 MWs of wind, most of it for export via underwater cable. But then there’s the big unanswered question: How will wind and solar energy be stored for use at night and when the wind isn’t blowing?

Baseload Energy Needed

One of our first posts to this blog ("Thinking Bigger: OTEC Power for Lanai") speculated that ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) could be the non-stop source of energy Lanai requires. Castle & Cooke’s wind and solar projects certainly are not to be discounted; they’re too big to ignore. But without reliable storage sufficient to meet the island’s needs, going totally green seems unlikely.

Storage technology is progressing, of course, and owner David Murdock may press ahead and install it regardless of cost and efficiency if it would get Lanai completely off oil. Going totally green would be a remarkable achievement and would fill his hotels with visitors on a quest for their own energy independence.

Mr. Murdock didn’t become a billionaire by ignoring costs and efficiency, but he also has been good at sniffing out opportunity when others missed the boat. That’s why we continue to urge him to take another look at OTEC, which could provide all the electrical energy and fresh water his island could want, and then some.

Safe vs. Innovative

We’ve run this idea up the flagpole several times – both here and within Castle & Cooke in meetings and by phone, email and letter – without getting anywhere, and here’s why we think that’s so: Mr. Murdock likes to own things he can taste and touch – pineapples and bananas, truck chassis, housing developments, brick manufacturing plants, hotels and resorts, golf courses, horse and cattle ranches, airport hangers, land-based energy projects and land, including the island of Lanai itself.

OTEC? It’s too watery, too remote, too strange and yes – it’s undoubtedly too new. Thing is, OTEC has so much potential to revolutionize Lanai, Hawaii and the planet’s energy supply that ignoring it is like dismissing the Wright brothers’ invention.

As we said back in March, this could be an unbelievable legacy for Mr. Murdock – maybe even the Johnny Appleseed of OTEC and purveyor of clean energy around the world.

If anybody reading this considers Mr. Murdock a Facebook friend (heh), send him a note about OTEC’s potential for his favorite island. Strange or not, this technology could be the key to Lanai truly becoming Hawaii's Green Island.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weekend Update: Letter to Editor Praises OTEC; Daniel Schorr on Drilling; Gas Soars; Economy Pits

Question: Will Governor Lingle’s office reverse the decision to lease a 12-mpg vehicle?

The Advertiser liked John Harrison’s letter so much yesterday it put a box around it in the print edition: “OTEC could be viable energy source for OahuWe launched this blog to say the same thing.

Daniel Schorr tells Scott Simon on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” it would take 10 years for oil from offshore drilling to hit the market. Couldn’t plug-in and hydrogen-powered cars be here by then? (See Tom Friedman's column on increasing our oil addiction.)

The state’s economy shows the strain of Hawaii’s oil crisis as gas prices hit record levels. And what does the Governor’s office do? It passes on a hybrid and embraces a gas guzzler. Go figure.
June 22 Update: Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorializes, "New car undermines gov's energy message"

Friday, June 20, 2008

As Hawaii Struggles with its Oil Dependence, Governor Chooses Gas Guzzler Over Hybrid

“What were they thinking?” we often wonder as we leave a movie. (We asked it for days after “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”) We’re asking the same thing now that the Governor’s office has chosen a 12 mpg luxury sport SUV as her vehicle for the last years of her term.

The Governor’s chief of staff says the “thinking” part came down to “payback,” alleged savings in the monthly lease and room for security --- as if security can’t fit into a hybrid. Said Barry Fukunaga (former director of the Department of Transportation, BTW):

“The reality is the governor only drives a little over 400 miles a month. There wasn’t going to be any real payback for the cost of the (hybrid) vehicle. Unfortunately, we were unable to go with the hybrid, which would have been nice.”

"Nice" would have been selecting a symbol and showing leadership in prudence and conservation. Selecting the slightly higher-cost hybrid would have made a statement about changing old habits as gas passes $4.50 per gallon on Oahu and $5 on the neighbor islands.

Assessing the Legacy

What will Hawaii citizens remember about Lingle’s leadership during this protracted energy crisis? Will it be the highly publicized Clean Energy Initiative, or will they remember that the Governor and her bodyguards drove around in a luxury SUV -- and only 400 miles a month, at that?

Until this week, we thought the Governor's signature was assured on the solar water mandate legislation, but after this, you have to wonder. C'mon, Governor Lingle: Sign the bill and unsign the SUV lease. Do the right thing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Other Side Gets Some Space, and a Laugh…

Leave it to Corky to find humor in the solar water heater mandate story. Just keep those calls and letters to the Governor flowing in (see below).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Governor Stunner: She May Veto Solar Mandate

Crossroads. We all face them in this complicated life, and Governor Linda Lingle finds herself at one now.

Take the path down “Energy Independence Lane” and she has a chance to create a positive generations-long legacy. Take the other path along “Special Interests Drive” and she’ll make a mockery of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative that she signed less than six months ago.

Today’s Advertiser says the Governor has yet to decide whether to veto Senate Bill 644, which would require solar water heating in new homes beginning in 2010:

“A representative for Lingle's office said the governor is reviewing the bill and is taking into consideration public comments. Lingle has until Monday to notify the Legislature of an intent to veto.”

The story goes on to record the comments of solar industry representatives who oppose the mandate.

If you agree with the Sierra Club and others that a solar water heating mandate is needed to help Hawaii get off oil for residential water heating:

Call Governor Lingle: (808) 586-0034
Fax the office: (808) 586-0006
Email her:

Tell her the public interest trumps special interest, that her legacy depends on how hard she works to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use in Hawaii. And you might even suggest that election to whatever office she seeks after this one might well depend on whether she signs this legislation into law.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Navy Launches Eye-Catching Photovoltaic System, Teams with State & DOE on Clean Energy Project

It’s happening – step by step, little by little. Hawaii is inching toward energy independence, a mandatory journey this generation is undertaking to benefit future generations. 

The Navy dedicated a 107-kilowatt photovoltaic system at one of its housing development’s yesterday, and the Lingle Administration appropriately used the occasion to tout the advancement of yet another renewable energy project in the state. You can watch a video of the Governor’s remarks.

As both the Governor and the Advertiser’s story note, the U.S. military is the largest electricity customer in the state. The military is a pacesetter in getting off oil in Hawaii; its housing projects are the only ones with solar water heating uniformly installed on each new unit.

Is OTEC Next?

Two companies pushing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) have been in Honolulu within the past week; at least one is still here. They undoubtedly are calling on Hawaiian Electric Company and the military, but beyond that, we know nothing about possible progress in fashioning a deal to build that elusive first plant to test OTEC on a small scale in Hawaii’s tropical waters.

It’s a big shoe poised to fall – something we've anticipated for a long time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Honolulu Papers Treat Oil ‘Crisis’ Speech as an Afterthought, Take Up to 10 Days to Report It

The most surprising thing about Maurice Kaya’s June 6th speech in Hilo wasn’t his assertion that Hawaii is in “crisis” because of the state’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuel for energy. What’s fairly amazing to us is that it took the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin five and 10 days respectively to report it.

Kaya, the former state energy manager, told an audience in Hilo 10 days ago that “the crisis is here, and it’s going to be a long one,” and it gets ho-hum treatment in the two dailies -- i.e., a 10-day-old story.

Looking back at our posts to this blog, oil hit a new record high of $139.12 per barrel on June 6th. If the media truly believe in this energy crisis stuff, one would think they’d have known about Kaya’s speech and found it newsworthy enough to give it timely coverage.

Oil hit a new record high today -- $139.89. Maybe if Maurice gives a talk today about Hawaii’s energy predicament we’ll read about it next week.

Comments by people like Kaya (similar to what we’ve been saying) need better treatment by media gatekeepers if Hawaii's people are going to get it. The state's transition to a renewable economy won’t happen unless the population is sufficiently moved to action.

Casual media coverage of our energy crisis doesn't help get us there.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Harvard Political Review: ‘There Is Not Any Other Renewable Energy that Can Compare with OTEC’

Now we’re getting somewhere – back to our roots and some serious attention for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Although we support renewable energy in general to address Hawaii’s energy crisis, this blog’s core purpose from the beginning has been to create some buzz around OTEC.

We launched on 3/14/08, the day oil hit a new record high price of $111 per barrel. We felt with oil that high, OTEC would be seen as an economically viable alternative to fossil fuel generation of electricity. If it was true then, it's truer now; oil closed today just short of $137/barrel, or 23 percent above where it stood three months ago.

Ivy League Takes Note

So it’s not surprising that OTEC is getting more attention. Today’s coverage is in the Harvard Political Review, which calls itself “America’s preeminent undergraduate journal of politics and public policy.” The headline at the top contains a quote from the HPR’s OTEC article in its Spring 2008 edition. While the column covers ground familiar to OTEC supporters, it’s encouraging to see the technology getting wider press than heretofore.

And not all of it is rosy; you can listen to a Podcast here at Renewable Energy that touches on OTEC’s environmental unknowns. But whatever the outlook, if they’re talking about OTEC, they’re talking about Hawaii’s energy future, and that has to be good.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We’ve Milked the Carbon Offset Chocolate Bar Enough; Time to Get Serious Again about Energy

We’ve been in no hurry to update this site since last Friday’s tasty carbon-offset confectionary post. Why should we? Our sitemeter counter tells us we’ve had more visits since then than during any four-day period in the past three months. Looks like candy’s the secret ingredient to attracting visitors, so we’re showing another of the Bloomsberry candy bar wrappers today.

But back to business. In the wake of all the seriously depressing assessments of Hawaii’s tourism and business prospects in a new era of high-priced oil, jet fuel and air fares, the powers that be are cranking out the “feel-good” stories to take our minds off the bad news:
Magazine ranks Honolulu tops in U.S. for quality of life
Hawaii a top spot for satisfying vacations
Hawaii visitor accommodations up in 2007

We guess the “visitor accommodation” count is meaningful to someone somewhere, but we can’t get excited about it –- not with April arrivals down 15 percent compared to a year earlier.

Pat Takahashi’s Take

We noted last week The Huffington Post has a new “Green” section, and we’re happy to see that Hawaii’s own Patrick Takahashi is a regular contributor. Whatever Pat writes is worth reading, so take a look at his Ethanol Vs. Methanol piece at the Post today and his provocative (if baffling) assertions:

“Methanol is the only biofuel capable of being directly fed to a fuel cell.” And, “One gallon of methanol has more hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen.” These statements may be obvious to some, but as with most of Pat’s writing, follow-up study is recommended. (Pat also mentions OTEC today, and that's an extra-good reason to check it out.)

Back to carbon-offset chocolate. If “candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” we’re hoping a distiller somewhere has found a way to fight climate change with scotch.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Weekend Whimsy: Carbon Offset Chocolate Bars

Got a headache over the price of oil? Angered by the U.S. Senate’s treatment of climate change legislation? Relax, kick back this weekend and munch on this:

Carbon offset chocolate is candy with a conscience

It’s a made-in-heaven climate-change solution by Bloomsberry Chocolates that Americans especially will love: Doing good for the planet while you stuff yourself with candy. (Be sure to click on the Bloomsberry link; you won't be sorry.)

Leave it to the New Zealanders to figure us out.

Ad Campaign To Lure Visitors to Hawaii Ignores Big New Concern about Air Travel: Carbon Footprint

• 10 a.m. Update: Oil surges $11/barrel to $139.12 in the biggest one-day leap ever!

When Hawaii Tourism Authority leaders approved an emergency expenditure in May for advertising to counter a downturn in visitors, a Honolulu Advertiser headline writer’s word choice caught our attention:

‘State agency OKs use of emergency fund to lure back travelers’

The word was “lure” – a good word for headline writers because it’s short. But what struck us is the American Heritage Dictionary definition: to attract by wiles or temptation; entice.

The HTA and every other tourism advertiser here is in the enticement business – selling Hawaii’s image of a within-reach paradise. But think about what the HTA is up against. The economy is flat and probably in a “recession” that hasn’t been called yet. And then there’s the carbon.

Footprints in the Sky

Everywhere you turn there’s talk about carbon footprints – the amount of fossil fuel-generating carbon that’s produced in creating electricity and moving people by car, train, boat and airplane. Hawaii is the most isolated society on the planet, and that means every airline passenger lays down a big carbon footprint getting here.

The two conferences we’ve attended here recently calculated the carbon footprint for attendees (6.5 tons for PACON participants) and enumerated what sponsors like the Blue Planet Foundation have done to offset the fossil fuel impacts.

Times have changed, but what’s the HTA and the entire visitor industry supposed to do? Tourism is Hawaii’s monster industry and must be promoted or it’ll tank. The signs already are all around that the tanking has begun, as a story in today’s Advertiser describes:

“Fuel prices have driven airfares and service fees to nearly double what they were earlier this year. As a result, visitor arrivals in April fell nearly 8 percent and hotel occupancy dropped to 6.5 percent, the lowest percentage for any April since 2003.”

Hawaii’s Green Appeal

What we have here is a paradigm shift. PACON keynote speaker Dr. Pat Takahashi told the group two days ago that the higher costs of jet fuel likely will change the nature of Hawaii tourism, but so, too, will the new environmentalism and awareness of one’s personal impact on global warming.

Neither Advertiser story cited today mentions “carbon” or the environment, so we conclude HTA executives aren’t talking about the carbon footprint issue much or at all – at least, not enough to be quoted.

If that’s the case, they’re ignoring the 900-pound gorilla and might well take stock of the environmental movement and acknowledge in their public comments the shift that is taking hold in America.

Hotels might also show some sensitivity to the carbon footprint issue. When conference attendees wear jackets and sweaters to keep warm in function rooms chilled to the shiver point, something’s wrong.

Resetting the Goal

It all adds up to faster conversion to renewable energy in Hawaii than even the 2030 goal of 70 percent, which until recently seemed overly aggressive. Making Hawaii the nation’s greenest state should be the goal, whatever the percentage.

Setting out to “lure” visitors with that message could be the long-term strategy that both makes Hawaii a model for a planetary shift in energy use and rescues her tourism industry. But first, tourism officials need to start talking about it and stop whistling past the graveyard.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

PACON Ends with Call for ‘Radical Innovation’ in Climate Efforts; ‘Traditional Knowledge’ Hailed

The Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology (PACON) wound down today with an assertion by keynote speaker Peter Englert that trans-disciplinary “radical innovation” will be required by universities and other institutions to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 450 ppm (it's currently about 385 ppm).

Professor Englert is with the International Center for Climate and Society at the University of Hawaii and spoke on “Trans-Disciplinary Research in the Design of Responses and Response Strategies.” Understandably, he sees a central role for higher education in the climate change crisis.

Englert believes universities require innovative approaches to achieve the goal of becoming trusted resources of trans-disciplinary scholarship, knowledge and advice on regional and global solutions. Their effectiveness will depend on whether institutions can change the paradigms they’ve used for the past century.

Role of ‘Traditional Knowledge’

Englert said science tends to dismiss the value of traditional knowledge from indigenous cultures and destroys it by trying to fit it into the scientific framework. “We need to recognize knowledge outside the non-European world and framework as being equivalently valid,” he said.

This was a major theme of the Blue Planet Summit, where Ramsay Taum spoke on “Hawaiian Legacy of Sustainability, Inspiration for Today.” (Taum is Director of External Relations and Community Partnerships at the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management. His video presentation can be seen here.)

OTEC Proposal Aims to End Poverty in Haiti

We’ll end our PACON reporting by noting the efforts of Dr. Gerard Pereira, president and CEO of Energinat S.A., which intends to use ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to end the crushing poverty of Haiti, his native land.

Pereira’s presentation noted that deforestation affects 95 percent of Haiti; once agriculturally rich, Haiti now has only a few areas where agriculture can flourish.

OTEC can be the key to resurrecting Haiti’s economy, says Pereira. Water depths of 1,000 feet are found close to shore, and there are five good sites where OTEC plants could be constructed to produce electricity, pure water for drinking and irrigation and, eventually, hydrogen for the coming hydrogen economy.

“Sustainable clean energy is the key to ending poverty,” says Pereira, “and Haiti has an inexhaustible gold mine of possibilities through OTEC.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

PACON Day 3: OTEC Finally Takes Center Stage as Oil Price Hike Prompts Thoughts of ‘Doomsday’

Pat Takahashi’s keynote speech at PACON today ranged from ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence; from $3,000/gallon home printer ink to the menace of methane hydrate; from Rachel Carson and Paul Ehrlich to Mikhail Gorbachev, 1,000-foot tsunamis and the afterlife. It may have been more than what some attendees expected, but whatever it was, it was fascinating.

The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute’s emeritus director covered all that territory by basing his talk on his two books – Simple Solutions for Planet Earth and Simple Solutions for Humanity. We won’t summarize most of his comments and will leave it to our visitors' Internet search skills to learn more.

OTEC's Potential

Takahashi did dwell at some length on OTEC, a personal passion that’s central to his concept of an ocean-based Blue Revolution. He noted that 71 percent of the planet is wet and that although we land-dwellers operate essentially in two dimensions, the average depth of the ocean is 13,124 feet. “Ocean space is a lot more voluminous than land space,” he said, and therefore offers great potential for energy extraction and fishery management using open-ocean floating OTEC platforms.

He noted the talk on the street about developers who allegedly are in discussions with Hawaiian Electric Company for a demonstration plant but had nothing more to offer except: “I can almost predict a 100-megawatt floating plant will be built somewhere in the world in the next decade, and I hope it’s in Hawaii.”

Talk of Doomsday

When asked whether oil prices above $120/barrel have created a sense of urgency among the public to find energy solutions, Takahashi said he didn’t think so. “Until the average person on the street is totally inconvenienced, there is no crisis,” he said.

Takahashi himself feels the high cost of oil and jet fuel will change the whole nature of tourism for Hawaii, because “only the very rich will be able to afford to come here.” (It’s the bad-news scenario we wrote about on May 13.) He continued:

“Many of the doomsday-sayers, including on our campus, are starting to come up with survival scenarios. What do we do if the tourism rate falls 50 percent? Unemployment would soar. What could people do? They could kick people out of office, but I worry about the doomsday-sayers, because they could be right.

But that would be too gloomy an assessment, he said. Society survived two energy crises in the 1970s and will survive the next one. “I don’t know how, but we’ll survive.” (Read more of Takahashi's views at the brand new "Green" section of Huffington Post.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

PACON Keynote Speaker James Hansen Says One-Meter Sea Level Increase ‘Almost Guaranteed’

Scientist sees ‘a very dangerous situation’
These might well have been the headlines in tomorrow's Honolulu newspapers if they had covered the Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology (PACON). But they didn’t, so the remarks of keynote speaker Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, about the effects of climate change on Hawaii and the rest of the planet are covered only here at Hawaii Energy Options.

Hansen may have said nothing that he hasn’t addressed previously, but his remarks about the inevitability of sea level rise would have been headline news in Honolulu. He’s a prolific writer and speaker (a Google search on his name returns 295,000 hits), and a March column by New York Times writer Andrew Revkin (a participant at the Blue Planet Summit) details Hansen’s recent assertions about the importance of carbon dioxide targets that won’t stop but only slow and hopefully reverse damaging climate change.

Hansen spoke using video and data links from New York to avoid laying down a big fat carbon footprint in flying to Honolulu for PACON. Most of his talk covered CO2 target levels (not more than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere; we're at 385 now), but his wind-up remarks about sea level change would have captured the attention of the local media.

Experts Are Worried

Hansen said that experts in this area will admit privately that a sea level rise of 1 meter is “almost guaranteed” due to the warming that's already occurred that is responsible for the ongoing thermal expansion of warming sea water, melting of sea ice and glaciers and other changes. He said he’s disappointed at the reticence of scientists to talk openly about it, a point he made emphatically in his “Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise” paper published in May 2007.

When asked about this reticence, Hansen noted “there’s little reward in ‘crying wolf’” because of the short-term negative impacts in doing so, whereas the gain in predicting something decades in the future won’t be realized until the same length of time has passed. He continued:

“I think that if you talk with all the people who work on the ice sheets and see what’s happening now, they’re getting very worried. If you look at the Paleoclimate record, you see evidence that sea levels went up 5 meters in a century, and that was with forcings much lower than what we’re discussing. I think it’s a very dangerous situation.

Talking to Youth

Here’s another link on his “scientific reticence” theme, and we’ll let Google searches substitute for a detailed report on Hansen’s comments today. But his answer to the final question from the audience is worth some space here.

The questioner – Paula Keener-Chavis, director of NOAA’s Education Program, Ocean Exploration Program – noted Hansen’s rather downbeat assessment of climate change implications and asked what he tells children about the future and whether he can give them an overall message of hope. Hansen’s reply:

“That’s a good question. I have three grandchildren now, and I spent last weekend planting milkweeds and hollyhocks with a granddaughter and my one grandson. These are the plants that supply food for monarch and painted lady butterflies. You just have to get them to appreciate nature and understand the impact humans are having on the rest of the life on the planet. This education of the public – both adults and children – is really difficult partly because special interests are trying to educate them differently and convince them this climate issue is either wrong or greatly exaggerated. So it’s a problem we’re struggling with all the time, and I don’t claim to have a good answer actually.”

The answer Hansen did offer was unquestionably sobering for anyone concerned about their children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

Monday, June 2, 2008

PACON Day 1 Highlights: HECO Expects ‘Dramatic’ Change; Entrepreneur Sees Kids as Major Players

The Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology (PACON) kicked off in Honolulu today with sobering reminders of how dependent Hawaii is on fossil fuel for transportation and electricity. Hawaii stands apart from the other 49 states in that regard; e.g., it is overwhelmingly dependent on oil for electricity (77%) compared to Florida, the next highest state at about 10%. (Hawaii uses coal and oil to generate 93% of its electricity.)

(• June 3 Update: For more on how soaring fuel prices are affecting Hawaii, check out these stories in today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser.)

We’re posting here about some of the PACON presentations, starting with Hawaiian Electric Company CEO Michael May’s keynote speech and Blue Planet Foundation’s Henk Rogers’ discussion of the foundation’s future direction (a few paragraphs down).

The impact of that Hawaii’s dependence is being felt monthly in electric bills. HECO’s fuel costs have tripled in the past decade, according to May, and those price increases are passed on to customers.

May assured attendees that HECO anticipates major changes within the company. “The oil-based system that has worked for 100 years can’t continue, and we can’t wait any longer to kick our oil addiction,” May said. HECO needs a culture change, and selling more electricity is not the key to the future, he said: “Our present business model to generate power in large centralized power plants using fossil fuels will change dramatically.”

Distributed generation and greater reliance on renewable energy technologies will be a part of the new model, but May said the utility’s biggest single challenge is energy storage, which hasn’t yet been developed on a utility scale.

Customer-Side Change

Modifications are needed by customers as well, and May said conservation on the demand side holds the greatest promise in the short term to reduce fossil fuel dependence.

He noted that HECO deployed a network of “electricity pumps” 10 years ago to service the anticipated flood of electric vehicles that never materialized. That revolution will come, and he emphasized that every private automobile in Hawaii could be replaced by an electric plug-in vehicle without adding one kilowatt to generating capacity.

Q&A (Paraphrased)

Q: The potential exists for electric cars to become sources of stored energy and feed power back to the grid. Has HECO considered that?
A: It may be possible in the future, but I’d be happy for now to simply have a more efficient battery to make electric cars feasible.
Q: Net Metering: Hawaii has the lowest percentage of customer power contributions to the grid of 1%. Can’t you allow more?
A (by HECO’s Art Seki): There are many technical considerations about adding more distributed generation to a network that are now being studied.
Q: Couldn’t off-peak electricity cost the customer less?
A: HECO’s current meters aren’t “smart” and don’t know when power is consumed in the home or business. What’s needed is a meter that captures that information and a rate structure that applies lower rates for off-peak usage.
Q: You didn’t mention ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) in your presentation. Doesn’t HECO see OTEC as a future resource?
A: We have published an Integrated Resource Plan that includes an OTEC plant in it; I just didn’t mention it in the address.

(With respect to OTEC, we had hoped/thought May might use PACON as an opportunity to make an OTEC-related announcement, but it was not to be – not yet, at any rate.)

Blue Planet’s Future

Entrepreneur Henk Rogers recalled the 1970s oil embargo, which he experienced as a student at the University of Hawaii, and thinking at the time it would result in less oil dependency in the islands. Instead, nothing had changed after he returned from living in Japan for 18 years.

He subsequently created the Blue Planet Foundation with an aggressive mission to eliminate carbon-based fuels throughout the planet. Such a mission requires massive education and motivation, and the Blue Planet Summit held on Oahu in April brought scientists, engineers, politicians, average citizens and representatives of indigenous cultures together for that purpose.

Rogers said the foundation next intends to help government, industry and environmentalists get through their problems in achieving the change Mike May mentioned in his address. He said a second area of emphasis will be organizing young people to help bring about change faster than if left to their seniors.

When asked what the foundation will do specifically to educate young people, Rogers said it would be natural – because of his background in the video game industry – to create a game about energy use. Doing so could fire kids’ imaginations on how their families can adopt ways to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. “If that can be made into a game so kids understand it, they’ll get it,” he said.

PACON Factoids

Provided by Stephen R. Hammond, NOAA office of Ocean Exploration and Research:
• 80% of Earth's volcanoes lie hidden and unexplored in the deep ocean.
• There are hundreds of thousands of submarine volcanoes in the Mariana Arc Ring of Fire.
• Submarine volcanoes erupt episodically; many erupt violently.
• The second most abundant volatile gas associated with eruptions is CO2.
• The volcanoes contribute to the acidification of the oceans, with far-ranging consequences on coral reefs and other marine calcifiers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

PACON Meeting Focus Is Energy & Climate Change

Honolulu hosts a four-day conference this week on two of the century's biggest issues, and we’re planning to blog from the Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology (PACON) meeting throughout the event, which begins Monday.

The opening keynote address will be by Michael May, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company. HECO is at the center of most discussions about increasing Hawaii’s reliance on renewable energy and getting off oil, so in addition to his prepared remarks, we’re hoping he’ll use the venue to drop a bombshell. (Something about ocean thermal energy conversion would be nice.)

May’s address will be followed by a two-hour panel discussion on various energy topics:
• Terry Surles, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute – “Energy Systems to Address Climate Change and Energy Security Issues”
• Henk Rogers, Blue Planet Foundation – “Maximizing Renewable Energy’s Contribution”
• Arthur Seki, HECO – “Hawaiian Electric Company’s Renewable Energy Activities”
• Andrea T. Gill, Hawaii Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism – “Wave Energy Activities in Hawaii”
• Shanah Trevenna, University of Hawaii at Manoa – “Sustainable Saunders” (an on-campus building)

The complete schedule is found at PACON’s website, and we’ll be posting to this blog according to whatever seems to hold the most interest. If readers have suggestions, insights or curiosity about any of the presentations, leave a comment below and we’ll see if we can satisfy your inquiries.