Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks Be to All the Committed Renewable Energy Advocates

One year ago, we ticked off a few reasons to be thankful about Hawaii’s energy options, and there’s no reason to be less thankful this year, despite the clouds that hang over Copenhagen.

The President will be going there; that’s good. A key Chinese negotiator says China won’t set targets; that’s bad. But on balance, the fact that 192 nations are getting together to hash out issues critically important to the future of the planet is encouraging.

We’re thankful ocean thermal energy conversion continues to gain credibility and funding, and we’re optimistic that by Thanksgiving Day 2010, firm plans to build a pilot OTEC plant will have been announced.

We’re thankful oil prices have been lower this year than last, which means the pressure’s off on electric bills and gas prices – somewhat. The Hawaii public remembers those $140+ price levels, and that has led to quicker acceptance of the concept that Hawaii must get off oil as quickly as possible.

And we’re thankful Hawaii Public Radio gave us a shot to bring energy issues to the Hawaii airwaves each week (and worldwide thanks to on-line streaming). Staying relevant each week keeps us on our toes and involved, and for that we give thanks, too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NOAA Officials’ Visit Hints at Stepped-Up Effort on OTEC Development

Dr. Vega briefs visiting NOAA delegation on OTEC advances in years past.
Hard on the heels of a conference devoted to the technical readiness of a commercial scale Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) system, a team of NOAA officials is in Honolulu for additional fact-finding.

Dr. Luis Vega, director of the National Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Hawaii and a long-time OTEC promoter, hosted today’s informal two-hour conversation among OTEC advocates. The visitors were Kerry Kehoe, Don MacDonald and Whitney Blanchard of NOAA’s Office of Coastal and Resource Management, which will be responsible for issuing licenses and permits for OTEC plants and operations.

Vega’s emailed invitation to UH researchers, state and federal agencies, energy industry consultants and engineers, OTEC promoters and others said the team is here to “gather information required to assess the technological readiness of OTEC for commercial deployment…. They also want to develop information that could be used for laying a foundation for an OTEC development roadmap that could provide guidance for federal, industry and academia investments.”

A certain amount of exasperation was present in the room, since many participants had thought two or three decades ago that they were following such a roadmap. Funds for a 40-megawatt OTEC plant had even been included in the federal budget in the early 1980s until President Reagan killed the program. Participants made it clear they believe financing, not technology, is still the impediment to commercialization and even the initial demonstration plant.

A Serious Effort

Kehoe said in opening remarks that NOAA believes the serious efforts underway by industry to bring OTEC to commercialization deserve a serious response by NOAA. Noting that the U.S. Navy is moving ahead aggressively with OTEC, he said “the last thing NOAA wants is to be behind everybody else.”

He said a regulatory gap exists for OTEC and that a “demonstration plant” isn’t even defined in existing regulations. NOAA would have a predicament if an OTEC demonstration plant applied for licensing. Kehoe said as many as 10 federal agencies have a role in authorizing the first OTEC demonstration plant.

“When people in these agencies hear about this technology, they tend to be shell-shocked,” Kehoe said, explaining that OTEC issues are arriving on desks that already are piled high with other work. “OTEC is on a scale so much larger than anything we’ve dealt with before,” he said. Others noted that a large OTEC plant will require the vertical movement of huge rivers of water – a realization that contributes to the shock.

A Coast Guard representative said public buy-in will be critical to achieving OTEC commercialization. He said “the public relations people have a job cut out for them” because of the anticipated high cost of OTEC commercialization and public perceptions of potential environmental impact. But others said they believe Hawaii residents have a good understanding about the need to reduce the state’s debilitating dependence on oil for 90 percent of its energy.

Some participants said so much data has been accumulated about potential OTEC plant sites in Hawaiian waters that writing an acceptable environmental Impact statement isn’t as daunting as it might appear. A pilot plant could be built using that wealth of information, they said, and future commercial plants would use lessons learned from that first small starter plant.

Expanding the Brain Power

Kehoe said the recent meeting at the University of New Hampshire (linked above) on the readiness of commercial scale development concluded that “no existing paradigm to fund OTEC will work.” He said the same amount of brainpower is required in the room to work on the financial side as exists on the technical side.

Kehoe also suggested that initial OTEC plants won’t be built with federal funding because of the high risk, but others noted that the federal government had funded the country’s first nuclear power plant, and the same may be needed to launch the OTEC technology. It wouldn’t be unreasonable, they said, for the federal government to fund the 10-MW demonstration plant.

The NOAA team’s meetings in Hawaii “have brought home how much our learning curve has to be based on what’s happening here in Hawaii,” Kehoe said, adding that he believes Hawaii will be the site for the first OTEC demonstration plant. That first plant therefore will be tailored to the issues that will emerge regarding OTEC here.

Kehoe concluded the session with an assessment that pleased the local audience: “If I were a Las Vegas odds maker, I’d say the odds are better than 50 percent that the first OTEC pilot plant will be built in Hawaii – and the first commercial plant, too.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Still Have Doubts about Global Warming? Schneider Interview Can Help

Call it expediency or cross-promotion, our post today is a time-saver. We’re concluding our travel this weekend and will resume diligent monitoring of Hawaii’s Energy Options in a few days.

Until then, you’re invited to listen to an hour-long interview Monday afternoon (5 pm HST, 10 EST) with Dr. Stephen Schneider (above), who will be in Copenhagen next month for the climate conference that is looking more and more problematic.

Schneider’s interview is described over at our sister blog -- Energy Futures on HPR. Hawaii Public Radio has more than enough capacity to handle requests for Internet streaming of our program. (Post-program note: The show has been archived on the Internet.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's the OTEC HOUR today on Hawaii Public Radio

Rather than repeat what we've already posted over at our sister blog, Energy Futures on HPR, we'll simply link to that site and invite you first to read about today's program on Hawaii Public Radio and then listen via online streaming for a full hour of conversation on ocean thermal energy conversion technology.

Happy Anniversary, Berlin!

Post-Show Update

You weren't in Hawaii to hear the program or didn't catch the live streaming? You can listen to the archived OTEC show on Energy Futures at HPR's website.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catching Up with the News on Kahuku’s Future Wind Farms

It’s always nice to be several weeks ahead of the “mainstream media” on renewable energy developments in Hawaii, as we were regarding plans for wind farms at Kahuku, Oahu as described in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin today.

Hawaii Public Radio’s “Energy Futures” show interviewed Keith Avery of West Wind Works and Noelani Kalipi of First Wind as our guests on the September 21 show, which you can access via HPR’s archives.

You’ll hear more from the HPR site than you’ll read in today’s paper about their companies’ plans by clicking on this link to the archived show, but the Star-Bulletin does have the advantage of showing graphics of the wind farms’ locations and what the turbines might look like in the hills as seen from Kahuku.

That’s something we still trying to work out over on the radio side.