Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Vacation Interrupt for a Few Words on OTEC

Our “research trip” to probe recent developments in ocean thermal energy conversion has bogged down in France, where OTEC was first theorized, and we’re frankly not getting much research done along those lines.

It therefore was encouraging to receive word on this Defense News article on “Electricity From the Sea – U.S. Navy Plans Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Plants” From the story:

“The Navy thinks ‘ocean thermal energy conversion’ may be the answer to Guam’s future electricity needs – and Diego Garcia’s Kwajalein’s and Hawaii’s, too.”

There hasn’t been much out there on OTEC developments lately, so this fairly long article is good news. That said, we’re heading to Mont Ventoux in Provence today to see if we might encounter an “atmospheric thermal energy conversion” project that’s heretofore gone unreported.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Looking for Any Excuse To Visit “La Belle France”

We really do appreciate the visits to this blog by readers from around the world, and we often wish we knew why some of you visit – what your recurring interest in Hawaii energy issues is that brings you back to our little site.

Who are you, “” -- and why did you click in four times today? We can understand the passing interest of Hawaiian Electric Industries; thanks for stopping by. And you there – Why are your listed locations always out-of-the-way places like Hanford, CA and Schurz, NV? Shurz? You have got to be kidding. Don’t you ever hang out in metro areas?

By now it should be obvious we’re filling space today as the hours count down to our vacation in France. We appreciate our readers’ visits, and we apologize in advance for not posting much (if at all) over the next three weeks.

But since it’s France we’re visiting, maybe we can swing into some obscure museum somewhere that features the work of French inventor George Claude, the 19th Century proponent of ocean thermal energy conversion who lost his fortune attempting to make the technology work. If it’s any comfort to you, M. Claude, wherever you are -- they’re still trying.

Perhaps an OTEC breakthrough will be announced while we’re traveling so we’ll have to play catch-up from halfway around the world. If that happens, we’ll consider it justification to write off this trip!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's with Concern over ‘Green Energy Bubble’?

Some people are worrywarts. Take the concern over a so-called “green energy bubble” -- please. What’s next – “too much” swine flu vaccine?

Can we really have too much non-polluting energy? Is there a danger the United States – the biggest user of destructive fossil fuels on the planet – will over-commit to new technologies that don’t pollute and warm the atmosphere, melt Greenland, disappear the polar ice caps and raise sea levels?

From where we sit, concern over this alleged bubble is just more evidence of an anti-green agenda, and if this offends the bubble boys and girls, we can’t muster an apology.

Want something real to worry about? Spend time with the writing of Dr. James E. Hansen, including this page-turner – his article on “Scientific reticence and sea level rise.” His summary:

"I suggest that a 'scientific reticence' is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control."

We’re just a tad sensitive about this particular topic, out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so don’t expect any hand-wringing about the “green energy bubble” in these quarters. We side with Dr. Hansen, who wants to pop the denial bubble about what’s in store for coastal and island societies in the decades ahead. It isn't good.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Electric Cars (cont.): ‘Better Place’ Makes News

A Better Place electric car pulls into the dock of a
fully automated battery transfer station.

• May 14 Update: Chevron may close refinery

The marketing and PR savvy of Better Place, the company intent on wiring cities around the globe for electric car hookups and battery changes, was evident on the Internet today. The company seems to have made news just about everywhere, including a blurb in the Honolulu Advertiser and a longer piece in the Star-Bulletin.

The big event was a Yokohama, Japan demonstration of the company’s automated battery switching technology. It’s frankly nothing like we had envisioned and looks more like a NASA “clean room” than a service station.

The above image is from a YouTube video of the demonstration, and if the switch routinely happens that fast, it will be quicker than a full-tank fill-up. The procedure happens while the driver sits in the car.

We confess to being more than a little impressed, and we look forward to seeing similar demonstrations here on Oahu, where the so-called mileage limitations of electric cars won’t scare away prospective buyers. You can drive nearly everywhere on the island well within the range of a single charge.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Electric Cars Only as ‘Green’ as Generation Source

Today’s “Business Daily” feature on the BBC World Service mentions Hawaii as one of the locations Better Place intends to build a network of electricity charging stations for a new generation of electron-powered vehicles. CEO Shai Agassi unveiled his plan here with considerable fanfare last December.

The radio clip is worth sitting through for its main point: An electric vehicle that takes its electricity from a power plant fired by fossil fuel doesn’t help much if at all in reducing carbon pollution of the atmosphere.

France is cited in the piece as an ideal location for the electric car revolution because it uses non-carbon-polluting nuclear power to generate the vast majority of its electricity. We’ll nominate Hawaii for the same reason – eventually. Once the state's vast solar and ocean power potential is realized, Hawaii will become a showcase for Better Place and other electric car industry movers and shakers.  It can’t happen soon enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Work Already Underway on Next Year’s Legislation; Busy Summer Ahead on Renewable Energy Topics

The work of the 2009 legislative session won’t be completed until legislation clears the Governor’s desk one way or another, but there’s hope for optimism that several “green” energy bills will become law.

The Blue Planet Foundation is tracking several measures at its website, including urging followers to send notes of appreciation to legislators who voted for new renewable energy portfolio standards and other legislation.

The failure to pass a ban on future fossil fuel-fired power plants is the major disappointment of the session, and we can expect it to be high on the priority list in 2010. A summer-long series of renewable energy and sustainability happenings will help build support.

UH Manoa as Center Stage

The Sakamaki Extraordinary Lectures series on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus will offer a summer-long opportunity to increase your renewable energy and sustainability knowledge. A sampling:

• May 20 – A screening of The Sky’s the Limit: Energy Opportunities for Hawaii, an award-winning film with “simple, practical, affordable solutions to America’s energy crisis,” followed by a presentation from Kanu Hawaii’s Darren Kimura.

• June 6 – Hawaii Clean Energy Day. An impressive list of participants will focus on the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and its goal of revolutionizing how energy is produced in the state over the next two decades.

• June 17 – Ocean thermal energy conversion could be a major contributor to the Hawaii’s energy mix by 2030. Long-time OTEC advocate Dr. Hans Krock will be the featured speaker – The Poseidon Adventure: A Down-Side-Up Story of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.

• June 24 – Native Hawaiian Perspectives on Renewable Energy Development, a panel moderated by Ramsay Taum that will “discuss policies and actions to ensure a sustainable energy future for Hawaii.”

Additional lectures will round out the series and help prepare the agenda for even more far-reaching legislative action during the next session.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Keeping Tabs: Oil Price Jumps to 6-Month High

It’s nothing to be alarmed about, say the economists. The recent price rise to above $58/barrel has nothing to do with supply and demand and most likely reflects optimism among investors.

That may be reassuring elsewhere but not Hawaii, where the cost of virtually everything depends on the price of oil. Sure, the price is only about 40% of the high mark last July, but it’s 20% more than it was in early April and 54% higher than in late December. No wonder the electric bill is creeping up, month by month.

T. Boone Pickens has a piece at Huffington Post’s Green site today that promotes his natural gas solution to getting off imported oil. That aside, when Pickens takes note of an upswing in “the oil price roller coaster,” we probably ought to pay attention.

Another 25-percent increase in the price from where we are today and we’ll be back to half of last summer’s all-time high. All of which is to say, now that the drama of the legislative session is behind us, it’s time to refocus on renewable energy developments in Hawaii.

So whatever happened to plans to build a pilot ocean thermal energy conversion plant here? It’s been six months since the Governor popped the cork on that one while on a trade trip to Taiwan – and there’s been nothing official about it since.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Legislature’s Final Days Include Votes to Increase Oil Tax, Promote Renewable Energy Development

4:45 pm Update: “HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaii’s per barrel tax on distributors of petroleum is due to rise under legislation that the House and Senate passed Thursday and sent to the governor.

The measure would raise the levy from 5 cents to $1.05 and generate $31 million annually for alternative energy projects and food safety programs. It could cost consumers 2 to 3 cents more per gallon of gasoline.”

The Governor today vetoed other tax hikes passed by the Legislature, but since renewable energy advancement is one of her priorities, there’s no reason to believe she'll veto this one.

The egg we had for breakfast two days ago after wiping it off our face had a bad taste, so we’re treading carefully in assessing the status of energy-related bills in the last days of the Hawaii State Legislature's 2009 session. Over-reliance on government websites can be humbling.

Nevertheless, two bills are up for final passage on the floors of both houses today. HB 1271 increases the per-barrel tax “…on each barrel or fractional part of a barrel of petroleum product sold by a distributor to any retail dealer or end user, other than a refiner, of petroleum product….” The bill splits up the proposed $1 increase into several funds that support energy and agriculture sustainability in the islands.

The bill’s introduction is a good description of Hawaii’s fossil fuel energy dependence problem, beginning with: “Hawaii is at a crossroads. As the most geographically isolated state in the country, we are dangerously dependent on imports for basic food and energy needs.” It’s a sobering reminder of why renewable energy development must happen here.

Getting By on Half a Loaf

HB 1464 was the cause of our aforementioned chagrin. Its original form would have banned construction of future fossil fuel power plants. Had it passed, Hawaii would have gone boldly where none had gone before, sending a clear message to the world that the state is open for green energy business.

But timidity prevailed over courage, and the watered-down version is a shadow of its former self. Still, the renewable energy portfolio standards have been strengthened.

We await today’s floor action in the Legislature and will post on the results – after obtaining triple confirmation. Our taste for egg isn't what it used to be.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Fossil Fuel Plant Ban that Was, then Wasn’t

Some of you may be under the mistaken impression that the Hawaii State Legislature is about to ban construction of new fossil fuel plants in the state. You would be thinking that because you read it here.

My mistake. I took my cue from the online post of the next-to-last draft of HB 1464 that was under discussion by a conference committee as the deadline hour approached Friday night. That draft remained online after the committee’s midnight deadline and through the weekend. Alas, the committee reported out this final version without a ban. (Regrettably, my incorrect May 2 post, which has been deleted, will probably remain online as a cache until the end of time.)

So forget the effusive wording in that earlier post. Here’s a newspaper report on some of the late action on this and other bills, including the Governor’s disappointment over the ban’s demise. We share her view.

Monday, May 4, 2009

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby; Once-Ignored Ocean Technology Is Finding Its Place in the Sun

Advocates of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), which extracts solar energy trapped in the sea for use on land, have to be somewhat surprised by OTEC’s sudden emergence into the mainstream of renewable energy media coverage.

OTEC was being overlooked so consistently that we started this blog to write about it, as noted in post #1. And just two days later we complained that OTEC had been left off a local editorial’s list of renewable technologies that Hawaii needs to lessen oil’s grip on the state.

But that was then. OTEC has gone from completely left out of editorials to being the sole subject of one in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin that was inspired by a New York Times story published last week and reprinted in yesterday’s Bulletin.

This well-deserved attention is important because it makes the average citizen aware of OTEC’s potential, something we’ve always thought is necessary. It’s not enough for scientists and engineers to believe in the technology; voters also have to understand something about OTEC to help elected officials appreciate its importance, too.