Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hawaii PUC OK’s Long-Sought Feed-In Tariff Concept

With a new mechanism in place that encourages development of renewable energy, Hawaii advocates see the dawning of a new era that could propel the state as the leader in the get-off-oil movement.

No state needs it more. Oil fuels the generation of 78 percent of the state’s electricity; coal adds another 10 percent or so. But those figures should decrease dramatically in the years immediately ahead.

As the Public Utility Commission’s ruling states in its 128-page decision, feed-in tariffs will “reduce the state’s fossil fuel dependence and accelerate the acquisition of renewable energy."

At What Cost?

Predictably, the cost of renewable energy – at least in the early years – is likely to exceed the traditional way of generating power through combustion of coal and oil.

PUC Commissioner Les Kondo’s dissenting view cautions against putting too much a burden on ratepayers as green energy expands. Said Kondo: “In my opinion, the amount that ratepayers are asked to bear to support more renewable energy cannot be without limits and should be one of the most important considerations in designing a (feed-in tariff) program that is reasonable, prudent and in the public interest.”

Fair enough. There obviously must be limits. Renewable energy can’t be pursued without regard for the ratepayer. But as we’re prone to say lately, this generation can be on a par with “The Greatest Generation” – our World War II predecessors. Wouldn’t that description be deserving for the generation that relegated fossil fuel to the “back burner,” as it were?

We think so, and we now look forward to the ins and outs of the new feed-in tariff system that will be become the mechanism for overcoming the throat-gripping stranglehold fossil fuel has on the Aloha State.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

We’ll Step Aside and Let Others Lead the OTEC Cheering

Thomas Fuller, for example. He measures progress in fighting global warming by counting up the new patents that have been granted for innovative green-energy processes.

Fuller says 46 ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) patents have been filed in the past five years – 10 this year, which he says is disappointingly low. “I’m a big fan of OTEC…,” he says.

OTEC’s the reason we started this blog in the first place, so we’re obviously among the fans, too. So how about letting loose some big-time Department of Energy funds to kick start an OTEC plant right here in Hawaii?!

OTEC’s the long-tern answer to getting off oil. We know it, they know it – heck, Hawaii's Favorite Son Barack Obama knows it!

So let’s go with more of that OTEC funding. $100 million dropped on one of the major OTEC proponent companies could be enough to actually launch a plant here within just a few years. Lockheed Martin says a pilot plant could be operating by 2013.

There's no reason to wait.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ocean Energy Research Attracts DOE Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced a number of "advanced water power projects,” including three related to ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

Here are the OTEC recipients; we’ll look into the specifics of these projects down the line:

Ocean Engineering and Energy Systems International, Inc (Honolulu, Hawaii) will conduct baseline biological sampling studies of a proposed Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion site in Port Allen, Kauai, Hawaii in order to create a conceptual design of a site-specific warm water intake pipe. DOE share: up to $600,000; Duration: up to one year;

Lockheed Martin Corporation (Manassas, Va.) will develop and describe designs, performance and life-cycle costs for both the nearshore and offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) baseline cost figures. DOE share: up to $500,000; Duration: up to one year;

Lockheed Martin Corporation (Manassas, Va.) will develop a GIS-based dataset and software tool to assess the maximum practicably extractable energy from the global and domestic U.S. ocean thermal resource and identify regions viable for OTEC and Cold Seawater Based Air Conditioning. DOE share: up to $500,000; Duration: up to one year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

OTEC – No Longer an Overlooked Energy Source

This blog was launched 18 months ago next Monday in a mixture of alarm (oil hit $111/barrel that day) and personal frustration that ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) was rarely and barely mentioned as an important potential renewable energy resource for Hawaii.

Our post two days later complained that a Honolulu newspaper’s editorial had left OTEC out of its list of “the Islands’ reservoir of power….”

That’s no longer the case. Oil prices that peaked at $147/barrel in July ’08 had the positive effect of accentuating the importance of developing a range of renewables in helping Hawaii get off oil.

Lockheed Martin says it can have a 10-MW OTEC plant operating off Oahu’s Kahe Point within four years, and Sea Solar Power has a representative in town now making a round of meetings about its intentions to build a plant 10 times larger.

So OTEC’s no longer the forgotten resource – still just a potential baseload power source but apparently closer to realizing that potential than ever before.

Here’s an excerpt from Governor Linda Lingle’s September 4th address to the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce on energy and other issues:

Now, they’re going to be issues with the undersea cable, no question about it. There are going to be environmental issues, there are going to be cultural issues, there are going to be financial issues; but we could say the same thing about the wind project that went up at Kaheawa. There were environmental issues, there were cultural issues, and there were financial issues. You could say the same thing about the wave energy project off the Haiku area. There are environmental issues, cultural issues, and financial issues. In fact, I can’t think of a renewable energy project that someone couldn’t raise an issue and then say, “That’s why I’m against it.”

Nothing as bad as burning oil

Think about it like this: is any one of those alternatives – wind, solar, wave, ocean thermal energy conversion, geothermal, hydropower – is any of them as bad as taking $5-7 billion a year out of the Hawaii economy and giving it to a foreign country or a foreign company to buy oil to ship it across the ocean to burn into the atmosphere?

I take the position that none of those are as bad as burning fossil fuel, sending pollution into the environment, sending our money outside of the state, creating no jobs for the people of Hawaii. Just taking those billions every year – the very thought of it should upset all of us. That depending on the price of oil, every year, we take our own money that we could be using to create jobs here at home for our people and we hand it off to a foreign country or a foreign company.

So when this issue comes up about the undersea cable, or issues about the solar farm, or an ocean energy project, maybe use this context. Instead of seeing that project in isolation, think about it in the bigger framework. Is it as bad as sending our money out of Hawaii to buy oil from foreign countries or foreign companies? And then burn it and send the pollution into the atmosphere? I take the strong position that there is nothing you can point to that is worse than what we are doing with our money, than what we are doing to our environment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Belaboring Clean Energy on Labor’s Weekend

Writing not much and referring a lot – over to Hawaii Public Radio’s
Energy Futures show. Stop in.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

10 MW Pilot OTEC Plant in Hawaii Can Be Built by 2013, Scaled to 100 MW by 2015: Lockheed Martin

Dr. Ted Johnson of Lockheed Martin discusses Hawaii's future OTEC plant.
The Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit & Expo continues tomorrow, but we heard enough today to satisfy our curiosity about Lockheed Martin’s plans for an ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant in Hawaii.

Dr. Ted Johnson, Lockheed’s director of Alternative Energy Development, told a packed Ocean Energy breakout session that a pilot plant could be up and running within four years. It would be 10 megawatts and sit in at least 3,000 feet of water four miles off Kahe Point on Oahu’s western shore.

Kahe is the site of Hawaiian Electric’s largest generating station, so the plant’s intended location makes sense. When asked how long it would take to scale the plant up to 100MW, Johnson said it could be done in only two years if the pilot plant pans out. (The Honolulu Advertiser carried essentially the same information on 9/3.)

Two Big Questions

Johnson seems to suggest that the Department of Defense will be the funding source, although he offered nothing concrete. And if that source isn’t sufficient, Johnson said some kind of a “private-public partnership” could be pursued – again, no details.

The DOD’s huge reliance on fossil fuels might be what it takes for its purse to open with help from Hawaii’s Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Inouye's not shy about his ability to target federal funding, and it's not a stretch to imagine him making it happen.

Beyond funding, Johnson said the cold water pipe is the biggest technological hurdle remaining to be overcome, but he seemed confident that a plastic material perfected by Lockheed Martin’s space program will prove up to the challenge.

Path to Commercialization

When asked about costs to build Lockheed Martin’s plant, Johnson said he likes to put it in terms of cost per kilowatthour to generate OTEC power – in the low 20s of cents, he said. The average electricity rate for all sectors in Hawaii's economy in May 2009 was 18.92 cents/KWH, the highest in the nation.

Lockheed’s projection of having a pilot plant in place and providing valuable operational data within four years seems pretty aggressive. One can imagine a least a year devoted strictly to obtaining regulatory and environmental approvals.

Still, this proposed schedule is encouraging. We’d feel even better if we knew Ted Johnson and Senator Inouye have each other on speed dial.