Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mr. President, if Energy Independence Is Your Goal, Your Hawaii Home Can Be the Model for Change

(Be sure to see link at the end.)
From the President’s address to Congress and the nation tonight:

The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil….

We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before….

Mr. President, we know what you’re talkin’ about. The citizens of Hawaii, your birthplace, are more dependent on oil for the generation of our electricity than any other state in the nation. We’re ready to shoulder the burden, to accept the additional “green premium” to end our dependence on fossil fuel.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century…. I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.

You want leadership, Mr. President? Your Hawaii can provide not only leadership but inspiration and passionate commitment to energy independence. Why? Because Hawaii must out of necessity embrace the green revolution as a matter of survival! Our debilitating reliance on fossil fuel will surely finish us off as a viable society unless we act. We’re determined, but we’re a small place. You need look nowhere else to find an army of committed citizens eager to embrace the change you seek. All we need is your help.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

Not to mention ocean thermal energy conversion, Mr. President. The tropical ocean that embraces your home state is the world’s greatest collector of solar energy – storing the energy equivalent of 250 billion barrels of oil each day!

By including OTEC in your energy investment strategy, you will set the stage for an energy revolution that will change the fate of the planet -- not only in the tropics, but around the globe. Surely your advisors and daughters will tell you about OTEC's unlimited promise.

So let it begin here, Mr. President. Your Hawaii is ready to lead the way to energy independence by embarking on the greatest energy turnaround in our nation’s history – transforming our society from near-total reliance on imported fossil fuel to become the first truly clean energy economy in the country.

Let it begin where you began, Mr. President. Hawaii prepared you to lead our nation, and now we are prepared to lead.

Continuing the Thought

If any of this appeals to you, please read today's post by Pat Takahashi at his Simple Solutions for Planet Earth and Humanity blog under the headline The Sustainable Paradise of the Pacific. This is must reading for renewable energy advocates in the 50th State.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Ink on Oahu OTEC Plant, this Time from India

Orange stars mark Eastern Hemisphere locations that have produced recent news reports on Hawaii's future OTEC plant.
Is it just us, or does anybody else (especially Hawaii residents) think it’s odd the only news coming down about the proposed 10-MW ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant on Oahu is from the far side of the world?

We noted the other day that the Taiwan Journal mentioned the highly anticipated joint project by Lockheed Martin and the Industrial Technology Research Institute. Now comes news out of India that the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology is in talks with Lockheed about whether a deep water pipe designed by the Institute might be used in the rumored Hawaii plant. Said an Institute official:

“We, too, have designed a pipe for the same (dredging cold water) and our discussions with Lockheed Martin were largely on whether they could use our design for their (Hawaii) project. We haven’t yet discussed technology transfer. It’s still an early-stage discussion.”

At this rate, we half expect the next media mention of Hawaii’s supposed future OTEC plant to spring from Uzbekistan.

This latest mention is by an online outfit called LiveMint.com, described as the online version of the newspaper Mint that was launched by HT Media Ltd of India in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal. Jacob P. Koshy writes for LiveMint.com and the Hindustan Times.

Mr. Koshy tried to learn more about the potential collaboration of the Institute and Lockheed but reports: “An email to Lockheed Martin for comment sent last Tuesday remained unanswered.”

And so it goes. We hope our friends at Lockheed Martin will have news for public consumption in Hawaii sometime soon about the Oahu OTEC project, which is potentially of great import to the state. (See some of our November 2008 posts about this project and what we can only call a news blackout since it was first announced.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oahu’s Proposed OTEC Plant Scores a Little Ink

There’s been a news blackout in the past three months about the proposed ocean thermal energy conversion project involving Lockheed Martin and Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute.

That would seem to be the case, as our trusty Google search feature hasn’t turned up anything new since the relationship was announced in November during a trade mission by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. (We celebrated the news with a champagne toast.)

Not until today, that is. The Taiwan Journal carries a story on potential of OTEC and wave power contributions to partially satisfy the island’s energy requirements; it includes a brief mention of the proposed Oahu plant:

“Last November, ITRI signed an agreement with the U.S. state of Hawaii and Lockheed Martin Corp. to cooperate on developing a 10-megawatt OTEC pilot plant in Hawaii. However, the institute was unable to disclose any details regarding its participation in the project as it is bound by the agreement's confidentiality clause.”

Just as we suspected – the cursed confidentiality clause....

The article doesn’t offer much if any new information about OTEC as it repeats what we already know, including this insight: “Economic viability and technical feasibility are the two major challenges facing the development of ocean energy.”

Well, yes – and much the same was said earlier this month in a University of Hawaii lecture on OTEC. But we’re encouraged that scientists and engineers are working hard to overcome these challenges.

We just wish there was less “confidentiality” and more openness among the parties so we could learn what’s up with the proposed Oahu plant.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

San Diego Solar Industry: Sunny Days, All the Time

SAN DIEGO, CA – Speaking of solar energy, as we were in our last post before flying here, it’s easy to see why locals call this Sun Diego.  There are no clouds – anywhere! (OK, it rained last week, but that was then.) After 35 years in Hawaii, we’re still surprised by the sunrise-to-sunset cloudless days found in cities around the Golden State, including Sacramento.

So it was almost expected that the local public radio station would air a special report on the solar energy industry this morning for our benefit. (The above photo is from the station's website and shows Stone Brewing Company in Escondido.) Despite the poor economy, the industry appears to be in super robust mode, with an estimated 1100 solar installers/contractors in San Diego County. Then again, the population (2.9 million in 2006) is well beyond the combined population of Hawaii’s four counties (1.3 million).

Bay Area Goes Electric

Up the coast, Mayor Gavin Newsom is crowing about San Francisco’s leadership position in “transforming the Bay Area into the Electric Vehicle Capital of the United States.” His column on Huffington Post notes Better Place’s plan to invest $1 billion in a plug-in network there, similar to the company’s intentions in Hawaii. C’mon, Hawaii: let's show San Francisco how it’s done by becoming the Electric Vehicle Capital of the World!

More from Pat Takahashi

We’ll close by once again calling attention to Pat Takahashi’s daily blog, Simple Solutions for Planet Earth and Humanity. His post yesterday was typical Pat – a mixture of dreaming (his word) and depressing (also his word.) An example:

"Make no mistake about it, though, this recession is leaning in the direction of depression, and those trillion dollar rescue packages dwarf past government expenditures. Yes, World War II did cost something on the order of $2.5 trillion, but how many realize that the total of the Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan and Apollo Project, in 2009 dollars, is only about a quarter trillion dollars? The Bush and Obama rescue packages alone amount to five times more than what it took to build the atomic bomb to end the war, save Europe and send Men to the Moon."

We recommend Pat’s blog for his experience-based observations on our energy predicament.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

OTEC May be ‘Big Picture’ Long-Range Solution, but Solar Energy Is Making an Impact Here and Now

We once heard ocean thermal energy conversion called the “enemy” by a solar energy developer. He and possibly some others in the emerging renewable energy industry see OTEC as just another big industrial process requiring huge investments like existing power plants. How huge? According to Joe Van Ryzin of Makai Ocean Engineering, Oahu’s first “starter” plant may require an investment of $200-300 million. Solar advocates have little to fear from OTEC for at least a decade – if ever.

Jay Fidell provides an update on the current state of local solar energy development in his Think Tech column in today’s Advertiser:

“There’s been a dramatic quickening – some say a revolution – in commercial solar installation in Hawaii. We’ve heard of photovoltaic panels on residential rooftops, but now we’re hearing about large commercial solar installations, too.”

Commercial solar is where the action is these days (photo shows Sunectric's installation at Windward Honda), and the action can only increase if the cost of oil starts climbing again as most predict. 

Too Much Abundance?

Combined with improvements in energy storage capabilities, large-scale wind and solar energy development eventually could make OTEC investment seem less attractive if renewables cut dramatically into the fossil fuel requirement to generate electricity here.

Still, we can’t see turning our backs on the world’s greatest solar energy collector and “battery” – the tropical ocean. The old advice about keeping balance in our lives undoubtedly applies here, as well. Hawaii is on the right path in developing its wind and solar energy resources, but success in those fields shouldn’t dampen enthusiasm for what OTEC can do for the state and the nation.

Makai Ocean Engineering’s Van Ryzin also predicted in his lecture that OTEC could be a critical component to a future hydrogen economy in America. Hawaii would have advantages in such an economy thanks to the state’s access to the tropical ocean – reason enough to keep the focus on OTEC as a potential energy and economic game-changer in the islands.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will OTEC Ever Deliver Lincolnesque Emancipation To Hawaii, USA from their Slavery to Imported Oil?

Enthusiastic lecture attendees had their WWW moment blurred by an inept photographer.

Melodramatic though the headline’s question may be, it does have relevance on the bicentennial of the birth of our 16th president. Some of us have thought ocean thermal energy conversion could be a potential energy game-changer (see our first post) – as dramatic in its own right as the cause for which Lincoln is most remembered and admired.

The emphasis is on “potential,” and thanks to yesterday’s OTEC lecture at the University of Hawaii by Joe Van Ryzin of Makai Ocean Engineering, we have a better appreciation of the challenges facing this technology.

This blog can’t do justice to his hour-long presentation, but we hope to have selected enough highlights to capture the right tone – a balance of sobering reality and encouraging potential.

First, an Encouraging Word

Van Ryzin said the state of Hawaii is at the key pivotal point for OTEC development in the world. He noted that no more fossil fuel power plants will be built in Hawaii according to agreements reached between Hawaiian Electric Company, the State and the Federal DOE. Hawaii will have to rely on renewable energy for the rest of its days.

“You’ve got to look at the difference between OTEC and other renewables,” he said. “OTEC will provide firm power. It’s on 24/7, and if you look to renewables for firm power, OTEC is really it for this island and for a few other islands. So you realize that we might be able to build an OTEC plant for this island, perhaps for Guam, perhaps for Puerto Rico, and provide electricity at an attractive rate today. If so, how do you get there?”

Van Ryzin said if one 100MW plant can be built for Oahu, many could be built – perhaps 10 for Oahu alone. That itself would be a pretty good business, he said, and by then you’d have an assured technology that could be used to create, for example, ammonia and hydrogen for the entire United States if it were to convert to a different energy paradigm.

Van Ryzin’s company has teamed with Lockheed Martin in analyzing how to overcome OTEC’s many challenges. We were left with the firm belief that OTEC still can be the game-changer, especially for Hawaii here in the middle of a tropical ocean that absorbs prodigious amounts of solar energy each day.

$200 Million To Pass GO

But for starters, consider the cost of the first 10MW OTEC plant that presumably would be built in Hawaii to take the concept to the next level. Van Ryzin’s estimate is $200-300 million, and the line of financial backers is short or non-existent. The Federal government may be the only entity in a position to invest the large sums necessary to build Oahu’s “starter plant.” Everything about OTEC is big, he said:

“In trying to build the first OTEC plant, you have to apply all the engineering skills you have and finesse the costs. It’s the chicken and egg. From the technology point of view, you’d like to have it, but it’s pretty expensive. Who’s going to pay for it and how's it going to get done?

“A 100 MW OTEC plant would be economically viable for a location like Oahu. When you look at a 10MW plant, it’s kinda hard to make the business case for that, because things don’t scale down. You can’t build a 10MW plant for one-tenth the cost of a 100MW plant.

“What the real challenge is for OTEC is that we’re out there trying to build the first OTEC plant, trying to build it economically and do it as fast as we can, but you’ve got to apply all the engineering skills, all the knowledge that we have and really finesse the engineering cost.”

The challenges that must be overcome to scale up from 10 to 400 MW plants one day include the design and construction of the heat exchangers; the type of platform (onshore vs. floating, and if floating, the configuration); the size of the cold water pipe (perhaps 9.5 meters in diameter); foul-weather survivability; the design of the dynamic power cable running to the shore; the environmental impacts, and of course, the financing.

Well, yes….the challenges are real and significant, but the nation has a history of setting ambitious goals and achieving them. Between 1957 and 1966, the United States attempted 164 space launches; 101 of them ended in failure, but the country didn’t walk away from the moon shot.

Aiming for 2040

Once those engineering challenges are overcome, and most in the audience of engineers, scientists and academics presumably agree they will be, OTEC’s potential is such that this excruciatingly long approach to the first plant will have been worth the wait.

“If you have OTEC plants floating in some convenient spot producing ammonia and shipping it to shore, you’re already at the point to provide either ammonia or hydrogen to the DOE hydrogen economy of 2040,” Van Ryzin said.

Sequencing the steps to get to that level is not an overwhelming process, he continued, and can be tackled with R&D projects on the technical challenges.

“In order for OTEC to be really important for the United States, it can’t be just OTEC plants for Hawaii. What impact can OTEC have for the entire United States? Could we build enough OTEC plants and put them in an equatorial region and produce either hydrogen or ammonia, transport that to the United States and be able to make it on a large enough scale that it could provide enough fuel for all the light-weight vehicles in the United States?"

That’s an immense undertaking, with perhaps 700 OTEC plants of 400MW size, tankers going back and forth all the time. But Van Ryzin said this could make sense in 30 years when oil no longer is acceptable as a fuel for a variety of reasons – cost, security, the environment.

Van Ryzin had much more to say about OTEC’s potential to eliminate fossil fuel use in Hawaii over the next three decades, thereby preserving our security and treasure and providing a major new source of employment and investment. Listening to his lecture, one understands that like our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, ours is working to solve technical challenges today for the benefit of our children and their children.

It’s always been that way and hopefully always will be. This generation is now poised to fulfill OTEC’s potential more than any other in the past 150 years since the earliest ocean energy theories were proposed. Companies like Makai Ocean Engineering, Lockheed Martin and others that are working on it and deserve our individual and collective support.

Let's hope the new Obama Administration is paying attention.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'Hawaii Clear Car Act' Hearing Set for Thursday

Two bills before the State Legislature – Senate 1233 and 1174 – are modeled after California’s clean car legislation. Taken together, the Hawaii Clean Car Act requires automakers to provide cars and trucks producing 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.

The Blue Planet Foundation has submitted testimony for Thursday’s hearing (4 p.m., Capitol Room 225) and is urging others to do the same via email. We kinda like the emailed testimony of someone close to this blog:

Chair Gabbard and members of the committee:

I write to you as a concerned mother and grandmother.

As you know, our Legislature now has a golden opportunity to help eliminate offensive automobile air pollution, encourage less dependency on foreign and imported oil, and make life on our islands better for all citizens--including over 154,000 citizens suffering from some sort of lung and/or respiratory disease.

We need to join the ranks of other states and progressively provide protection for the citizens of our state. Forward thinking at this time, by passing SB 1233 and SB 1174, will further the environmental policies of President Obama as well as establish Hawaii as a state willing to come forward and do whatever is necessary to help save our environment. There can be no doubt that all states and countries must work together to end dependency on oil and hence to stop global warming. 

Additionally, these two bills do not impose a tax burden on citizens during the current difficult economic downturn. The beauty of our aina is dependent upon our Legislature's good judgment when deciding environmental policy. It is now time to take a firm and aggressive stance with regard to such important policy.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Lennie J. Carlson

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

President Promotes Energy Efficient Mass Transit

President Barack Obama had some good things to say today about energy efficiency and transit. Since he’s from Hawaii and undoubtedly has good thoughts about his home state each and every day, we like to think he was specifically referring to the Honolulu rail transit project that’s scheduled to move from the drawing boards to groundbreaking late this year.

Our sister blog has an excerpt of the President’s town hall meeting in Ft. Meyers, FL, and you’re invited to visit.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pacific Business News Profiles HECO’s New CEO

We normally wouldn’t take much notice of personnel matters inside Hawaii’s largest electric utility, but since what happens inside the company will affect what happens outside like never before, we’re more than a little interested in Hawaiian Electric Company's new chief executive officer.

The new Pacific Business News (Feb. 6 edition) carries an extensive profile on Dick Rosenblum, who was lured out of (a young) retirement. (Subscribers to the print edition can link to the article here; others will have to buy the business weekly.)

With the transition to a different kind of utility now underway, he takes the helm at a critical time in the company’s evolution – perhaps the equal of the transition engineered by C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. when the Hawaiian Electric Industries holding company was formed in 1981.

Rosenblum brings considerable expertise in power generation and delivery to the islands, but there’s one piece of experience we hope is mostly irrelevant during his tenure here – his role as chief nuclear officer for Southern California Edison. We filed our thoughts about nuclear power in Hawaii under our “Fuggitaboutit” post last week.

Welcome to Honolulu, Dick Rosenblum. We wish you good luck and much success in guiding HECO’s evolution to a utility that helps accelerate development of renewable energy and phases out fossil fuel for the generation of electricity in the islands.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Generations Share Experiences, Hopes for Future At FOCUS Hawaii’s Climate Change Teach-In

UH Environmental Policy undergrad David Aquino addresses group.

Two impressions stand out among many from last night’s teach-in at the University of Hawaii:

• Attendees ranged from the early 20s (if not teens) to the upper 60s (if not 70s);
• The generations spoke with and not at one another.

The local event – undoubtedly the last of many similar gatherings held yesterday across the nation – was built around the webcast “Solutions for the First 100 Days” aimed at enthusing youth to descend on Washington late this month to lobby for dramatic cuts in fossil fuel emissions. (Memo to the teach-in's organizers: Hawaii and Alaska deserve inclusion in your “action map” of the United States.)

The Presidential Climate Action Project developed at the University of Colorado over the past two years lays out an agenda for the Obama Administration’s first 100 days to “put us on a path to stabilizing the climate.” (See webcast’s text for details.)

Once the long video was out of the way, microphones were opened for an exchange of views, questions and suggestions between the panel and the audience of about 50. The older generation spoke first, since most of us have learned one place or another along the way that “the only failure is not to participate.” But eventually all age groups spoke up, and the commitment to address global change was ubiquitous.

Failure or Foundation?

We thought members the older generation were a little hard on themselves for allegedly having failed to turn the nation around with their ecological efforts decades ago. Early efforts set the right tone; the first Earth Day was held in 1970. Jimmy Carter urged the nation to lower thermostats and install solar panels, as he did on the White House roof.

It was the Ronald Reagan crowd that removed those panels, slashed federal renewable energy budgets and set the energy conservation movement back at least two decades. The lesson is clear: What happens at the top is critical, so let’s be sure the Obama Administration sets the tone for the next generation.

We made a plug for ocean thermal energy conversion, of course, and it was good to hear others mention OTEC along with wind, solar and biomass among Hawaii’s abundant renewable energy resources.

The Blue Planet Foundation – with a mission “to end the use of carbon-based fuels” and start the effort in Hawaii – was present with an offer to help one or more deserving young people travel to Washington for the national gathering in late February.

UH clean energy activists invited the audience to two campus events next week – the 2nd annual B-Day Bash of the student-led Sustainable Saunders group, and Time magazine’s “Greenest CEO” Ray Anderson’s appearance at the Campus Center. (Contact Sustainable Sanders; these events aren’t on the website’s calendar today.)

If the energy in the room last night is efficiently put to work by the organizations in attendance -- Sustainable Saunders, Blue Planet Foundation, Interfaith Power and Light and others – the teach-in will have a lasting effect. But let’s hope for a bigger turnout next time. As the seminar leader said:

“The only failure is
not to participate.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Smart Grid Aims To Connect Hawaii’s Islands

An image from GE's smart grid spot during Sunday's Super Bowl.
When inspiration fails, we do the logical thing and cockroach off someone else’s blog. After only a little searching today we found the GE Global Research Blog and a piece posted just yesterday by Devon Manz.

Manz is an engineer working on a smart grid concept applicable for the Hawaiian Islands. (We thought he looked familiar and confirmed it at the list of attendees of last April’s Blue Planet Summit.)

Manz’s post nicely states the problem facing renewable energy advocates in Hawaii: The islands are just that – standalone piles of rock in the middle of the Pacific not connected with one another by an electric grid.

Most of the renewable energy development potential (excluding ocean thermal energy conversion -- OTEC; we’ll get to that later) is on the “neighbor islands,” but most of the load is on the capital island of Oahu. What to do?

The unsurprising solution is to connect the islands with undersea cables. The distances and depths are not all that remarkable, with the possible exception of the 6100-foot-deep Alenuihaha Channel between Maui and the Big Island.  (Jan TenBruggencate of the Raising Islands blog checks in to note that the Kaieiewaho Channel between Kauai and Oahu drops to more than 11,000 feet.  You're right, Jan, but not many are pushing to go to Kauai these days -- undersea or on top of it!)

With up to 500 MW of wind energy planned for Molokai and Lanai and only minimal loads on those islands, a smart grid will be needed to connect those intermittent renewable energy sources with the load on Oahu. Manz’s piece documents the challenge and prospects for success that will enable Hawaii to maximize renewable energy contributions in the state.

About OTEC

The graphic on the GE blog doesn’t mention future contributions from this ocean energy technology to meet Oahu’s power requirements. Without an OTEC plant even under construction here and only a signed agreement to build one, it’s pretty early to make representations about the technology’s potential to provide power, firm or otherwise. For the record, however, Hawaiian Electric’s integrated resource planning has 200 MW reserved for OTEC, and its officers have been unambiguous about their willingness to embrace ocean energy and its potential to deliver non-intermittent baseload power.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No to Nukes, Part 2: Debunking an Urban Myth

Someone sent us an email after reading our “Fuggitaboutit!” post immediately below, saying Hawaii already has nuclear power thanks to nuclear-powered submarines based at Pearl Harbor. He added:

“Surely you remember that a nuclear sub powered Kauai’s grid after (Hurricane) Iniki.”

This “submarine to the rescue” urban legend needs an asterisk: It never happened. True, a plan was floated for a sub hook-up to Kauai’s grid after Hurricane Iwa devastated it on November 23, 1982 – not Iniki, which struck on 9/11, 1992. Here’s a New York Times report a week after Iwa:

“Plans to use the nuclear submarine Indianapolis to provide power for Kauai were dropped after three portable generators arrived from California.”

Once these legends start rolling, they pick up all sorts of extraneous tidbits. A website devoted to the attack submarine Indianapolis has a photo of the sub entering a Kauai harbor “to provide assistance after hurricane Iwa passed through the area on 1 May 1982.” And so it goes….

A Better, Cleaner Way

Do nuclear submarines at Pearl Harbor make civilian nuke power in Hawaii more acceptable? We think that’s also bogus. How can we even consider going down that path when Hawaii’s renewable energy resources have barely been tapped?

We won’t belabor the case for ocean thermal energy conversion here; we’ll know within a few years whether OTEC is all that it’s cracked up to be – see also our first post to this site -- and if it is, goodbye to fossil fuel imports for electrical generation here within a generation.

Then there’s solar power using photovoltaics, just now coming into their own, with even greater promise thanks to advances in power storage capabilities. Jay Fidell’s “Think Tech” column in today’s Advertiser is definitely worth your time.

So let’s put this suggestion floating around the State Legislature to rest. Building nuclear power plants in Hawaii is a ridiculous idea.
NOTE: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports today the bill to study nuke power has been killed. Be prepared for its return next year.