Saturday, January 8, 2011

Startup’s Plan for 100% Green Energy in 10 Years Begs The Question: What Technology Will Replace Oil Plants?

We called Kuokoa Inc.’s proposed takeover of Hawaiian Electric Industries the “biggest energy-related story in Hawaii of this young century” yesterday, and others are giving it enough attention to merit the description.

The Star-Advertiser features the story on page one today but doesn’t go beyond quotes, comments and reactions from analysts and executives about the start-up’s intention to take HEI private.

Here’s the big unanswered question we’re posing to Kuokoa’s leadership: What technology will you use for baseload power generation if you retire HEI’s fossil fuel plants within a decade?

Oil and coal are burned to generate close to 90 percent of the electricity produced by HEI’s utilities in baseload generation plants, which churn out electrons around the clock. Battery storage is still in its infancy and is unlikely to be anywhere near ready to provide on-demand power when intermittent wind and solar sources can't. How Kuokoa replaces HEI's current baseload generation is the big issue the media have so far ignored.

OTEC’s Opportunity

But not Hawaii Energy Options. As we said in our first post on March 14, 2008:

“Ocean thermal energy conversion is the best long-term technology solution to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil. OTEC is far superior to the other energy alternatives touted for electric power in the Aloha State – so superior in replacing oil for baseload electricity generation that any legislator, government official, utility executive, energy expert or environmental leader who doesn’t support OTEC is simply not believable.”

To that list we’d add executives of companies who propose taking over utilities that burn billions of dollars of fossil fuel annually. How Kuokoa answers our question will have more to do with its prospects for success than whether it can raise the money to buy HEI.

Kuokoa CEO Roald Marth is quoted as saying it won't be difficult to raise the $2 billion-plus. Reporters so far apparently haven’t asked him about the hard part – actually replacing upwards of 2,000 megawatts of fossil fuel power generation with baseload renewable power – units that reliably deliver electricity 24 hours a day, every day, rain or shine.

Baseload Options Are Few

As we noted here a couple days ago, Kuokoa chairman Richard Ha was a guest on our Hawaii Public Radio program “Energy Futures” nearly a year ago while the show was still on the air. He expressed interest in developing the Big Island’s geothermal resource to a greater extent than the single power plant now operating in the Puna district.

Maybe Kuokoa thinks geothermal can be the baseload wave of the future, but obstacles to the island of Hawaii becoming the power source for the entire island chain are formidable.

Opposition by environmentalists and cultural practitioners blocked plans to develop a 500-MW geothermal field in the 1990s, and there are reasons to believe opposition would resurface if new plans were launched to exploit "Pele power."

Then there’s the matter of financing and building a deep water cable between Hawaii and Maui. If connecting Lanai and Molokai to Oahu with a cable would cost an estimated $1 billion, we can only imagine what laying a cable through the much deeper Alenuihaha Channel between Maui and the Big Island would cost. That expense could be avoided and geothermal energy still used statewide by using that power to create hydrogen, which could be shipped to the other islands.

Carpe Diem

OTEC advocates have been pounding on doors for decades, trying to convince financiers that OTEC technology is ready for deployment. All it needs is backing to take that first leap – to build that first commercial plant to demonstrate OTEC’s technology and ability to be scaled up quickly.

As they and we have said repeatedly, OTEC has the potential to provide all the electrical power and hydrogen fuel the islands could ever use, and more. What’s been missing until now is the will and vision to make it happen.

Is Kuokoa prepared to provide those essential ingredients that would result in OTEC finally coming of age? The days immediately ahead could provide the answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely written. Will be following here on this major issue.

Believe Ted's got the answers.

Disappointed in the Star Advertiser's first superficial swipe at it.