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.)


prh said...

Did Dr. Takahashi mention the declaration of a crisis? From the West Hawaii Today.

"Wake up! The crisis is upon us!"

"Maurice Kaya, a strategic energy and management consultant, used these words during a Friday forum to raise awareness of Hawaii Island's energy crisis, which will worsen without effective government intervention.

More than 100 state and local officials and mostly business people gathered for the forum held at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel to learn about the island's energy course and measures some say need to be immediately implemented."

FredK said...

I'm one of the "doomers" at the University of Hawaii. Take a look at OTEC numbers. The earth heats the tropical ocean with the equivalent of 4167 bbl/km^2/day. In Hawaii we use 72000 bbl/day to generate electricity. At 10% efficiency, we would need to extract the heat from 42,750 acres of ocean to generate all of Hawaii's electricity. Good luck...
The cost would make light rail look like a lemonade stand.

Doug Carlson said...

You may be right, fredk, but generating "all of Hawaii's electricity" with OTEC won't be necessary if we move on parallel (transit?) tracks to develop wind, solar, waves, municipal waste and other sources of energy. Developing a few hundred megawatts of OTEC power to serve Oahu would displace a pretty big number of fuel oil barrels. Maybe that's what we should be aiming for -- incremental change to significantly reduce our fossil fuel dependency.

prh said...

OTEC plants placed off the West Oahu coastline would not only generate electricity but could pump cold seawater ashore to displace the significant electrical load used for air conditioning with SWAC (Seawater Air Conditioning). The "Industrial Ecology" of OTEC is broad and offers benefits in many areas. It would probably even help the fishing.

Anonymous said...

Talk about Algae based bio-fuels is logical and plentiful. Building the scalable, production facility has been accomplished by Alfons Viszolay leading a group of students in Santa Fe, NM.

Bill Kerrey