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.


prh said...

One presumes that the undersea cable would connect Lanai to the grid on Oahu and provide uninterrupted power for Lanai. Of course, even a 5MW pilot OTEC plant would run Lanai off peak although it might be inconvenient for the OTEC engineers to commute to Lanai to operate and study the plant. I have read most of, and leafed through the rest of, Takahashi's 1st book and I conclude that without someone in Washington promoting OTEC it might get bypassed in the eventual upcoming rounds of funding. There will be fierce competition by the wind, solar and other renewable lobbies for a slice of the pie. It was only with the action and determination of Craven and Takahashi that OTEC got as far as it did in the 70's,80's and 90's. For those of us that "get" OTEC it seems that the time has come for OTEC to blossom yet reading Takahashi my naivete is dispelled. The "real" world is dog eat dog and who you know.

Anonymous said...

I suggested that we invite Gail Tverberg to be the keynote speaker at the recent Hawaii Island energy forum. Gail wrote a post about Hawaii to
I was the only person from Hawaii to attend the Association for the study of peak oil conference in Houston. Richard Ha

Doug Carlson said...

Re prh's comment, I have to admit it hadn't occurred to me that a cable connected to Oahu would satisfy Lanai's power requirements when intermittent sources don't, so thank you, prh -- again.

That said, so many hurdles must be overcome in creating such an idealistic solution that the odds would seem to be stacked against the plan. And even with a cable, the potential for OTEC to be tested and shown as a success on Lanai probably has as much chance to be realized as a 300 MW wind farm and cable. The "Johnny Appleseed" observation still applies.

prh said...

It is unfortunate that Gail Tverberg has apparently not heard of OTEC technology, floating solar panels indeed. Baseload power, potable water, aquaculture and cold water agriculture, what other technology can compare with OTEC?

Anonymous said...

All this talk about renewable energy...going green.....complete fossil fuel independence....has anyone thought about conserving the island's beauty? Lanai is such a small island. Are we being picked on and bullied because we're tiny? All these BIG fancy ideas being thrown on such a beautiful land....I feel like the island is being treated like a lab rat. Have you seen the wind farm on the island of Maui? An eye sore right? Who wants to look at Lanai and see big wind machines sticking out like sore thumbs? Honestly, I'm not at all impressed with this solar farm about to make its debut with only 10% being generated for OUR island. Where's the other 90%? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Everyone just stop-take a moment and smell the flowers? No, wait a minute....if you keep building and developing on this small island that I call home, there will probably be no land left to even have THAT!