The Japanese plan to capture solar power in earth orbit and microwave it to ground stations. Bingo – an inexhaustible energy supply. But then there’s that word “practicable.”
Even if the technology were available today, would it pencil out? Would it be worth a massive infrastructure investment in Hawaii to capture solar energy in space and microwave it to islands that already have an abundant supply of solar energy?
Hawaii is ideally situated to tap into terrestrial solar energy – in the strong and steady winds that blow across the islands, in the tropical ocean that surrounds them and in the heat below the surface of some islands in the form of geothermal energy. Most would agree that using those sources is preferable than a much more expensive space-based solar system.
Asking THE Question
They’re concerned about the cost to build the windfarms on the two islands and to construct and lay cables (including redundancy cables) between the islands and Oahu. A billion here, a billion there, and before you know it, you have a $3 billion price tag for Big Wind that could grow larger.
Is Big Ocean Competitive?
But their home-run argument is that OTEC is baseload power, capable of operating continuously without regard to variables in wind strength and sunshine. To advocates, the argument comes down to baseload OTEC vs intermittent wind and solar farms, with baseload far superior.
Build Now, or Later?
But then there’s that other key factor. Wind power is proven technology after decades of trial and error, including right here on Oahu’s North Shore. Hawaiian Electric Industries built early generations of wind turbines in the hills near Kahuku, and those failures helped lead to successes in the current generation of turbines.
OTEC is still on the drawing boards after being touted as the energy game changer for decades, without one commercial-sized plant in service anywhere in the world. At first glance, there’s no competition; wind wins.
But Hawaii’s energy future reasonably shouldn’t be based on first glances. The technology we choose will be expensive – we’ll all pay for it one way or the other in our electric bills – and will be with us for generations.
Do we embrace Big Wind now, with its environmental impacts, intermittency and big cable costs, or do we hold off to develop the will and the investors to build that first OTEC plant to prove or disprove its worth, once and for all?
Some argue we can’t delay Big Wind if the state is to meet its Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative green energy goals. Big Ocean advocates say it would be wrong to rush to Big Wind and waste the opportunity to perfect a technology that could revolutionize energy production in the 21st century.
Big Wind vs Big Ocean. Stated that way, it does look like a competition of technologies. With only so much ability to financially support the green energy transformation of Hawaii, perhaps it should in fact come down to one or the other.