Wednesday, April 30, 2008

OTEC Getting More Attention, Still Shooting for #1

We missed it the first time around. The headline treatment of Governor Linda Lingle’s recent speech – Governor paints positive picture for Hawaii’s economy – didn’t encourage reading all the way to the end. But thanks to a tip, that’s where we found this nugget:

"We have an incredible opportunity for energy transformation, with abundant, diverse renewable resources that rival any place on Earth. From solar and photovoltaic, to wind, to geothermal, to wave, to ocean thermal energy conversion, to biofuel – the possibilities are vast."

At least OTEC made the list, which often isn’t the case when government officials and editorial writers focus on alternate energy (although the Governor is better than most). But her speechwriters still relegate OTEC near the end of the list, when in fact, its potential to get Hawaii off oil far surpasses the other renewable alternatives.

Solar, wind and (perhaps) wave technologies are intermittent sources. Geothermal energy’s development has been limited in Hawaii for environmental and religious reasons, and just today, scientists are urging the halt of food-based biofuels because of their contribution to a “world food crisis.”

OTEC’s potential to replace imported fuel oil for electricity generation and gasoline for transportation is virtually limitless. We look forward to finding OTEC at the top of future lists – no longer an afterthought and finally recognized as Hawaii’s best candidate among renewable energy technologies to replace fossil fuel. It can’t come a day too soon.

• What's OTEC? Visit this U.S. Department of Energy site, and note that it hasn't been updated since September 2005 -- back when oil was "cheap." The economics of OTEC are now better than ever.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Daily Dark News Diet Demands Perspective, and More News from Pacific’s 'OTEC Leader' -- Palau

We’ve written previously about initiatives in Micronesia to promote ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) that seem more advanced than what’s happening in Hawaii – on the surface, at least.  Palau may not be the true "leader" in OTEC technology, which was proven in Hawaiian waters, after all, but we like the government's highly visible support for the concept, a stance officials in Hawaii might well emulate.

Now comes word that Palau’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution today seeking funding for a feasibility study on whether OTEC technology is well-suited for the Republic.  

Palau finds itself in the same fix as we are – heavily dependent on fuel oil to generate electricity. The resolution makes the case for OTEC to not only provide electricity but fresh water and cooling for air conditioning. (The reso’s reference to a U.S. Navy “OTEC pilot program in Hawaii" seems dubious, as we know of no such Navy project here, but it has the right idea.)

Pick your Poison -- Growth or Warming

Elsewhere today, a commentary in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin by a retired University of Hawaii oceanographer questions the whole global warning premise. We take the threat more seriously than this professor emeritus apparently does, but we’ll quote one of his concluding paragraphs anyway:

“The damage to our world from the increase in its population, which will double in the next 100 years, will be much larger than any possible effect of global warming. The ever-rising population will simply trample the environment to death and will result in more energy consumption. The lack of space for the additional billions will cause water shortages, food shortages, civil unrest and eventually wars.”

Visions of the future don’t get much darker than that, but it won’t end that way if we take care of the here and now. OTEC and the other renewables need focused support wherever conditions allow – and especially in vulnerable isolated societies in places like Palau and Hawaii.

Read our first post at this blog and why we’ve started it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oil Price Jumps $5 in Week; $150/Barrel by June?

NEW YORK, April 25-(Kyodo), Crude oil futures in New York turned sharply higher on Friday morning with the benchmark contract surpassing $119 per barrel and nearing an all-time high of $119.90 on renewed concern over a tighter supply.

The price of oil jumped $5 in the past week, rice is being rationed, the ethanol backlash has begun and Hawaii arguably is more dependent on oil this week than ever. (Honolulu motorists: Drive along Nimitz Highway ewa of downtown or out Lagoon Drive and count the number of new cars waiting to roll onto our streets.)

At this rate of increase, our SWAG on when oil hits $150/barrel is sometime in June -- based on nothing more than a gnawing dread. Hawaii is more dependent on oil than any other state for our electricity generation. This fact alone means oil price increases “tsunami” (not ripple) through our economy, and we’re all feeling it.

Inching Toward Independence

As we wrote recently, each up-tick in the price of oil heightens local awareness of the fix we’re in, and positive responses are out there. The Honolulu Advertiser editorializes today in support of bills still alive in Hawaii’s Legislature on photovoltaic systems and net-metered energy. (Among its assertions: "...our current methods of generating and distributing electricity are growing unsustainable.") Elsewhere, the paper reports on the State government’s initiatives to build energy-saving equipment in State buildings.

All well and good and worthy of support, but they’re akin to crawling when sprinting is what’s required. This blog promotes ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) as a big-picture attack on Hawaii’s petroleum dependence. Just as the Advertiser calls solar power “a no-brainer in sunny Hawaii,” OTEC is a no-brainer for surrounded-by-a-tropical-ocean Hawaii.

The Base-Load Alternative

This point can’t be made too often: OTEC will provide base-load electricity generation and will replace imported fuel oil for that purpose. Solar, wind and wave power all are ripe for additional development here and are to be encouraged, but as intermittent power sources, they have obvious limitations absent a massive energy storage capability.  (We recently met Rinaldo S. Brutoco, who introduced us to how hydrogen can store power created by Hawaii's plentiful renewable energy resources for later release.  He's a co-author of Freedom from Mid-East Oil.)

Hawaii’s Legislature and her Public Utilities Commission will be asked to address issues holding up OTEC's development. Important, too, will be efforts to publicize Hawaii’s ongoing oil-dependence crisis and ways around it. 

The Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology will be held in Honolulu in early June. Check out its website and get ready for some high-level presentations by high-powered people who can help show the way to energy sanity in our state.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Gold Hits $115/Barrel, Making OTEC Logical Solution to Hawaii’s Reliance on Oil for Electricity

April 22 Update: Oil hits $118/barrel. On PBS tonight: "Nova: Car of the Future"

Even though the news makes us wince, the steady rise in the price of oil is a beneficial wake-up call for everyone in Hawaii – consumers, government officials, utility executives, regulators, developers, etc. (Readers from the mainland and foreign lands might want to punch out now, because we’re going to be real parochial about Hawaii today.)

A recent post here focused on Hawaii’s remarkable and unfortunate distinction among all the states in our dependence on fuel oil for the generation of electricity. We’re around 77%; the next highest state at about 10% is Florida, with almost all other states at 2% or less. This disparity dates to the OPEC-inspired oil crisis of the 1970s and Congress’s subsequent mandate for mainland utilities to get off oil for electrical generation. Natural gas and coal became the fuels of choice.
But not in Hawaii. The state’s geographical isolation merited an exemption from this mandate, so we’ve continued to import fuel oil for our power. Here on Oahu, our dependence is around 90%.

We Can’t Keep Doing This

Truly, this dependence is a crisis – not one in the making, but one already here. Most consumables come to our shores by ship, and retail prices are going up fast, as is the cost of gasoline for the daily commute, electricity for home and business and air fares for tourists. Within the past month, two airlines that brought thousands of tourists here each week have gone out of business, and the cost of jet fuel was a huge factor. California’s unemployment rate in March “skyrocketed,” to quote the Sacramento Bee, to 6.2%, and not incidentally, California is Hawaii’s biggest mainland supplier of tourists.

So what do we do – soak the crying towel or toughen up to confront this oil-dependence issue more aggressively than ever?

There’s an Ocean Out There

In one of our first posts here, we said ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is often strangely missing from the list of renewable energy options offered up by government officials and legislators, editorial writers and reporters and, yes, even utility executives and environmentalists – all of whom presumably know what OTEC is and should at least be conversant about its potential.

With the per-barrel price of oil well on its way to $120, $130 and higher, we are well beyond the talking stage. This blog exists to drive home that point and familiarize the uninitiated with OTEC and what it could mean for Oahu first and all of Hawaii eventually.

Cut to the Chase

What OTEC will do for this state is end our dependence on fuel oil to generate electricity. Other renewables will contribute to that goal, of course, but as we’ve noted here, most of them are intermittent sources of power. OTEC is base load, meaning it can crank out electricity around the clock and around the year, without interruption. (You can read about this technology and how it generates electricity from the world’s largest solar energy collector – the ocean – at any number of websites, but click here and here for some background.)

OTEC became economically viable long before oil hit $100/barrel. It’s environmentally benign, producing no emissions and creating a wealth of carbon offset credits that could itself be a boon for Hawaii. That’s all well and good, but let’s look at how OTEC could change the energy picture here.

Obviously, our homes and businesses will use OTEC power, but so will the coming fleet of plug-in cars that are nearing production in Detroit, Japan and elsewhere. The vast majority of Oahu commuters drive their cars less than 20 miles each way, a distance well within the range of future plug-ins.

What about mass transit? An opponent of Honolulu’s planned rail transit project testified at a City Council hearing this week that she’s against rail because it will require fossil fuel to generate its electricity. That’s simply not true. OTEC will replace fuel oil for generation here, which means Honolulu’s future train system will run on ocean power. As we say here in the islands, that can give you chicken skin.

OTEC’s Time Is Now

There can be no delay in moving this technology forward. Anyone in a position to influence long-term energy planning in Hawaii who doesn’t embrace OTEC is suspect at best and unbelievable at worst, with motives that invite inspection.

We’re not into make-wrong here, but seriously, we can’t be casual any longer about our crippling dependence on fossil fuel. The goal we all can share is eliminating that dependence because it affects all of us. Everybody who enjoys a swim in the ocean can become an advocate for using the ocean’s warmth to light their homes and power our cars in the not-too-distant future.

So while we hate the consequences, each increase in the price of oil brings us closer to that goal. If any "good news" can be gleaned from these increases, that's it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Africa’s Power Shortage May Be OTEC Opportunity

A late-night radio host with a national audience says there’s no such thing as coincidences, so we’ll consider today’s Wall Street Journal story and our subsequent web browsing to be connected in some unseen way.

The Journal’s page 1 story headlined “In Africa, Outages Stifle a Boom” highlights the tremendous hardship expensive oil inflicts on the continent. While the “shaky power grid” gets much of the attention, the lack of reliable power is cited as a key issue in thwarting economic progress in the region.

Later, in surfing the ‘net for the latest news on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology, we came across a not-so-new website sponsored by Renewable Energy Technologies. The Journal’s Africa story made us especially interested in the page’s list of “Less-Developed Countries with Adequate Ocean-Thermal Resources 25 Kilometers or Less from Shore.”

Temperature Deltas, Close to Shore

Eight African nations, as well as many others around the world, are on the list: Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Tanzania. The page continues:

"Many less developed countries have access to energy obtained through exploitation of the differences in water temperatures. They must be within 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of an ocean region where there is a temperature difference of about 20°C (36°F) in the first 1000 meters (3280 feet) below the surface. Electricity generated by plants fixed in one place can be delivered directly to a utility grid. A submersed cable would be required to transmit electricity from an anchored floating platform to land. Moving ships could manufacture transportable products such as methanol, hydrogen, or ammonia on board."

Fresh water and electricity are both in great demand, of course, so although OTEC’s service to the African continent may be years away, we hope the big renewable energy players are exploring the possibilities.

The page goes on, “The first (OTEC) market is the small island nations in the South Pacific and the island of Molokai in Hawaii.” Since we just spent five days on Molokai, we don't know what to make of coincidences!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Molokai Still a Friendly Isle, Even at $4.50/Gallon

We've been moving at a remarkably slower pace these past five days thanks to an extended weekend on Molokai, a sure cure for urban ailments. It's given us a chance to catch up on our reading, including this New York Times piece from February about Hawaii's green energy potential.

Although this piece doesn't ignore ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) as so many stories do as they cover the many renewable energy alternatives waiting to be tapped in Hawaii, it gives it pretty short shrift and basically ignores its potential. And as our first post said in March, that's why we started writing this blog -- to bring OTEC out of the shadows and get a buzz on. Energy pieces about Hawaii too often routinely ignore OTEC, which is amazingly short-sighted.

But that's about all we can muster here today after five days at Kualapu`u Ranch. It's back to Honolulu in a couple hours -- back to where premium gas is "only" about $3.80/gallon. It tops $4.50 per on Molokai....which just goes to show the fix we're in out here in the Pacific.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hawaii in Different League re Oil Use for Electricity

The point can’t be made too often: Hawaii’s dependence on fuel oil for the generation of electricity is dramatically different than the rest of the country. This map with its interactive feature is an easy reference and shows Hawaii’s oil dependence at 77.2 percent. Only Florida among the other 49 states is in double digits at 10.2 percent. Nearly every other state is well below 1 percent reliant on fuel oil for electricity generation.

Now check any map for Hawaii’s location on the planet. The island chain is in a tropical ocean, where surface temperatures are high enough to make ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) workable. (Read about the technology here and why we started this blog here.)

Why do we care? Because when the price of oil is linked to that 77.2 percent figure, the future looks exceptionally alarming for the 50th state.

OTEC will be Hawaii’s future technology for electricity generation. It’s just a matter of time and talent – time to bring all the parties together, and talented people dedicated to a no-brainer solution to dramatically reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuel.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Worlds Apart yet on Same Path to Get Us All Off Oil

As noted a few days ago, our new blog is attracting visitors from around the world (although 87 percent are in the US), and the hits from afar are continuing. Today we feature two men who are working to reduce the planet’s dependence on fossil fuel – one in India and the other a German expat working in Michigan.

Professor S. Ramachandran, Vice Chancellor of Madras University, believes ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) “is going to be the major source of energy” in southern India in 10 years. Chennai Online has an in-depth interview with this ocean science visionary.

Half a world away in Detroit, Michigan, Frank “Mr. Volt” Weber heads the General Motors team that’s developing the Volt electric vehicle, which will hit the showrooms in 2010. interviewed this Wiesbaden native who refuses “to tread on worn out paths.”

OTEC -- Meet the Volt

Electricity generated on the ocean will be powering vehicles on our roads once the right combination of policy makers, regulators, investors, developers and utility executives comes together.

Where will that marriage first happen? If we use the medical triage model, which prioritizes treatment for patients according to the severity of their condition, Hawaii surely will be the place. The state’s crippling dependence on fuel oil for electricity generation puts us in the “critical” category and not far from “on life support” if the price of oil continues at current levels or increases.

If they haven’t met already, Professor Ramachandran and Mr. Weber may one day have the pleasure when OTEC and the Volt are united in a perfect energy union. You can almost hear Elvis singing "This is the moment..." above the rhythmic crashing of the surf.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Plug-Ins Need a Laboratory; Hawaii Would Do Nicely

Get yourself a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal and go to page D2 for an update on progress in developing plug-in cars – the ones with batteries you charge overnight by plugging in to your carport's outlet.

Writer Joseph White comments on the challenges facing plug-in technology but includes enough about California’s drive for cleaner air to be hopeful about the coming electric car revolution. He concludes his piece:

“Eliminating entirely the contribution cars make to the load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere requires far more than forcing the installation of traps and filters and fuel injectors. It requires a ground-up transformation of the concept of personal mobility, as well as substantial investments in fueling infrastructure and, perhaps, power generation that go well beyond America’s big auto makers.”

And that’s where Hawaii can play a role. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and plug-ins could amount to a “dream green team” – a marriage of renewable pollution-free electricity generation with pollution-free electric cars. Talk about a revolution; it would be running your car with ocean power, a heady concept.

You Can’t Drive to this Island

Elsewhere in his commentary, White notes “...Toyota decided to go with the flow (toward plug-ins), announcing plans to field a test of plug-in hybrids by 2010 for tightly controlled use in fleets."

An island in the Hawaiian chain might well be the perfect “tightly controlled” test location for electric vehicles. We’ve written here at Hawaii Energy Options that one island in particular – Lanai – has tremendous potential for such a test.

We’d be thinking along those lines if we were the island's owner, but we’re not, so we’re just speculating here. But in light of the owner’s renewable energy plans for Lanai, speculation at the right time and place can't hurt.

And who knows? In addition to being an island owner with big dreams, maybe Mr. Murdock is a ‘net surfer, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Beijing, Cuba, Hawaii--the Hits Just Keep on Comin'

Buzz we wanted, and buzz we have.  In the few days since the Blue Planet Summit, this blog has recorded hits from around the world -- China, Indonesia, Japan, France, England, Sweden, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, across America and Hawaii.

Thank you for your interest in our energy health, which isn't healthy at all.  Due to our overwhelming reliance on imported oil for our energy, the Aloha State is on life support.  Cut that flow of oil and we'd be in economic arrest.  Call it Code Red or simply critical, our condition is alarming and demands action to dramatically increase renewable energy's contribution here.

The Beauty of Base-Load

This blog is dedicated to the proposition that all forms of renewable energy are not created equal.  Although we support all the alternatives, we believe ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is Hawaii's best bet to get off oil in a big way.  Unlike most renewables, OTEC can provide base-load electricity generation.  Hawaii is surrounded by the biggest solar collector on the planet -- the tropical ocean.  We trust our visitors from around the world understand the term "no brainer."  That's what OTEC is for our isolated society.

Please promote and support OTEC among your friends, government officials, legislators, environmental leaders and anyone else concerned with our dependence on fossil fuel.  Scroll down for links to OTEC sites and the Blue Planet Foundation, host of last week's Blue Planet Summit.

We hope you'll be a frequent visitor to this Hawaii Energy Options site, and if you're so moved, click on Comments and leave one.  We want to know what you think about getting off oil with renewable energy, including OTEC.  Jonathan Cole took time to leave a comment to the April 6 post, below. You can read Jonathan's views on OTEC's possible challenges and check out his website.  We've posted our response to him there.  Jump right in with your own comments; the water's fine.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Summit Ends on High, Hopeful but Cautious Note: Act Now or Be Sorry Later; Hawaii Eyes Big Step

We started this blog to create buzz for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), and as is often the case, something else happened. Beyond buzz, this blog took us to the Blue Planet Summit and exposure to some of the giants in the renewable energy and get-off-oil movement.

Henk Rogers and his Blue Planet Foundation team will have to hustle next year to top this year’s program – maybe produce three television shows instead of “only” two and invite more than “only” one Nobel laureate. The team’s downstream media and reports are bound to be as impressive as the Summit itself.

They’re also sure to be accented by blunt warnings about what must be done immediately to avoid environmental and economic catastrophe. As noted in yesterday’s post, two airlines that served Hawaii went under in the past week. If Hawaii represents the canary in the coal mine, the bird already has fallen off its perch.

But good things are happening here, too, and the Legislature is about to enact a solar water heater mandate for all new homes. As the Star-Bulletin editorializes today, solar systems “should be as much a part of home building standards as flush toilets” – especially in this sunny state.

Why a Blue Planet?

We listened intently much more than we talked at the Blue Planet Summit, but we did manage one microphone-in-hand comment about OTEC’s potential to replace fossil fuel for base-load generation in the islands.

Earth is the Blue Planet because it’s a water planet; 71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, so the sun’s energy falls on and is absorbed mostly in the oceans. By some accounts, the energy equivalent of all that sunlight hitting the oceans is 250 billion barrels of oil each and every day.

OTEC converts that stored energy into electricity. The technology is a perfect fit for base-load electrical generation in tropical Hawaii, which imports oil to generate 90 percent of our electricity.

Solar water heating, solar photovoltaics, wind and wave energy, biofuels – they all will transition us to a post-petroleum economy. Nevertheless, we see OTEC as the biggest bang for the buck and major component in achieving the state’s goal of 70 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2030.

Indeed, the goal is so ambitious that it likely can be realized only with OTEC. 2008 would be an excellent time to begin.

(Want to know more about OTEC? Check out these two sites -- at the Department of Energy and at a site maintained by an Australian port city with OTEC ambitions.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Blue Planet Summit, Day 2 -- Getting Off Oil!

Read our first post at this blog and why we've started it.

Snapshots and paraphrases from Day 2 of the Blue Planet Summit...

James Woolsey (Vantage Point Venture Partners):
• Bin Laden's target point for oil is $200 per barrel.
• We're on the brink of a nuclear arms race between the Sunni and the Shia.
• We're all paying at the pump for the radical education that teaches young kids to become suicide bombers.
• (and from Day 1) -- the two major threats in this century are climate change and the hostility of a violent and wealthy radicalism out to destroy us.
• We must destroy the strategic value of oil, just as the advent of electrification and refrigeration once destroyed the strategic value of salt.

Dr. Stephen Schneider (Stanford University, Member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, winner of Nobel Prize):
• The preponderance of evidence says the earth is warming, and no one thing or new "finding" can disprove the preponderance of evidence.
• This is about risk management of a planetary life support system.
• Unless we act decisively, we'll continue on the path to a planetary sustainability train wreck.

Denis Hayes (Bullitt Foundation, national coordinator of first Earth Day):
• Government should be putting photovoltaics on every military barracks and every government building; as procurement increases, production costs go down.
• With the right set of policies in place, Hawaii could make the leap in 10 years to significantly reduce its dependence on oil and become a model for the world to emulate.

and too many other insightful comments by panelists to summarize in a short time. Near the end of the day, Summit participants were asked to vote by electronic ballot for the most important initiative Hawaii could undertake to reduce carbon's hold on the state. The results among the 80 or so participants:
• Solar Photovoltaic 25%
• Conservation 23%
• Solar Hot Water 19%
• Geothermal 10%
• OTEC 8%
• Wind 6%
• Wave 4%
• Other 2%
• Unassigned 3%

As an OTEC proponent, we see the challenge in these numbers, especially since it's likely that an even smaller percentage of the general population has a clue about ocean thermal energy conversion. Beyond these numbers, though, the Summit's participants seem united that Hawaii can reduce its severe vulnerability with sound policies and grassroots support for change.

Unchallenged at the Summit was the notion that Hawaii is more dependent on imported energy than any other state -- most of it oil. Where should we look for inspiration? Hands down, it's California, which was repeatedly cited as the leader in innovative responses to our deepening energy crisis.

Evidence Around Us

Aloha Airlines -- gone. ATA, which served Hawaii from several mainland markets -- gone. Hundreds of thousands of potential visitors to Hawaii -- gone. Did skyrocketing energy costs contribute to the carriers' demise? Of course.

Someone said during this Summit that Hawaii is the canary in the coal mine -- an early warning of what happens when energy dependence becomes lethal. Pieces of us are dying off right now, and to stop it, Hawaii is going to need unqualified commitments from all sectors of the state to Get Off Oil!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Abundance of Energy at Blue Planet Summit, Day 1

We're attending the Blue Planet Summit along with about 60 0thers who've been invited, and we have organizer Henk Rogers' permission to blog about the event. But we won't do that until we can do it justice -- hopefully before the weekend is out. In the meantime, stories in the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin on keynote speaker Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his assessment of the impact subsidized polluters have on our economy is must reading.

For Summit attendees who may be visiting this blog who aren't familiar with ocean thermal energy conversion technology, click on the Townsville, Australia website for an OTEC primer. It's a good place to start and an example of what Hawaii could be doing to advance this base-load technology in the islands.