Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finally! OTEC Is First on List of Hawaii Renewables, But Blind Spot Persists About Technology’s Promise

We had begun to wonder whether ocean thermal energy conversion would ever get its due on a local editorial page, but it’s finally happened. Futurist Jim Dator and energy consultant Manfred Zapka listed OTEC first as they ticked off renewable energy resources available in the 50th State in the last part of a three-part Honolulu Advertiser series.

That may not mean much to most readers, but we’ve been complaining since the early days of this blog that OTEC has been the forgotten resource when editors and other journalists write about Hawaii’s alternatives to oil.

Not to be overly sensitive on the point, but as recently as two days ago, an editorial writer focused only on wave energy when mentioning the recent U.S. Department of Energy’s funding of a National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii. Here’s what the DOE’s press release said:

"National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing."

OTEC was the meatiest part of that paragraph for several reasons: First, long-time OTEC watchers know the DOE turned its back on the technology more than a decade ago when it ended OTEC funding. For it to be back in the OTEC game is a significant shift. Second, OTEC would be baseload power, unlike just about all the other renewables that get attention, including wave power, so it has greater potential to actually replace oil.

What the Media Have Missed

And third, when combined with Hawaiian Electric Company’s recent statements about the importance of “set-asides” for the ocean energy technologies, it seems obvious to us that OTEC is hotter than it’s been for decades. Robbie Alm’s comments at the August meeting of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association – as yet un-reported by the local media - deserve repeating:

“We need to have (projects) get on our system, so we have a strong preference for technology that’s proven. At the same time, we are going to create specific room for new technology. We talked to the PUC about this, and they are strongly supportive of it, so we do intend to have set-asides to allow, for example, the ocean people to come to Hawaii. They have not had either the federal or the state tax support, public support that wind and solar have had. And so to some degree, we need to give the ocean resources a special opportunity to be successful in Hawaii. If we do that, they’ll come here. If they come here, we all benefit by that.

That’s quotable stuff, right? We’re not making too much of this, wouldn’t you agree? One would think these comments and HECO’s overall approach to ocean resources might be picked up by an attentive reporter – but not yet.

The Age of OTEC

It seems obvious to us that signs point to the beginning of the OTEC age in Hawaii – maybe not with an announcement of some kind this quarter (although we can hope), but soon. Contributors Dator and Zapka at least brought the technology to the fore on the editorial page. Now let’s see if working journalists can pick up the signs and recognize that OTEC offers the best hope for Hawaii to get off oil.


DeepWater said...

That is great news!! On Saipn we too are really perusing that same direction.

Tushar said...

Congratulations ! Seems like OTEC is is gaining attention worldwide. India also has only just begun to look at OTEC as a viable source of energy.