Tuesday, December 28, 2010

‘Will 2011 Be the Year OTEC Makes it Big?’ Also, Hawaii's PUC Gives OK for 20-MW Solar Energy Plant

The headline’s question comes from a Renewable Energy World.com piece on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and the potential for OTEC to finally take off next year.

Yeah, we know – the same thing has been asked at the end of just about every year in the past decade, or more. But it’s still a good question to ask now.

As the Todd Griset piece notes, the U.S. Navy has been parsing out grants to Lockheed Martin Corp. to design and commercialize a 10-MW plant here off the coast of Oahu. Lockheed in turn is working with other firms, including Makai Ocean Engineering of Honolulu, to work out the design of the massive pipes an OTEC plant would use.

We’ll join Mr. Griset in predicting big things for OTEC next year, and with some predicting a rise in the price of oil to $150/barrel by next summer, OTEC is sure to attract more attention than ever as a way to meet our long-term energy requirements.

20 Megs for Mililani

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has given a green light to developer Castle & Cooke’s plans for as 20-MW solar plant in central Oahu.

That’s an unusual move, since it involves a waiver from the usual requirement that competitive bids be entertained for projects exceeding 5 megawatts. The PUC’s approval stipulates that the solar farm be developed by competing and totally independent corporate entities.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looks Like This One Goes into the ‘Trust Us’ File: Consumers Can’t Know Details of New Oil Contract

Trusting others is what we’ll have to do, since a new Tesoro-Hawaiian Electric contract awaiting approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission isn’t available for public inspection.

The case involves Tesoro’s contract to sell low-sulfur fuel oil to Hawaiian Electric Company. According to this morning’s Star-Advertiser, Tesoro is losing money on that contract and wants the PUC to approve a contract revision. From the newspaper:

“Under the current contract, Tesoro is locked into selling fuel oil to HECO at a loss, causing a financial hardship for the company, a Tesoro spokesman said. Both HECO and the state consumer advocate have agreed to the proposed "price structure revision," the details of which were not made public for competitive reasons. The Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final ruling on the proposal this month.”

What’s In It for Us?

The State Consumer Advocate presumably is protecting consumers’ interests, but we can’t know that for sure because of “competitive reasons.” That’s asking a lot of consumers – to trust everyone working behind closed doors to act in our best interests.

Since most reasonable questions must remain unanswered, we’re left to speculate about the unknown. Here’s one:

How much will electric rates be increased to help out Tesoro?

The state is attempting to transform itself into a green energy economy by increasing our reliance of renewable resources. Getting off oil is Hawaii priority number one, but as HECO burns less oil to satisfy Oahu’s power requirements, Tesoro will sell less to the utility.

Fewer sales translate to a weaker financial picture in most businesses, so can we expect more contract revisions to charge more for the reduced amount of fuel oil Tesoro unloads on HECO down the road?

The utility passes along fuel costs in the electric bill’s fuel adjustment clause, so any increased fuel oil costs will be paid by consumers – the only ones in this scenario who don’t know what’s going on.

That is indeed a lot to ask of consumers for the sake of Tesoro’s profits – to be happy with higher electric bills while being kept in the dark about one of their biggest monthly expenses.

Friday, December 17, 2010

OTEC Progress Measured at a (Steady) Snail’s Pace

Night falls on Energy Island's vision of an OTEC plant. Check out an animation of a day/night cycle at this futuristic facility.
Once again we plead guilty for spending almost all our online blog time at Yes2Rail, where the latest news is the acceptance of the Honolulu rail project’s final environmental impact statement by the state’s chief executive.

An EIS for Hawaii’s first commercial-scale ocean thermal energy conversion plant is, alas, nowhere to be seen, but as they say, sometimes it’s smart to save the best for last.

OTEC made news in Hawaii today with a Hawaii Public Radio piece on where OTEC research stands in the islands. Reporter Ben Markus has several sound bites from companies and individuals involved in the Navy-sponsored OTEC research here.

For a much more exhaustive discussion on OTEC and its potential to meet the planet’s energy needs AND reverse warming of the oceans due to climate change, read the long piece by “Paul from Potomac” at OpEd News. It begins:

“Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is by far the most balanced means to face the challenge of global warming. It is also the one that requires the greatest investment to meet its potential. It is a most intriguing answer that can save us from Armageddon.”

How’s that for a lead-in? It warms the cockles of this OTEC lover’s heart as we approach the Winter Solstice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

‘This Close’ To Being on NPR’s Science Friday Program

Getting on a national call-in show is problematic, since the audience could be in the millions. But we had our chance during last Friday's Science Friday program produced by National Public Radio.

One of the guests was Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (at right). Host Ira Flatow’s website said the show would “talk about efforts to increase efficiency and move to greener energy sources within the armed forces.”

What an opportunity to talk ocean thermal energy conversion – and with the SecNav no less! The Navy has invested in OTEC development, and if nothing else, we could thank the Secretary and urge even more Navy support for this game-changing energy technology.

So we called the show’s number and were surprised to hear not a busy signal but a ring, and even more surprised when the call was answered. The person on the other end asked for name, location and what we wanted to discuss. “Turn off your radio and wait until you hear Ira say, 'Doug in Honolulu,’ and you’ll be on the air.”

This really was going to happen! And so began our wait to talk OTEC with a policy maker at the top level of the Navy's chain of command. We’d open with a brief description of Hawaii as the state more vulnerable than any other to oil supply disruptions and price increases. We would tell the audience that Hawaii's average price of retail electricity is about three times the national average, a condition that affects the Navy and all military branches.

Then we’d get into OTEC and thank the Secretary for the Navy’s support of Lockheed Martin’s efforts and engage him and host Flatow in a discussion on OTEC’s vast potential.

So we waited…and waited…and waited some more, and after nearly 25 minutes, we could tell Flatow was starting to wrap up the show. Sure enough, he uttered the dreaded words, “We’ve run out of time” without taking a single call. Oh, man….

You hardly ever come this close to talking with someone this senior about anything, let alone something as important to Hawaii, nation and world as OTEC.

But those are the breaks. We’ll have to have a more compelling description of what we want to talk about for the telephone answerer the next time we get “this close.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rooftops to OTEC, Hawaii Energy Is Moving

Lockheed Martin's rendition of an OTEC plant.
A friend was talking about the apparent tendency for everything to be going by faster and faster these days – a condition one author once called “The Quickening.” From where we sit, nothing seems to be happening faster than renewable energy developments in Hawaii.

It’s happening from small rooftop solar projects to the islands’ first ocean thermal energy conversion plant. Well, the latter is still in the far-off-but-getting-closer stage, but today’s news from Lockheed Martin is encouraging all the same.

The company announced that the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command has awarded Lockheed Martin $4.4 million more to advance the design for an OTEC plant off Oahu’s Kahe Point. That amount has been added to the $8.1 million contract issued last year.

Just a few days ago Hawaiian Electric Company announced that it is taking applications under its feed-in tariff program – a way for independent power producers to sell HECO energy using pre-established rates and standardized contract terms.

Conservation, Too

Thanksgiving Week is not too soon to start reminding power consumers to do their part in conserving electricity during the holiday season. Hawaii Energy, which administers the state’s Conservation and Efficiency Program, put up a couple press releases today. “Look for the ENERGY STAR label” is a message you’ll be hearing a lot in the weeks to come.

All of which goes to show that if you take a few days off to attend to matters other than energy, you’ll be playing catch-up soon enough.

Monday, November 15, 2010

OTEC and Rail – Oahu’s Future Winning Pair

This will be the shortest post ever at this blog. Please read the most recent post at sister blog Yes2Rail for a glimpse of how ocean power will be energizing transportation on Oahu within decades.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

EU Moves Aggressively To Develop Green Tech

Carbon capture projects will also be funded.
“Old Europe” or not, the European Union has come up with a fresh approach to developing technologies that could produce commercial-scale renewable energy projects, including ocean thermal energy conversion.

The EU setting aside billions of euros to fund 50 percent of the construction and operation costs of dozens of projects, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s publication.

We’ve always thought it would take that kind of governmental subsidy to get OTEC up and running, and now European nations are moving to make it happen. According to an industry insider who helps keep this blog informed, “…the program also would fund OTEC in the territories of the UK, France, or the Netherlands. This would apply to Diego Garcia, Reunion, French Polynesia, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, etc.”

Hello? Are you paying attention, America?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hillary Clinton Does the Unexpected: Endorses OTEC

Now, that’s my kind of Secretary of State – one who actually speaks the words “ocean thermal energy conversion” as she discusses renewable energy opportunities in the Pacific.

Secretary Clinton stopped off in American Samoa today and pledged Obama Administration support for the islands, but she might as well have been talking about Hawaii as she described the territory’s near-total dependence on oil.

“This is a particular opportunity for investment in clean and renewable energy sources including wind, solar, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion power,” she said. “I know that the islands currently import 100 percent of your energy requirements mainly petroleum. These high energy costs born by a small population make renewable energy a very attractive option.”

America’s top diplomat talking up OTEC – it’s almost beyond imagination, especially since this blog was started to help end the silence on OTEC and elbow it into the public’s consciousness.

As we noted in one of our first posts, editorial writers were forever ticking off renewable technologies but not including OTEC in the mix. This one in the Honolulu Advertiser on March 16, 2008 was typical.

And now the United States Secretary of State proclaims OTEC’s value along with wind, solar and wave energy. My word……

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Geothermal Energy Gains the Spotlight Amid New Assessments on the Views of Key Communities

Power from Mother Earth has been quietly contributing to the island of Hawaii’s energy requirements for decades, and now geothermal energy is producing eye-catching headlines that seem to presage either new developments in the industry or new public attitudes about its acceptance, or both.

Pacific Business News’ contribution in its October 11th issue was headlined “Geothermal energy holds vast potential to power Big Island.” Hawaii Business magazine’s piece in the November issue, “Geothermal’s Second Chance,” focuses a great deal on the concerns expressed by the Native Hawaiian community and others over the years.

A quick read of the magazine’s piece leaves us wondering whether attitudes truly have changed about geothermal’s impact on the community or whether there’s a new “what’s in it for me?” vein running through all of this.

It's understandable that various communities would have something to gain by allowing geothermal to expand. The state as a community has much to gain by reducing our collective dependence on fossil fuels, and geothermal power potentially could make a huge contribution.

It’s just that there may be reason for a go-slow acceptance of this implied new well-spring of support for geothermal among key constituencies, such as the Native Hawaiian community.

A Little Perspective

We wish we had been akamai enough to know how to preserve the weekly Energy Futures programs on Hawaii Public Radio that we produced and hosted from July 2009 to this February. (The show's no longer on the air.) We got smart enough to save just one – with a Nobel Laureate at that, the late Dr. Stephen Schneider. The program originally aired in August 2009 and was rebroadcast in November.

Had we known how to preserve those programs we'd invite you to listen to the July 27, 2009 edition of Energy Futures that was devoted to Native Hawaiian perspectives on renewable energy. Our guests that day were Dr. Daviana McGregor (at right) and Ramsay Taum of the University of Hawaii.

That said, we have the next best thing to offer – a transcription of Dr. McGregor’s comments a few weeks earlier at a similar discussion sponsored by the Sakamaki Extraordinary Lecture series at UH.

We recommend spending some time with Dr. McGregor’s views before assuming, based on the recent journalism, that the coast is clear to expand geothermal energy’s contributions to the state’s energy grid. We doubt that it's as clear-cut as some would have you believe.

We bring this up only because it’s critical to have a clear-eyed assessment of the challenges and opportunities before Hawaii as we do everything we can, including expanding geothermal energy, to Get Off Oil!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

OTEC Touted as Technology to Combat Sea Level Rise

We’re quoting liberally today from comments by inventor Jim Baird to an Energy Collective piece on global warming and sea level rise by David Hone, a “senior climate change advisor” for Shell International Petroleum Company.

Baird’s comments take a surprising turn on Hone’s piece (and one Hone probably couldn’t have anticipated) by praising ocean thermal energy conversion’s (OTEC) potential to both power the planet and be a remedy for sea level rise.

Some Googling suggests Baird is an inventor of something called the Global Warming Mitigation Method, and OTEC has a role. Here are some of his comments to Hone’s piece:

“Not only does OTEC remedy the problem of thermal expansion, it is also the remedy to our dying oceans.”

“OTEC consumes heat already in the system rathern than generating more heat to produce energy that inevitably leads to additional warming, most of which is accumulating in our oceans.”

“OTEC has the prospect of becoming the largest global source of renewable energy while mitigating global warming.”

“If OTEC isn’t the climate’s Silver Bullet, it is certainly the next best thing.”

That’s the kind of enthusiasm and full-on support we like to see for OTEC, which is what we’ve also tried to generation from this blog’s first post. Thank you, Jim Baird, for making a strong case for ocean thermal energy conversion.

It’s a case Hawaii residents and government officials need to embrace in total to simultaneously end our debilitating dependence on imported oil and provide an inexhaustible supply of energy to power our state.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Visitor Examines Hawaii’s, Military’s Energy Issues

It’s always good to read a visitor’s views on how the most oil-dependent state in the country is planning for a clean-energy future. That perspective comes today from Kevin Bullis, energy editor of MIT’s Technology Review who is on a fellowship from Honolulu’s East-West Center.

Bullis focuses much of today’s post (first in a series) on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a subject for which we never tire here at Hawaii Energy Options.

Bullis makes two especially noteworthy points: First, by investing in potential base-load energy sources (including OTEC), “the military may be performing a very useful service for clean energy,” and two, “electricity consumers won’t pay much more (than they’re already paying), if any, for clean energy.”

We’ve always assumed OTEC won’t take off without significant investment by the military based on the nation's strategic importance of getting off oil and onto an accessible, affordable source of renewable energy. OTEC’s our favorite candidate.

And Bullis reminds us that whatever schemes government and industry work up to expand Hawaii’s renewable energy sector, those projects can’t be ridiculously expensive. The plan to link windfarms planned for Molokai and Lanai with Oahu via an undersea cable comes to mind when we start talking about hugely expensive energy initiatives.

Lining Up the Projects

Such a project seems technically achievable, since undersea cable and wind turbine technologies are maturing, but we’ve always wondered whether sinking more than a billion dollars into a three-island electric grid might actually preclude OTEC from achieving its potential here.

We consumers ultimately will pay for these projects in our electricity rates. It might just be a good idea to give the military, Lockheed Martin and their partners a chance to see what they can do in the next few years in making OTEC more than a drawing board pipedream.

Go too fast with the neighbor island wind and cable projects and OTEC might be roadblocked simply because it would be last in line. As Bullis points out, we consumers can stand only so much rate shock.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rail Has Pro-Energy, Pro-Environment Place in Hawaii

We don’t often “cross-post” to our Yes2Rail blog, but today we do because of the theme it shares with Hawaii Energy Options – GOO, or Getting Off Oil.

We’re somewhat surprised that a few high-profile environmentalists here are reluctant to come out strongly for Honolulu rail. They avoid full-out support by citing rail's alleged visual impact along its 20-mile route.

What I’d ask them given the opportunity is their reaction to the 25 or so high-rises planned in Honolulu’s Kakaako district, the last relatively low-rise urban space that a generation ago was dubbed Honolulu’s “Sleeping Giant” by a visiting delegation of architects (I wrote the story for the Honolulu Advertiser).

Kakaako is sleeping no more, and those new buildings will effectively wall off the ocean for a big chuck of the city’s mauka neighborhoods. But the 30-foot-high rail structure won’t be visible once you’re a block away, not only in Kakaako but along most of the route.

Without question, rail will reduce transportation energy requirements and air pollution, so we encourage your visits to Yes2Rail – today and every day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hawaii Will Try Feed-In Tariff Program for Clean Energy

Did the earth move for you, too? It must have for a lot of us, the way this week’s Public Utilities Commission “feed-in tariff” (FIT) ruling was anticipated. The new, improved and simplified way to pay for individual small-power producers’ sales to the electric utilities is touted as the beginning of a bright new day for renewable energy. The PUC's order has all the details.

According to PUC Chairman Carlito Caliboso, “The predictability and certainty that FITs provide to renewable energy developers should (encourage) future renewable projects and ultimately advance the state’s efforts to wean itself off of imported fossil fuel.”

Yes, that indeed is the goal – eliminating imported coal and oil to burn and generate electricity for the islands. Those imports now account for 90 percent of the electricity generated here.

Getting Serious about the Goal

Let’s keep the conversation going on this primary goal that individuals, corporations and governments all must acknowledge and embrace.

There’s been enough hot-air talk over the years about achieving this goal to produce a thousand megawatts of wind power, but do we all really believe that it must happen?

What will it take for all of us to get serious about this goal – wholesale oil prices near $150/barrel again, with retail costs even higher? That’s no way to live – reacting to circumstances beyond our control.

I think the only way to change our way of life in this regard is through education – more intense, more widespread and more comprehensive than anything we’ve seen so far. Who will the T. Boone Pickens of Hawaii be who, instead of building wind turbines, will throw money behind an educational effort that’s unprecedented in the state, and perhaps the nation?

It’s going to take more than replacing a few incandescent light bulbs in our homes and feeling good about it. With our extreme dependence on imported oil, Hawaii residents are among the most at-risk people in the world! Do more than 10 percent of us truly believe that in our guts? I doubt it, and we haven’t even touched on climate change, ocean level rise and all the rest.

This is serious stuff. It’s encouraging there’s a new FIT program, but to truly be “fit,” Hawaii must go on a crash green-energy diet and embrace the concept of GOO -- Get Off Oil -- and stay on that diet, forever!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just What Exactly Is Hawaii’s Top Energy Goal – Cutting Energy Consumption or Eliminating Fossil Fuels?

Two energy-related stories in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin today got me thinking.

“Energy reform a top goal” is the headline above the gubernatorial campaign story. The piece mentions the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) and its goals to increase renewable energy dependence and energy efficiency. The two major candidates have strikingly different approaches to energy issues, so voters with concerns in this area might well give it a read.

The other story by the Associated Press (linked from another website) relates Japan’s efforts to create “smart cities” that are energy-efficient. Billions are being spent to create smart grids with a goal, the story says, “…to drastically cut carbon emissions, which many scientists believe cause global warming – ideally to zero.”

That’s when I had my flashback to the 1980s and my years at Hawaiian Electric Co. One of the “truths” we rolled out on occasion said electricity sales and economic prosperity were linked in a nice relationship. Graphs depicting the nation’s economic prosperity and growth over the decades also showed upward trends in electricity sales.

Technological change and energy efficiency improvements may have moderated that relationship, but the underlying “truth” for HECO employees, at least, was that their company’s product was doing good for Hawaii.

GOO -- "Getting Off Oil"

Something else we talked a lot about in the ‘80s was renewable energy and the importance for the state to reduce its oil imports. Decades later, that’s still a hot topic here, and much of the energy conversation focuses on HCEI and its goals.

I’m beginning to wonder whether HCEI’s two major goals – replacing carbon fuel use with renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency – is one goal too many. Wouldn’t we better off focusing on just one goal that’s measurable, the reduction of imported oil and coal? That’s Hawaii’s Big Enchilada, after all.

There’s not enough space or time today to get into this deeply (the Giants-Braves playoff game will start soon), but one can imagine scenarios in which increased electricity use in the islands would be a good thing. The electrification of the car industry is one of them.

Imagine a future in which every vehicle runs on something other than gasoline. Bio-diesel fuel may power many of them, but it’s reasonable now to conclude electricity would power many more.

GOO and More Energy Use?

Electricity use presumably would increase significantly to meet the electric car and truck demand, and on its face, that wouldn’t seem to support HCEI’s conservation goals.

Our imagined future also includes the vast growth of Hawaii’s renewable energy industry, and the electricity for the green-vehicle fleet would come from wind, solar, refuse, ocean and perhaps other power sources. This scenario suggests economic development that both supports and resists HCEI’s goals.

Let’s also imagine that Hawaii truly does achieve the decades-old dream of being a center for intellectual property development, software development and other clean industries. Electricity consumption presumably would grow to power those industries, too, but according to HCEI, that would be a bad thing.

Simplifying the Goal

Getting Off Oil is the one goal that virtually everybody believes is pure and good for both the economy and the environment. Growing Hawaii’s renewable energy industry across the board would support it, but the other goal of reducing energy consumption is a lot murkier.

It relies on an imagined energy demand in 2030 that the islands would reach if we continue “business as usual” without conservation efforts, then applies a 30-percent reduction to that imagined demand. I’ll admit that I’ve always thought it’s a dicey concept – measuring the reduced demand for electricity decades from now.

What is readily measurable now and in the future are oil and coal imports. Increasing renewable energy’s contribution to the economy could significantly reduce fossil fuel imports if green energy remained a top priority at the local, state and national level.

Heaven knows we’ve written enough here about the potential of ocean thermal energy conversion to meet a huge percentage of the islands’ electricity requirements. The contribution of other green technologies similarly would reduce fossil fuel imports.

It would be a tremendous achievement if those imports were cut significantly by 2030 and eliminated altogether by 2050, even if energy consumption were to increase according to the electric industry’s old “truth.”

That’s how I see it on this Sunday morning, with the playoff game about to begin. More later. (BTW, this blog has no power over the advertising below and adjacent to our posts, so political ads shouldn't be inferred as our endorsement.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kauai Eyes 3-MW Solar Farm with Batteries

Is it just me, or is everything moving faster these days? It’s been an month since the previous post here. I had a good excuse, and the good news is that my wife’s leg has mended nicely over the weeks – and out of necessity, I’ve been perfecting my smoothy!

The big news in Hawaii renewable energy circles today is the 3-megawatt solar farm planned for the island of Kauai. Today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser has the story.

It’s good to see developments like this on Kauai, which is served by the state’s only utility that isn’t a Hawaiian Electric Company subsidiary. The other islands enjoy most of the renewable energy publicity, which is understandable.

OTEC’s Still Out There

Jay Fidell of ThinkTech Hawaii has been doing a better job than this website recently in staying in touch with energy developments in the Aloha State. Jay’s column last Sunday noted that ocean thermal energy conversion is still on “simmer” thanks to Lockheed Martin’s decades-long slow crawl toward a viable project in Hawaii.

It’s somewhat amusing that a website called Creative Loafing had a post last week on OTEC, an “introductory” for newcomers to the concept. We’re still high on OTEC, but “loafing” pretty much describes the rate with which OTEC has been progressing over the years.

A senior state official shared a tad of OTEC optimism at Hawaiian Electric’s Energy Expo last week, noting that the U.S. Navy will enhance OTEC’s prospects here by buying the first plant’s power output. We’ve always thought OTEC would live or die on whether the Navy devotes a significant chunk of its budget money to advance the technology, and maybe that’ll eventually be the case. Don’t count it out as long as Dan Inouye remains chairman of the United States Senate's Appropriations Committee.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Broken Leg Imposes Break from Energy Blog

It’s been nearly a month and half a world away from our most recent post here at Hawaii Energy Options. My wife’s broken leg (in three places, prompting three operations) in France has focused attention on only the most important things in life, and try as I might, I can’t put ocean thermal energy conversion in that category.

But it’s impossible to ignore all OTEC-related news, so here’s a recent mention of the partnership between Makai Ocean Engineering and Lockheed Martin on the ongoing Hawaii project. The two have been affiliated for some time already, so it’s not clear whether this is new news.

Back to recuperation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Nukes in Hawaii – Period! Build OTEC Now!

A mayoral candidate in Honolulu has proposed building nuclear power plants on islands floating 15-20 miles offshore beyond the horizon. Let’s hope he’s just sunk his campaign.

If we’re going to build power islands and pour billions into the effort, there’s more than enough evidence that ocean thermal energy conversion is the technology to get the job done and not create massive environmental problems along the way. Our first post here in March 2008 attempted to generate greater awareness in OTEC, which appeared to be off the media's and public's radar.

The environmental community already is weighing in on this preposterous idea. Maybe the only good thing to spring from it will be greater community awareness and a government-backed drive to make OTEC a reality in this decade.

Just to be clear: No Nukes in Hawaii – Period! Build OTEC Now!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Refocusing this Blog Where It Belongs -- on OTEC

Waters west of Hawaii show OTEC's promise.
We write about electric cars and wind energy and undersea cables and geothermal and all the rest, but every now and then we have to come back to the center, and for this blog, the center is ocean thermal energy conversion.

Have you noticed the articles published all over the world that “introduce” readers and audiences to OTEC? It’s as if their authors are saying, “Listen up, people. Here’s a technology you really need to know about!”

That’s the feeling we got from a new piece at Gizmag.com, which declares “Hawaii ideal for ocean-based renewable energy plants

Yes, indeed, and we’re happy to see the number of advocates is growing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

HECO Electric Car Rate Could Be Just the Beginning; Lower Rate Would Be Good, but What About FOFOP?

Not to be curmudgeonly about Hawaiian Electric’s proposed lower rate for electricity used to charge electric cars in the overnight hours, wouldn’t the utility do well to offer the lower overnight rate to all customers?

HECO’s stated goal is “to make Hawaii EV-ready as new, highway-capable EVs are expected to hit the market in the coming year.” That’s well and good, but there’s presumably another goal (not mentioned in this story) in increasing demand in the late-night, early-morning hours.

Renewable energy projects like wind farms often have no market for their electricity when the load drops at night. Higher demand in the overnight hours provides that market and displaces to some extent oil-fired generation at the utility’s power plants.

Giving all customers a lower rate at night presumably would push off some of the demand from the peak hours between 5 pm and 9 pm and lessen the requirement for HECO to fire up its higher-cost peaking units.

The Equity Factor

We wonder also how important the lower electric rate will be in influencing potential customers to buy an electric car. They’re the ones with either the cash and/or a good credit rating to make the purchase, so they’re primed to begin with.

Other factors such as environmentalism, sustainability awareness and FOFOP – fear of future oil prices – could be at least as important as lower electricity rates in motivating someone to buy an EV.

As announced, the lower rates will apply to a tiny segment of the population – a total of 1600 customers in the three counties HECO serves. Left out of the plan is the great majority without the buying power or inclination to participate in the coming EV craze. Without knowing the details of this new rate plan and how it would fit in with other plans, we have to presume that other categories won’t be increased over time to offset the lower EV rate.

Let’s hope the Public Utilities Commission recognizes the good intent of the lower EV-charging rate but expands the concept to a bigger good thing. Lowering the rates for all customers in the overnight hours would encourage expansion of wind and other clean-energy sales to the utility and benefit everyone – not just those who can afford the cash outlay for a new electric car.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Catching Up with OTEC – News from Elsewhere

Afternoon Update: Dr. Stephen Schneider, the noted climate scientist and co-Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (with Vice President Al Gore and other members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), died today in Europe. He twice was a guest on Hawaii Public Radio's "Energy Futures" program last year; we interviewed him on al variety of topics, including global warming's implications for Hawaii. The interview has been archived on the Internet.
* * * * * * * * * *
We hope the day will come when media stories about ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) – many many stories – will be datelined Honolulu. For now, we have to be content with news from around the world.

Like this one out of Tamil Nadu state in India. A new renewable energy park there will feature a number of green technologies, including OTEC.

Or this one and its companion piece that mention OTEC’s potential to generate ammonia and hydrogen for transportation fuel purposes, as well as generate clean electrical energy.

OTEC news related to Hawaii is on holiday, it seems. We’re pretty sure the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin and the State Energy Office are all quietly at work on their parts of the puzzle.

For now, we’re content to let places like North Carolina keep the OTEC vision front and center, even though the players in the nation’s acknowledged favorite OTEC location – Hawaii – are content to keep it quiet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Oahu’s First Wind Farm in 25 Years Breaks Ground

It’s been a wait of 9,253 days since ground was last broken for a wind farm on Oahu (Hawaiian Electric Renewable System’s Kahuku project – February 4, 1985), but Kahuku Wind Power LLC ended that wait today. The company has commenced building its 30-megawatt project in the hills above Kahuku on Oahu’s North Shore.

It’s somewhat ironic that the state’s most populous island has had to wait until 2010 to participate in the wind technology revolution. The Big Island and Maui have been on that path for years. It hasn’t been for a lack of trying; Hawaiian Electric’s plans for a plant in the Waianae mountains were done in by local opposition to the visual impacts.

The Kahuku region has a tradition of accepting what others reject. HECO called the area the “wind energy capital of the world” (maybe just a tad aggressively) after the HERS project and the world’s largest turbine, the Boeing MOD-5B, were in place in the Kahuku hills.

That description was shelved after every one of those turbines was dismantled due to machinery failure over the next few years, but Kahuku’s back – at least as wind energy capital of Oahu.

And that’s a good thing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kauai Publishes Its Energy Sustainability Plan

No two ways about it: We’ve been lax in staying abreast of energy developments in the Aloha State, but the guilt is too great. Here’s something that’s already a couple weeks old but worth mentioning before it’s truly ancient:

The County of Kauai has completed its Energy Sustainability Plan, and it’s now available online. The Plan seems pretty aggressive in some areas, including an increase in the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative franchise taxes by 30 percent.

It appears on the surface at least that the revenues would be devoted to supporting energy efficiency initiatives. That would contrast with the new$1.05 tax on each barrel of oil imported to the state; most of those revenues are going into the state’s general fund.

We’ll be watching developments on Kauai and the community’s efforts to build sustainability in the energy sector.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More ‘Big Wind’ Developments, plus Solar and OTEC

Following up on our caution last week about counting Molokai’s wind farm eggs too early, now comes word in the Molokai Dispatch of a temporary setback to locating the 200 megawatts of wind capacity on the island.

Deep in the story is this observation by the reporter: “A quick drive around the island reveals numerous hand-painted signs speaking out against wind development.” Similar postings signaled community opposition to a Laau Point luxury home development, which was never built.

We can’t know at this early date the extent of community opposition to wind. We’re just saying it could be significant, so be ready.

Moving On….

Renewable energy meetings are happening in Honolulu this weekend, beginning with NOAA’s public information session on its rulemaking and regulation intentions for ocean thermal energy conversion this afternoon at the East-West Center.

And beginning Sunday, 18,000 attendees are expected at the IEEE photovoltaic Specialists Conference in the Hawaii Convention Center. The first Eastern Pacific tropical disturbances of the season will still be too far distant if they head this way, so sunny days are expected all next week. Let’s hope the forecast for sun power policy is the same.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hawaii Energy Pieces Seem To Be Coming Together, but Let’s Forget All That Talk about ‘Cheap’ Wind Power

You can hardly pick up a newspaper (the only one we have, now that the Advertiser is gone) without reading positive economic news for Hawaii, and the same can almost be said about green energy initiatives here.

Yesterday’s significant news was the awarding of a contract to a Los-Angeles company to study the route and conduct impact studies of a future undersea cable linking the islands of Oahu, Molokai and Lanai. The idea is to provide an energy export channel – the cable – from two future 200-megawatt windfarms, one each on Lanai and Molokai, to Oahu’s population and commercial base.

It’s far from a sure thing. Despite optimism about the cable and wind projects, numerous issues remain to be carefully assessed. Local opposition to truly massive wind energy projects could be significant on Lanai, which has become a get-away-from-it-all destination for wealthy mainlanders. A venture fund founder with a home on Lanai was quoted last year as saying, “I am not going to live on an island that’s the biggest wind farm in the Pacific.” Long-time local residents are no less resistant.

Molokai residents are known for their determined opposition to anything that would transform the nature of their island. They’ve successfully blocked port calls by cruise ships and high-end home development projects, placing environmental and cultural protection ahead of potential economic benefits.

Too Cheap for Meters?

The impacts study itself will cost $2.9 million in federal stimulus funds, and the cable’s cost is estimated today at $1 billion, which will be covered over time by Oahu’s electric customers. Big Wind is seen as a key element in Hawaii’s effort to replace fossil fuel for electrical generation (currently around 78%) with renewable energy, and there’s considerable enthusiasm for Big Wind.

An Associated Press story paraphrased a state official as saying customers will benefit in the long run from “cheap wind power instead of relying on potentially expensive oil.” But let’s just get used to not calling Big Wind “cheap” power. That’s the kind of talk used by nuclear energy proponents in the 1950s. Nuke power would be so cheap, they said, as to eliminate the need for electric meters. Compared to what future power prices could rise to if Hawaii continued its dependence on imported oil, wind power presumably would be less expensive, but it won’t be cheap.

Who’s on First?

We also wonder about what the impact will be on other potential renewable resources after 400 MW of wind power are locked in and plugged into Oahu's grid with a billion-dollar cable. NOAA is gearing up to regulate and promulgate rules for the first ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration projects (see Honolulu meeting notice), and it’s looking more certain than ever that Hawaii will see a pilot plant this decade. We even heard last week at the State-sponsored Clean Energy Day that the next US Navy budget will have $250 million in it for OTEC R & D.

Ocean energy is another decade or more away from making significant contributions here, but it’s worth asking now what the dynamic would be if a baseload energy source like OTEC were ready for development after an intermittent source like Big Wind already is online.

Both OTEC and Big Wind have a long arduous path before they’re in place, so let’s just leave it like this: We’d be more comfortable with the cable/Big Wind project if there were an equal commitment and push behind building Hawaii’s first ocean thermal conversion plant. In light of the significant issues Big Wind faces, let’s be sure OTEC gets its due in the years ahead. Hawaii will need a lot of energy eggs in its basket to get off oil.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Could This Be the Long-Delayed ‘Summer of OTEC’?

Maybe this is just the first of many ocean thermal energy summers after decades and generations even of OTEC’s long winter.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration’s OTEC open house and information session next week is one sign that the climate maybe changing for this highly anticipated but always-delayed ocean technology.

Another indicator – the June issue of Oceanography, the official magazine of the Oceanography Society. It’s a special issue on Marine Renewable Energy, and among its offerings are lengthy pieces on the potential and obstacles to capturing solar energy in the oceans. This sentence jumps out:

“The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimate that the total combined potential for all ocean renewables in the United States exceeds national electric energy use.”

Realistically, smaller amounts are likely to be extracted by ocean energies, but even that could be considerable. The article continues:

“….ocean energy could ultimately provide at least 10% of the electric supply of the United States. In coastal areas, where these resources are plentiful, the indigenous sources may, on a regional basis, represent a much larger fraction of the local energy supply and may indeed by the best long-term energy option.”

It’s not unrealistic to think the majority of Hawaii’s electric energy needs could be obtained within a generation by exploiting OTEC and other ocean technologies. Eventually, OTEC could electrify the entire state while accommodating contributions from the other renewable technologies.

In other words, clean energy would power the entire state, including vehicles and eventually aircraft. That’s the vision that’s driving numerous clean-energy initiatives in Hawaii, the world’s most geographically isolated and one of its most oil-dependent societies.

The June issue of Oceanography from its first article to the last is recommended reading, and anyone truly motivated to learn more about OTEC might well attend NOAA’s open house in the East-West Center on June 17. It's free.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

C. Dudley Pratt, Jr., Hawaiian Electric Leader (1981-90), Renewable Energy Innovator, Leaves a Full Legacy

The news that former Hawaiian Electric President C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. passed away Wednesday at his Kailua home brings back a flood of memories gathered over nearly a decade in the 1980s while working for him. Hawaii’s renewable energy industry is in debt to the man. Here are some of those memories.

The Holding Company

Mr. Pratt wrote his MBA thesis at the University of Hawaii on utility company diversification and wasted not a moment pursuing that vision at HECO once he was named president in January 1981. He followed Carl Williams, whose legacy was colored by an op-ed piece Williams wrote in the 1970s pooh-poohing green energy’s potential in the islands. The piece gave the impression that HECO was reluctant to get aboard the fledgling renewable energy movement in the same decade that saw the OPEC oil embargo, which led to Hawaii’s restrictive gas-purchasing rules (odd or even license plate numbers), gas lines and high utility bills.

Dudley Pratt’s arrival in the corner office marked an abrupt departure from HECO’s super-conservative past. Utility diversification had started on the mainland, and he foresaw the potential for oil price hikes and an era when HECO’s electric sales couldn’t keep up with the demand to continuously add value to shareholders.

Mr. Pratt’s public announcement of his intention to create the Hawaiian Electric Industries holding company came about one month after I joined the company as a direct report to him after serving as an aide to Congressman Cec Heftel. He wanted the company’s communications effort to keep pace with his ambitious plans and therefore had our office under his direct supervision, a circumstance that later was shown to have its drawbacks (discussed below).

A key moment in HEI’s creation (details of which I believe are publicized here for the first time) involved overcoming the reluctance of Transamerica Corporation to approve the diversification plan. The company owned enough preferred shares to block creation of the HEI holding company and signaled its intention to do so.

While Mr. Pratt and his team assessed the looming impasse, we learned from Harvey Meyerson, also a former Heftel aide who had moved on to work for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii, that Mr. Matsunaga had been invited to speak to Transamerica executives in San Francisco. Mr. Pratt authorized Harvey to tell the Senator about the Transamerica problem. Whatever Mr. Matsunaga said or did in San Francisco did the trick, and Transamerica fell in line, removing the last barrier to HEI’s creation.

Mr. Renewable Energy

One of the subsidiaries Mr. Pratt created early in his tenure as HEI’s chief executive was Hawaiian Electric Renewable Systems (HERS) to facilitate construction of a wind farm in the hills above Kahuku and the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. A Department of Energy demonstration wind turbine had proven the viability of the wind regime there; one of the turbine’s blades still stands next to HECO’s Ward Avenue facility where Mr. Pratt had it installed. He launched HERS on a path to capture energy in the northeast trade winds by presiding over a rain-soaked and muddy groundbreaking and blessing of the land in February 1985.

A little more than a year later on a bright, blue-sky day, 15 600-KW Westinghouse turbines went into service, becoming Oahu’s first serious effort in wind energy technology. (The memento at left fixes the date as March 27, 1986.) Although the early-generation turbines were no match for the region’s corrosive sea-spray environment, the enterprise helped capture the public’s attention to the importance of what became a mantra around the company – “Get Off Oil!” (A new generation of turbines will soon be put to the test in the Kahuku hills.)

As those early Westinghouse turbines began to degrade, more than one suffered a catastrophic blade loss as centrifugal force threw blades into the ground while injuring no one or damaging the towers. Our black-humor joke in Corporate Communications was that the blades’ throw radius encompassed Lihue on the island of Kauai. These incidents never were reported in the media, even though we distributed short press releases each time they occurred. If we hadn’t been transparent and word leaked out, it’s likely the accidents would have been splashed across page one. Mr. Pratt’s insistence on openness and transparency once again proved to be the right approach, as was the case after Hurricane Iwa struck the islands in 1982, as discussed below.

Continuing to think big, Mr. Pratt had HERS acquire the world’s largest wind turbine, the Boeing MOD-5B, and had it installed in the Kahuku region. Tip to tip, the blades measured longer than a football field – 320 feet. Attendees at its dedication in 1987 included Senator Matsunaga, and an aerial photo of the experimental machine standing tall against the lush green backdrop of the Kahuku hills made it into USA Today.

Mr. Pratt’s vision for Hawaii energy independence extended beyond Oahu to the islands of Maui and Hawaii, where HECO subsidiaries Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company sold electricity at an even higher kilowatthour cost than on Oahu. MECO hosted a 340-KW demonstration Windane turbine near its Maalaea power plant for most of the 1980s. Maui has become one of the wind energy success stories in the islands.

Across Alenuihaha Channel on the Big Island, a small geothermal plant had been established in the Puna district. Mr. Pratt envisioned a grid linking Hawaii Island’s considerable geothermal resources – believed to be as much as 500 megawatts – with the other islands, including Oahu and its much higher power demand.

A deep-water direct-current cable would be the link, and Dillingham Construction Company, which was formed in Hawaii when the islands were still a kingdom, tested the feasibility of such a cable by accurately laying a small test line across the 6100-foot deep channel between the islands. The concept was abandoned in the 1990s due to widespread community opposition to large-scale geothermal development in the native forest. However, Mr. Pratt’s dream of creating a multi-island electric grid lives on.

Hurricanes and Other Moments

The 1980s were HECO’s “Challenge Years” due to a series of island-wide or near-island-wide power outages that hit Oahu much too often. Mr. Pratt oversaw a large-scale reliability improvement effort that circumstances beyond HECO’s control made necessary. Hurricane Iwa struck the islands on November 23, 1982, and although its greatest impact was felt on Kauai, Oahu’s winds exceeded 100 mph that night. (Photo shows distribution lines on the Waianae Coast the next day.)

The Corporate Communications staff rode out the storm in HECO’s Richards Street headquarters, about three blocks from the Honolulu Harbor power plant. So confident were we that we wouldn’t lose our lights that we had failed to bring flashlights or candles into the office. Someone found a pack of matches, which we used to cut the gloom as we called Load Dispatch at Ward Avenue over still-working telephone lines.

We reached Mr. Pratt in generator-lit Load Dispatch, where he was assessing damage to the system. About 95 percent of HECO’s customers were without power; only neighborhoods adjacent to the Waiau plant at Pearl Harbor were still being served. Our conversation lasted about 30 seconds. “The storm kicked the s--- out of the transmission system,” he said. “We’ve lost eight of our 138,000-KV lines.” He told corporate communications to “tell the public like it is,” the kind of guidance communicators want to hear.

We began our fruitless attempts to call the only radio station still on the air, KGU-AM, thanks to its emergency generator that came with its designation as an emergency broadcaster. The only number we had for the station was in the phone book, and that’s what listeners were using to call in with their personal storm stories. Failing to get through, we drove to KGU's studios on the top floor of the newspaper building and talked our way onto the air.

The wisdom in Mr. Pratt’s direction to “tell it like it is” was confirmed in the weeks and months to come. The public said repeatedly that HECO’s reports on damage to the electric grid and the repair efforts already underway by line crews working under harrowing circumstances were the first they heard as they sat in complete darkness. The only other broadcast on the dial was from a station with a religious format and a tower on Molokai that escaped damage. (The station's content at the height of the storm was a Bible-thumping sermon that many residents later said had freaked them out.)

Mr. Pratt directed a complete top-to-bottom emergency procedures review after the hurricane that made the company better prepared for future major outages. Corporate Communications’ new emergency SOP included a list of non-published phone numbers into every radio station’s control room, and departments throughout the company rewrote their SOPs based on lessons learned from Hurricane Iwa. Work began on a new 138-KV transmission line on flat land away from the mountains to improve system reliability. Other major outages – “Black Wednesday” in July 1983 and another island-wide blackout in August 1984 – spurred ongoing system reliability improvements on Mr. Pratt’s watch.

The Personal Side

We’re convinced that nearly everyone who knew Dudley Pratt would describe him as a gentleman – a bow tie-wearing one at that. (It was with reluctance that he abandoned his bow tie and adopted more conventional neckwear for his annual report photographs.) He was soft-spoken in public and virtually all his company meetings and presentations, but in his office he would often cut loose – growling and grousing about what was pushing his buttons at the time. His leadership was so respected within the company that when he would pass on one of Corporate Communications’ bright ideas at his senior staff meetings, he deliberately would refrain from speaking up for it, lest it appear to be a command decision. Consequently, the communications office had no champion for its proposals at senior staff. That problem was corrected after about 18 months, when Corporate Communications was slipped into the org chart of a staff vice president and later became an officer-level department in its own right.

Oil or no oil? Contrary to predictions heard everywhere at the time, Mr. Pratt was adamant that the world would never run out of oil. He believed improved technology would find resources that were still unknown or unreachable in the 1980s, and the past three decades have proven him right. BP’s oil disaster undoubtedly strengthened his resolve that getting off oil is the right path not only for Hawaii but the nation and world.

Getting away from it all Mr. Pratt’s version of the perfect vacation was to pilot Waipouli, the sampan he built in his back yard in Kailua, out to one of the small island outcrops in the Hawaiian archipelago northwest of Kauai. He’d stay out there fishing for a week or two with his pals, as at-home on the open oceran as he was in corporate boardrooms all over town (newspaper reports say he was a board director for 32 organizations).

Designing the future Thanks to the diversification effort that included the acquisition of Hawaiian Tug & Barge, American Savings Bank and other companies, the need for a new corporate logo to visually tie all the companies together became apparent. Clarence Lee, the award-winning and nationally known designer, had been working with HECO for years (and still is). Clarence was tasked with coming up with a new look that could be applied to all the HEI companies.

When the day finally arrived for Clarence to present his proposals, the two us went to Mr. Pratt’s office and took chairs in front of his desk, which, as usual, was clear of papers and clutter. Only two colored pencils were set off to the side, which struck me as curious. One pencil was yellow, the other green. Clarence began his detailed presentation, which continued for quite some time, and then sat back for a reaction. After a few moments, Mr. Pratt reached for the top desk drawer and quietly said, “I kinda like this” as he pulled out a piece of paper on which he had precisely drawn large H-E-I green letters in block form, surrounded by a green rectangle against a yellow background. The letters looked like the big block Y often associated with Mr. Pratt’s alma mater, Yale University.

What Mr. Pratt lay upon the desk a generation ago is what is now in all HEI documents – and so is his idea for a logo to tie all the electric utilities together, a circle behind a graphic representation of all the state’s islands that's painted on thousands of utility trucks, signs, transformers and pieces of equipment. (Clarence Lee has written to note that green soon was replaced by Punahou blue.)

That was Dudley Pratt – a hands-on leader who implemented excellent ideas and a vision to benefit not only the companies he headed but all the people of Hawaii. He was in fact a keiki o ka aina – a child of the land, descendent of 19th century missionaries, who saw an honorable mission in electrifying the islands he loved and carving new paths to energy independence.

Services for C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. will be held at 5 pm on June 7th at Honolulu’s Central Union Church – a fitting location for Mr. Pratt's memorial, having been founded 167 years ago as Seamen’s Bethel in the Port of Honolulu.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Castle & Cooke Plans Nation’s 2nd Largest Solar Farm

Castle & Cooke's 1.2-MW solar far on Lanai.
With all due respect to Florida, Hawaii is the Sunshine State. Consider what we learned just today – that Tampa, FL experiences 30,000 to 50,000 lightning strikes each year. They’re not bolts out of the blue; they’re bolts out of CLOUDS! Our back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests Florida is much cloudier than Hawaii, so there you have it.

In light of the Sunshiny Aloha State’s abundant solar energy cascade, a reasonable reaction to today’s news about a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm destined for central Oahu might be, “It’s about time!” With pineapple no longer the cash crop it once was, Castle & Cooke (owned by Dole Food Company) is going to convert 120 acres of a pineapple plantation to a solar energy crop.

At 20 MW, the plant (which requires Public Utilities Commission approval) will be about 17 times larger than Castle & Cooke’s solar farm on the island of Lanai, now the state’s largest such facility.

The farm could be up and running as early as next year and would support the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative by taking another bite out of Hawaii’s massive dependence on imported oil for the generation of electricity. Every 20-MW bite counts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NY Times Updates OTEC Project in French Polynesia

Today’s edition of the New York Times has a story out of Singapore that revisits efforts to deploy an ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant in Tahiti. Hawaii Energy Options first reported on those plans in October 2008, but the story wasn’t exactly “new” at that point. Partners Xenesys (Japan) and Pacific Petroleum (Tahiti) were mentioned several months earlier in a press release on their joint venture.

There’s not much new or encouraging in the story about significant OTEC progress in French Polynesia, although it does note that the French and French Polynesian governments are picking up 68 percent of the costs of a feasibility study.

Lockheed Martin’s OTEC efforts rate a mention at the end of the story. Oft-quoted Ted Johnson seems to be sticking to his assessment that an OTEC pilot plant could be operating in Hawaiian waters within four years. His current target is 2014, a year later than his assertion when he addressed the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit & Expo in Honolulu last September.

And so goes OTEC – forever slipping dates and pushing the first pilot plant onward into the future. We’ve been down this sluice run before, and it’s about time for OTEC to make a big splash in the here and now!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Once Called the ‘Wind Energy Capital of the World,’ Kahuku’s Still in the Game

It’s seems fitting that the community of Kahuku on Oahu’s North Shore will soon see the construction of its first new windfarm in a generation.

Wind Power, a subsidiary of First Wind, has received Public Utilities Commission approval for its power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). Twenty-five years ago or so, HECO’s monthly “Consumer Lines” newsletter mailed with electric bills lauded Kahuku for its potential to be a wind energy leader because of its exposure to northeast trade winds.

HECO had collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy in the construction and successful operation of the MOD-OA turbine in the hills near Kahuku a few years earlier. “Makani Huila” (Hawaiian for Wind Wheel) performed so well that HECO chief executive C. Dudley Pratt, Jr. directed the installation of one of the turbine’s blades at the company’s Ward Avenue building in Honolulu, where it still stands.

Hawaiian Electric Renewable Systems, along with HECO a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, built a windfarm in 1985-6 with 15 600-KW Westinghouse turbines. The project overlooked the Turtle Bay resort but nevertheless had the backing of local residents and even the resort’s management, which distributed windfarm brochures to guests. New World Power Corporation, then operated by the Kuhns brothers, purchased the declining operation in 1993, but those early-generation turbines were no match for the elements, and nearly all traces of that project have been removed.

World’s Biggest Turbine

In 1987, Kahuku became the proud home of the world’s largest wind turbine – the 3,200 KW Boeing MOD-5B, the last of the federally sponsored turbines. The blades were longer than a football field, tip to tip, and the whoosh they created was truly impressive to visitors, including the late U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, who attended the MOD-5B’s dedication. Production was lower than projected, however, and that project also was scrapped.

Kahuku Wind Power will build a dozen 2,500 KW turbines at its site and will benefit from the lessons learned from all previous projects in the Kahuku hills, as well as First Wind’s Kaheawa project above Maalaea, Maui. By all accounts, Kaheawa is a booming success, and we discussed its record with First Wind’s Noelani Kalipi on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Energy Futures” show back in September when we still had time to be the show's volunteer producer and host.

We wish Kahuku Wind Power in finally realizing the community’s potential to be one of the wind energy capitals of the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hawaii Is Priciest Place To Own a Car, and Soaring Oil Tax Doesn’t Help

The price of rent, groceries, gasoline, electricity.... Hawaii is either at the top or real close in each of those categories, and now we learn it costs more to own a vehicle here than any other state. The hits just keep coming, don’t they?

According to Edmunds.com, the average vehicle ownership expense over five years is driven higher in the Aloha State thanks to Hawaii’s taxes, fees, insurance, fuel and maintenance.

And just wait ‘til Edmunds factors in Hawaii’s new $1/barrel oil tax increase that kicks in this July! That’s up from 5 cents per barrel. The increase will add about 2.5 cents to the price of a gallon of gas – not to mention the cost of just about all other goods imported into the state.

Ah, but it’s for a good cause, backers said, since increasing the cost of fossil fuels may just spur on the development of alternative energy sources. If that’s what it does, we’re fine with it, but a big chunk of the $22 million that’s expected to be raised annually will simply go into the state’s General Fund to help balance the budget. Let’s just say many of us will be watching closely to see exactly what good comes from this across-the-board increase in the cost of living here.

Nissan Leaf Heading to Hawaii

As the nation’s only island state with relatively short commuting distances, Hawaii would seem to be an ideal location for electric vehicles. Nissan North America Inc. apparently thinks so, too.

Hawaii will be an initial launch market early next year of the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car that will be introduced on the mainland starting in December. According to CNET, federal tax credits of $7,500 would bring the Leaf’s prince down to just over $25,000.

With the high price of gasoline here helped along even higher by the $1/barrel boost in the oil tax, Hawaii consumers may be even more eager to try the Leaf than Nissan expects. A real quick survey found two people at the 10th Annual Hawaii Build and Buy Green Conference and Expo today who said they're on the waiting list for Leaf.

We won’t name names, but you can take a guess in the comments section below. Just think about which highly visible officials would want to be on the cutting edge of clean and green personal transportation in the state.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A New Hawaiian Island? Could Be, If OASIIS System Comes Our Way

"Megawatt Island" would capture solar energy, store it below.
Earth Day is as good a day to announce new approaches to generating electricity and reducing fossil fuel dependence as any other – maybe even better. GreenFix Energy chose today to distribute a press release on OASIIS, which stands for Oceanic Atmospheric Solar Insulated Incapsulation System.

You have to admit, OASIIS does seem to involve outside-the-box thinking. The basic technology is ocean thermal energy conversion or OTEC, about which we’ve been writing for more than two years. But OASIIS is a new twist on an old idea – incapsulation (sic) of ocean water in a chamber beneath a floating platform that’s 1 to 3 square kilometers in size! The water with its captured solar energy remains in the capsule rather than being dissipated by ocean currents. A video explains the process and the potential for villages, marinas and shopping on these power islands.

There’s nothing in the release to suggest anything more than an intriguing idea at this point – no patent, no financing, no firm plans. In this respect, GreenFix seems to be in the same boat as Deepwater Structures, Inc., which similarly publicized its untested but provocative technology idea a couple months ago.

We’ll be watching both companies to see where they go with their approaches to OTEC. As a cheerleader for the technology, we’re standing behind them – and other peoples’ money – 100 percent and wish them well.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Piece by Piece, Lockheed’s OTEC Plant for Hawaii Taking Shape

We choose to remain optimistic about ocean thermal energy conversion as “The Big Breakthrough Technology’ here at Hawaii Energy Options, no matter what the skeptics say. Doing so lets our mind’s eye see the first OTEC plant coming together, and the latest piece is from Owens Corning.

The company is showing off its modern composite technology that it says will be used to construct the large cold-water pipe for Lockheed Martin’s planned pilot OTEC plant, presumably intended for positioning off Oahu’s leeward coast.

The Owens product is called XStrand, a high-strength glass fiber that everyone involved will be able to withstand the subsurface conditions and pressures on the pipe, which is perhaps the biggest technology challenge in the OTEC system. Lockheed’s OTEC program manager Dennis Cooper shares our optimism.

“OTEC could enable Hawaii achieve energy independence within a generation,” says Cooper. “Our independent research and development work to date has shown OTEC to be technically feasible. The next step is to demonstrate it on a commercial scale.”

Such a demonstration would seem to leap-frog the pilot plant phase, but if that’s what Mr. Cooper wants, we say go for it – just as we’ve been saying since this blog’s initial post two years ago.