Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hydrogen Power Start-Up Firm Gets State Backing

• Afternooon update: Check out the Raising Islands blog for why the Brookings Institution's report on energy use in Honolulu may be so flawed as to be meaningless and how the hometown newspapers whiffed in their coverage.

This blog’s title has an “s” in it because getting off oil in Hawaii will require more than one renewable energy option. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) will have a long-term role, but other options are available now, including wind and solar power.

Governor Linda Lingle presumably will sign legislation into law mandating solar water heaters on new homes beginning in 2010.  The intent is to cut each new home’s electricity demand here in “the Saudi Arabia of Sun.” Check out aerial photographs (on a Sierra Club website) of relatively recent home developments on Oahu for what happened without a mandate.

Abundant Hydrogen

Earlier this week, the Governor signed a bond financing bill that will allow a small Hawaii firm to sell tax-exempt special purpose revenue bonds. A Honolulu Advertiser story today covers the intent and the progress of h2 Technologies Inc. to advance hydrogen as yet another option to reduce the state's dependence on fossil fuel.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Breaking Away from Energy Issues on Memorial Day To Remember a Friend: John Lawrence Beek

The nickname that fit U.S. Army Captain John Lawrence Beek was “General.” You knew Larry would be one someday by the way he conducted himself, treated others and performed his mission, so that's what I called him.

Larry was an information officer with the Berlin Brigade Headquarters and was a great help to me personally when I arrived in West Berlin in 1966. We last met in December 1969 after I had completed my Vietnam tour and stopped over in San Francisco on the way home and civilian life. Larry was from Oakland, and his tour with the 25th Infantry Division would begin after the holidays.

Larry arrived in Vietnam on January 7, 1970 and died 24 days later in a helicopter crash in Tay Ninh Province that claimed the lives of seven men. Losing him after such a short time in-country was almost beyond comprehension.

Like nearly all Vietnam casualties, Larry’s name is found online only on sites related to the war. Maybe his daughter Leslie will find this blog in a search for her father's name someday and see that Larry was remembered here on Memorial Day 2008.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Oil Price Crisis Demands Action; Special Session of Legislature Could Focus on Renewable Energy

• May 24 Update: Gas average tops $4 across state. (Imagine how upsetting a trip to Zippy's can be.)

Yesterday we highlighted coverage by the Honolulu Advertiser. Today is the Star-Bulletin’s turn. Oil prices fuel tourism downturn is the headline on its top story of the day. The subhead? Things could get worse for Hawaii, the visitor industry says.

Talk about a bummer start to Aloha Friday. But it’s true, as we and others have been saying (see last week's "train wreck" post). The visitor industry seems to agree.

As Memorial Day weekend kicks off, let’s remember this: Hawaii can’t sustain oil prices this high. We are in a crisis of the first degree, and this crisis demands action.

Calling a Special Session

If she hasn’t already, Governor Lingle needs to sign the new solar water heater legislation passed by the Legislature this session. It mandates solar units on all new homes constructed in the state beginning January 2010 (with some outs for unique circumstances).

Second, she can call a special session of the Legislature to highlight and enact renewable energy initiatives. We won’t even enumerate them here; the industry has them waiting in the wings. But there’s no time for waiting any longer with oil above $130/barrel and rising.

Calling a special session would energize the GET OFF OIL movement in Hawaii. It would grab the public’s attention and show that our elected representatives feel our pain.

End the Shibai

The fill-up yesterday was with $4.10/gallon gas – and while they're at it, legislators could wipe away the “9/10ths” gimmick that makes gas prices look like they're less than they actually are. Call it the Accuracy in Gasoline Pricing Act.

And call what Hawaii is experiencing now what it really is, too – a crisis.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Effects of Oil Price Increases Played Out on Page 1

The per-barrel price of oil rose above $135 again today as the International Energy Agency feared demand would outstrip supply, leading to a “new world energy order.” As islanders awoke to that broadcast news, they also could read on the Honolulu Advertiser’s front page about the impact high oil prices are having right now at home:
American to charge $15 for first checked bag, plans cuts
Hawaiian Air raises interisland fares again
New car, truck sales down 17.4%
Elsewhere, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin had grim news for State employees: State cuts air conditioning use. But there’s an out: “Occupants who would like the air conditioning to operate outside (normal) hours can make a written request and will be billed at the rate of $50 an hour.”  Talk about your “new world energy order.”

If you haven't read yesterday's post, please do -- and be sure to click the link to the book Freedom from Mid-East Oil

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hawaii Begins Bioenergy Master Planning Effort

• Today’s Context: Oil price hits $134.42/barrel, up $5.44! (Check out our April 25th post and its prediction of $150 by June, plus a link to a must-read book: Freedom from Mid-East Oil.)  • May 22 Update: $135.09 is the new high. 

Even as this post is being written, scores of stakeholders are gathered in the State Capitol’s Auditorium attending the kickoff meeting to develop Hawaii’s Bioenergy Master Plan. The 2007 legislative session mandated the effort.

Utilities, environmental organizations, wind and solar power developers, biofuel advocates, agricultural interests, state and county government officials and many others are hearing presentations according to the agenda at the link above.

A recurring theme heard so far is that bioenergy crops in Hawaii must not compete with existing food crops. The County of Hawaii (Big Island) representative reported on the population’s preference for “small, locally based businesses” to lead the way in the field.

All the presentations were to be posted later at the state’s Bioenergy website.  (The May 22 Honolulu Star-Bulletin carries a report on the meeting; be sure to read the Comments, too.)

Back to OTEC

Since this is our second consecutive post that doesn’t dwell on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), you’re invited to read earlier posts that do. We started this blog two months ago when the price of oil hit $111/barrel. We thought it was alarming at the time, but that was $23/barrel ago. Our first post details why we think OTEC deserves much more visibility in this state.

We then suggested an OTEC scenario for the Island of Lanai that isn’t likely to go anywhere unless someone who reads this is a confidant of David Murdock and takes up the possibilities with him. Some posts contained links to websites that do a good job explaining OTEC; try here and here.

Finally, you’re encouraged to visit the Blue Planet Foundation’s website and view the videos that were recorded at the Blue Planet Summit in Hawaii early last month. Founder Henk Rogers and his Board of Directors have staked out an aggressive mission for BPF – “to change our world’s energy culture” using Hawaii as a model for that change. (Read a "Scenes from the Summit" commentary in

Got ideas? Share them with us by clicking on Comments, below, to post them at this blog, or contact the Foundation directly. All good ideas, suggestions and criticisms are welcome.

Friday, May 16, 2008

HECO, Hoku Solar Team for Photovoltaic Project

Just to prove we’re not “all OTEC, all the time,” here’s Hawaiian Electric Company’s press release on its 20-year photovoltaic system project with Hoku Solar, a subsidiary of Hoku Scientific, Inc. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission just approved the contract under which HECO will purchase the PV system’s power. HECO will have an option to buy the project after five years.

PV, solar water heating, wind, waves, geothermal, OTEC – they all add up to increasing Hawaii’s energy independence. We have a long way to go; at today’s new record price for oil ($127.82), Hawaii exports about $6.5 billion annually for our crude oil imports. The more we reduce those imports, the more money will stay home.

View the videos from the Blue Planet Summit.
Read why we started this blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Slo-Mo or Fast Forward, Hawaii’s Economy Is in a Train Wreck, and We Owe Most of It to Cost of Oil

• May 14 Update: Hawaii foreclosure rate climbs by 218%

How urgent is the necessity to Get Off Oil here in the 50th State? The evidence is everywhere that it can’t happen fast enough.

Two airlines that ferried hundreds of thousands of tourists to Hawaii each year have stopped operations. Passenger arrivals in April were 11.3 percent lower than a year earlier and are projected to be 3 percent lower this year. Hotel bookings were down in March and are expected to nosedive in April and May.

Two of the three major passenger liners that cruised the islands have pulled out. Nordstrom has laid off employees after only two months of operating its only full-service store in the state. AAA reports that Honolulu is the most expensive vacation destination in the country.

And oil hit another new record today -- $126.98 per barrel.

We’re no more an economist than a scientist, but connecting the dots isn’t difficult. The most isolated society on the planet is also the most oil-dependent state in the nation, and Hawaii is succumbing to the effects of out-of-control oil prices.

$200 by Near Year’s?

The common denominator to all this downbeat news is the skyrocketing price of oil. We started this blog just two months ago because oil hit $111 on March 14th. It’s up $16 since then. At this pace, $190 by Christmas is possible.

Economists would say that won’t happen – that you can’t just straight-line the price for the rest of the year based on the past two months. But who’s listening to economists any more?

No amount of marketing Hawaii tourism will offset $200 oil. We’re in a developing train wreck that has injured many Hawaii residents already, with many more to come.

Resetting the Clock

The State government and the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding in late January called the Clean Energy Initiative. Its goal is to achieve 70 percent reliance on renewable resources here by 2030.

That goal already may be too conservative, based on what Hawaii’s crippling dependence on oil is doing to our economy. What’s needed is a sense of urgency and cooperation among all the stakeholders to facilitate renewable energy development on an unprecedented scale.

Environmental concerns must be respected…. and (not but) ….developing Hawaii’s abundant renewable resources will in the long run enhance the environment in spectacular ways.

OTEC – the More Equal Resource

A senior advisor to Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle told the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise yesterday that the Administration is “neutral” on renewable technologies and is expressing no preference of one over the others.

This blog argues that ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology will be the key to getting Hawaii off oil, and we therefore urge government officials here to recalibrate their sights on OTEC’s potential. There’s just not a sense of official urgency we'd like to see as our economy tanks.

For example, although the State will participate in the EnergyOcean 2008 conference in Galveston, TX in June, its posting on the conference website on the Exhibitors page has a “hanging back” quality to it:

“Energy from the ocean is one of the many alternative sources being considered to realize this goal.”

Hawaii is well beyond the “consideration” stage for OTEC. It’s past time to hasten OTEC’s development so it can contribute to base-load electrical generation and thereby loosen oil’s grip on this critical component of our economy.

We have to take that first step to reduce and eventually eliminate oil as the fuel to generate power here. The ocean itself can be that fuel. Finding a replacement for oil to transport people and goods to and from Hawaii will take longer, but first steps are important.

Some train wrecks are worse than others, and we have to stop this one before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe.
• Please visit the Blue Planet Foundation website and view the videos there from the Blue Planet Summit in April 2008.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Open Blog to Congressional Delegation: Hawaii Could Use Your Significant Support of OTEC

Associated Press (5/9/08): Oil passes $126 on Venezuela concerns
Honolulu Advertiser (5/9/08):
Drivers near ‘tipping point’ as Hawaii gas prices climb
Honolulu Star-Bulletin (5/10/08): Horizon to increase fuel surcharge
May 12th Update: Crude reaches new trading high -- $126.40 

Dear Hawaii Congressional Delegation Members (delivered by email):

As representatives of the Aloha State, you undoubtedly know that your constituents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation. You also know gas prices are skyrocketing back home.

According to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, Hawaii’s highest gas prices ever were TODAY – an average of $3.88 for regular and $4.529 for diesel. Regular gas in Wailuku, Maui averages $4.177, the highest ever – about 49 cents a gallon more than you’ll pay when filling up in the Washington metro area. And that’s for regular; your cars probably burn premium. Do that on Maui and it’ll cost you $4.50 a gallon. “Lucky We Live Hawaii” starts to have a hollow ring to it. (Note: the above figures were quotes on May 9th, and some subsequently were eclipsed by even higher prices.)

When Will Gas Be in the Past?

But that’s today. Since charting a path to our future is what you’re expected to do, we hope your daily routine includes envisioning a future that doesn’t depend on oil and gasoline – a future that Hawaii will help introduce to the rest of the nation and planet.

Hawaii will do that with your help in championing ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) every opportunity you get. Who better to do that but representatives of the country’s only archipelago state – and one anchored in the tropical ocean at that?

You’re familiar with OTEC; the first proof of the theory that differences in water temperature could be exploited to create electrical energy was three decades ago in Hawaiian waters. A small demonstration plant ran for years in Kona. You know all that. The question is, are you sufficiently alarmed about what’s happening to our state to embrace OTEC as the islands’ primary power source – and soon?

Wanted: The Vision Thing

It’s not just drivers who are at the “tipping point.” So are electricity customers. You can’t go to a picnic in the park or a restaurant or bar without hearing about soaring power prices. And those costs are showing up everywhere – from meals to gas to the groceries.

You want complaints? Hold a town hall meeting the next time you’re home and you’ll hear complaints about all this and more -- including predictions that our stagnant economy won't rebound until 2010.

What we need from you is hope and a vision. Talk about OTEC has been around for a long time, but even now that its economics make sense (oil at $126 and rising), you still hear OTEC denigrated by key players in the power chain (see our post on The Nile River Argument that's going around town).

You can help move Hawaii beyond the talk and denigration stage by making a strong endorsement of ocean thermal energy conversion. OTEC may achieve a toehold in the islands without you, but it will happen faster and with more determination with your help.

Think of the Children

By the time today’s elementary school kids graduate from college and are looking to start their careers, will Hawaii still be dependent on imported oil for its power generation and transportation fuels? If so, will they have any hope of launching that career at home in the islands?

Twenty years from now, OTEC could be well on its way to replacing fuel oil for electrical generation – first on Oahu, where the greatest fossil fuel consumption is, and eventually all the islands. With OTEC, oil's stranglehold on the state will be over, and a whole new industry will be there for the taking for our best and brightest graduates.

Senator Inouye, you were there when President Kennedy challenged the nation to reach for the moon, arguably his greatest legacy. With your leadership, our Congressional delegation’s legacy could be just as important on a planetary scale.

The ocean each day absorbs the energy equivalent of more than 250 billion barrels of oil. Let’s start tapping that energy with OTEC, first right here in Hawaii and then around the world – and bring us back from the brink of an economic and ecological tipping point.

Best wishes for renewed success as you help chart our energy future.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

As the Price of Oil Nears $123 per barrel, We Call on an Expert for His In-Depth Explanation of OTEC

MAY 8 UPDATE--Oil futures shot up to $124.61 today, a new record. For returning visitors who've already read this post, jump down to Comments for some new thoughts about a much-desired prerequisite for OTEC's development.

This blog’s mission is to inform and educate readers about the potential for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to transform societies by ending their debilitating dependence on fossil fuel for the generation of electricity (and ultimately replace gasoline, too).

To do that, we have to continuously educate ourselves, since we’re not an expert on OTEC or anything else (except Internet searches; that we do well). Today’s search found this nugget with which we’re in 100-percent agreement (see our earlier post on Lanai’s potential to be the planet’s first totally green island):

“Tropical and subtropical island sites could be made independent of conventional fuels for the production of electricity and desalinated water by using plants of appropriate size.”

The author is Dr. Luis Vega, who has years of experience operating an experimental land-based OTEC plant in Kona on the Big Island in the 1990s. Dr. Vega’s “Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Primer” (this is a PDF download) may have more information than you need about the technical aspects of OTEC, but it won’t leave you wanting for more if that’s your desire. Here’s how he ends his primer:

“Conventional power plants pollute the environment more than an OTEC plant would and, as long as the sun heats the oceans, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free. However, it is futile to use these arguments to persuade the financial community to invest in a new technology until it has an operational record. The next step in the development of OTEC is the installation and operation of a pre-commercial plant sized such that it can be scaled to 100 MW.”

And that’s where things stand in Hawaii. Oil futures hit $122.73 per barrel today as Goldman Sachs predicted a price of $150 to $200 within two years. Will Hawaii acknowledge its ongoing oil crisis and move smartly to develop the only base load energy source that can replace fuel oil in these islands?

Stay tuned. The future of this state is hanging on the answer to that question.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hawaii’s Oil Crisis To Hit Where it Hurts: Zippy’s

From ice cream to chili to electricity to gasoline to rice to everything they buy, Hawaii consumers are paying a high price for the islands’ crippling dependence on oil.

The Honolulu Advertiser makes the point in its lead business story today -- ENERGY PRICES SQUEEZE ISLAND COMPANIES (they even went all-caps in the headline).

This blog attempts to inform the public about the most abundant and exploitable source of energy on the planet – the ocean that surrounds us. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology is a logical mid- to long-term (and permanent) solution to get Hawaii off oil.

OTEC undoubtedly is still not appreciated by most consumers, but most will appreciate this: Zippy’s is going to raise prices!

For readers beyond the reef, Zippy’s is Honolulu’s answer to McDonald’s and Denny’s – 24 hours of uninterrupted availability to food with special appeal to locals. Raising prices at Zippy’s, as the Advertiser story says is about to happen, will take our oil-driven energy crisis to a new level for some consumers. Others already are adjusting to the spike in oil prices by driving less, as reported in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Power from the Sea

But we digress. Ocean power is a no-brainer for Hawaii, and although wind, geothermal and solar energy all have contributions to make to reduce our fossil fuel dependence, OTEC is the biggest scoop of rice.

GO HERE for a wealth of information on ocean power, including OTEC. We’ll undoubtedly link to this site in future posts to steer newcomers (should they exist) to this excellent information source. Once there, clicking on “Home” for new posts on energy issues is recommended.

The Nile River Argument

There's a “talking point” used by OTEC’s critics that we've heard around Honolulu in recent days. We call it the Nile River Argument, and it goes like this: A big OTEC plant each day would have to move the equivalent of the Nile River’s daily flow to generate a significant amount of electricity.

When we heard it at Dr. Pat Takahashi’s book signing Friday evening, our response was in essence, “…and your point is…..?” A friend in Rotary heard the same argument a couple days ago by someone in the same corporation.

Our response is best summarized in the heading of this blog – that Hawaii needs 21st-century solutions to its serious energy predicament. Nothing is impossible, and the Nile River Argument can be treated as just another piece of information, not a barrier. (We’re not even sure it’s true.)

Introducing Zippy’s customers to OTEC technology and its possibilities is our ongoing goal, no matter what talking points are floating around out there.

Once the public fully appreciates OTEC’s possibilities, we’ll move mountains and rivers.

Friday, May 2, 2008

WSJ Reports on Potential Utility, Plug-Ins Conflict; Hawaii’s Renewable Energy Options Would Avoid It

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal -Utilities, Plug-In Cars: Near Collision? -– highlights the potential negative consequences plug-in electric vehicles may have on a power company's grid. Here’s the lead:

“Car makers are preparing to introduce plug-in electric cars in 2010, but their success will depend on players beyond their control: the electric utilities.”

Charging a large number of electric vehicles during the day when a utility’s load is the greatest could push the peak demand higher, requiring more expensive “peak units” to fire up and meet the demand, thereby spewing more pollution, etc. Push up the daytime peak enough and a utility might even have to build more fossil fuel generation to meet it, the story says.

Nobody wants that. As we pointed out last month, Hawaii will be an ideal location for widespread use of plug-ins. Commute distances are short compared to the mainland, and the potential to energize plug-ins with renewable technologies is vast.

Zero Emissions All Around

As the Journal story notes, utilities have some concerns, among them:

“Utilities worry that their power-plant emissions could rise if they have to produce a lot more electricity to power plug-in cars.”

But what if that electricity were generated without creating emissions? Hawaii is on the brink of a renewable energy revolution. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative collaboration between the state government and the U.S. Department of Energy has a goal of meeting 70 percent of its energy needs with renewable resources by 2030.

Our blog argues that a direct path to achieving that goal is through aggressive development of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). The technology transforms the energy absorbed by the ocean to electricity. All of Hawaii’s potential renewable sources deserve development where feasible, of course, but OTEC stands apart from the rest by being base-load generation.

Emission-free base-load generation at that, with a “fuel” that is limitless and free.

OTEC development will require significant investment to build commercially viable plants. But if it’s true that investors are waiting in the wings to finance new plants, as some would-be developers insist, the old paradigm that OTEC is “too expensive” is no longer operable. Today’s closing oil quote was $113 per barrel.

Zero-emission generation + zero-emission vehicles. There's no way that equation adds up to anything but paradise on Earth.