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.


prh said...

Add to that the lives of Hawaii's service men and women that are lost maintaining our country's dependence on foreign oil. Oil is the primary reason our troops are serving in the Middle East and Africa. Factor in the effects of multiple deployments such as PTSD, suicide, divorce on our service families. It makes the price that we pay for energy status quo all that much steeper.

Doug Carlson said...

Thanks for that poignant assessment, prh. The longer Hawaii continues our slavish dependence on oil, the greater the cost.

Isabelle Malbranche said...

Question on Environmental issue OTEC open system : THIS SYSTEM IS DRAWING LARGE AMOUNT OF DEEP SEE WATER (4°C) and RELEASE this water HEATED UP around 20-24°C on surface water. Difficult to believe this is environment friendly for the marine life, for our ecosystem?... and what about Methane Hydrates which
is totally unstable if ocean temp increase, did they think about this before implementing this system everywhere? Anybody have an environmental study on this? Nice day. Isabelle

Doug Carlson said...

Those are legitimate issues to raise, Isabelle. All will have to be addressed at one time or another before OTEC can approach commercialization.

Isabelle Malbranche said...

Iaorana Doug,
Tks for your post,
The problem I can see in french Polynesia is that apparently these issues are not their concerned,
Otec open system (i don't talk about the closed system which doesn't release heated water) is already commercialized and this is what you can read about the one in Bora Bora (sorry it's in french):
A lire sur :
« Dossier Océan et énergie, Utilisation de l’Eau froide profonde
Système de climatisation de l’Hôtel Intercontinental de Bora Bora
David Wary, Directeur chantier fabrication et immersion – pipeline Bora »


It means they did not do environment impact study concerning the heated relased water and this is the ingeneer himself writing this ;-(!

even if they were informed about the rules :
DWSC projects will typically require that the environmental issues be addressed fully as part of an environmenlal impact statement (EIS). The EIS will include investigation and analysis of the effects of drawing large amounts of cold water from the deep hypolimnion or bathypelagic zone and then returning the water to the shallow epilimnion or epipelagic zone at a higher temperature. Such temperature changes can have UNPREDICTABLE IMPACTS.

I am very worried c'se it looks like this new energy option (and people behind this) have a too big influence on our governments and allow themselves to play again with our mother hearth (in this case our ocean biodiversity)

I would be glad you keep me informed about what's hap.