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.


prh said...

So here are the HECO executives struggling over the question of energy storage when they are surrounded by the single largest solar energy collector and storage system on the planet. Here they are trying to mesh uneven intermittent generation from PV and wind to the grid when OTEC would provide baseload power and charge plug-in electric cars during the off peak hours plus air condition all of Honolulu and West Oahu with SWAC (Sea Water Air Conditioning). I suppose it will take a commercial OTEC plant running in the Virgin Islands to light up a few bulbs at HECO HQ. The people of Hawaii and the economy will continue suffer during the years of delay.

Doug Carlson said...

Thanks for another perceptive comment, prh. OTEC wasn't mentioned by either HECO representative until they were questioned about it from the floor.

Anonymous said...

Dear Doug Carlson,

while visiting this extraordinarily beautiful land of Hawaii I could not help myself and, being in the Renewable Energy Generation in Canada, I checked on Electricity Rates on the various Islands. I simply could not believe it. These Islands are so rich in all forms of Renewable Energy that it would only take the will to do it, to make each island self sufficient by using both non-despatchable and despatchable green energy sources such as Geothermal, wind, solar, tidal, biomass and pumped storage as back up. I can only assume the will is not there.

Very interested in developing projects here.....


Luciano Lisi
Cape Breton Explorations Ltd.
292 Charlotte Street, suite 101
Sydney NS Canada B1P 6H1
P.O. Box 244 Station A
Tel 902 539 0147
Fax 902 539 4143