Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dr. Luis Vega Weighs In on NOAA’S OTEC Role and Other Development Issues

Hawaii Energy Options had a couple posts late last year (December 13 and two days later on December 15) speculating that NOAA might pose a bureaucratic obstacle to the development of ocean thermal energy conversion. Our source had suggested NOAA’s requirements to accumulate test data might unnecessarily delay OTEC’s eventual roll-out.

Those posts attracted some attention, as did our November 19th item about a meeting organized by Dr. Luis Vega of the University of Hawaii around the visit by a NOAA delegation. Luis today emailed his reaction to our December posts, and he subsequently granted permission to publish it. With our thanks, here it is:

Aloha Doug,

In my opinion, you are being a bit harsh (in the blog posts) because, on paper, licensing and permitting requirements for OTEC are not more cumbersome that the process established for other technologies in our country. I reached the following conclusion while evaluating the situation between FERC and MMS as well the State of Hawaii regarding wave energy: I hope that we can evolve into a situation represented by a one-stop-shop where industry can process all documentation stipulated for licensing & permitting under federal, state, city and county regulations avoiding duplicity, contradictory requirements and interdepartmental jurisdictional disputes.

Moreover, I am the one that has been trying to make people understand that OTEC design and construction, including ordering long-lead items, will take 4 to 5 years after funding is secured. The licensing & permitting process is not the issue. The real issue is posed by the requirement to finance relatively high capital investments that must be balanced by the expected but yet to be demonstrated low operational costs. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from the successful commercialization of wind energy that was due to consistent government funding of pilot or pre-commercial projects that led to appropriate and realistic determination of technical requirements and operational costs in Germany, Denmark and Spain. In this context by commercialization we mean that equipment can be financed under terms that yield cost competitive electricity. This of course depends on specific conditions at each site. Presently, for example, in Hawaii cost competitiveness requires electricity produced at less than about 0.17 $/kWh, while in Oregon the value would have to be closer to about 0.06 $/kWh.

My best wishes for 2010,


I am well-advised to respect the views of Dr. Vega on these issues. His track record with OTEC is among the most extensive in the field, and he now directs the National Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Hawaii. (The photo above was taken when he was a guest in that capacity on Hawaii Public Radio's Energy Futures program last October 19.)

As long as we’ve started a dialogue here at Hawaii Energy Options about OTEC’s future, let’s keep it going. Readers are invited to leave a comment on Dr. Vega’s assessment and/or our original December posts by clicking on the Comments link below, or you can write me at with more extensive comments. I would like to print them, so if that is your intention, be sure to include a statement granting permission in your email.

Along with many others, we hope 2010 will start break-through progress in this decade to realize OTEC’s vast potential. As we said in the first post to this blog nearly two years ago, we think communications contributes toward that end.

1 comment:

Bob said...

One issue that continually plagues any ocean energy conversion project is that the technology relies on the dynamic ocean conditions to provide power for conversion. It is relatively easy to measure and model the physical characteristics of the ocean environment. However, biological issues are not as easy to measure and monitor and the dynamic nature of the biological components are likely to be a huge hurdle at any ocean energy project. New technology is being used at a couple of kinetic hydro projects (e.g. wave, in-stream and tidal)that allows continuous, long-term, automated detection and monitoring of biologicals and near-real-time tracking, classification, and reporting. This technology can be used for establishment of baseline conditions as well as monitoring of biological interaction once the project is deployed. The technology is being implemented primarily for fish and marine mammals at this time.