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.