Sunday, July 10, 2011

Media Finally Giving OTEC the Prominence It Deserves

“The tropical ocean is the world’s largest solar collector and storage ‘battery’ -- so big that small thinking apparently can’t detect it.”

That quote is from the third post here at Hawaii Energy Options -- our reaction on March 16, 2008 to a Honolulu Advertiser editorial that omitted ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) from a list of “the Islands’ reservoir of power.”

OTEC was usually missing three years ago when reporters and editors wrote about Hawaii’s renewable energy options. That’s why this blog's first entry said:

“It's past time for lawmakers to look beyond the obvious and get serious about how to exploit the solar energy trapped in ocean waters surrounding Hawaii. Using existing technology, OTEC can extract that energy and create enough electricity to power tens or hundreds of thousands of island homes, as well as commerce and industry.”

What a difference three more years of near-total dependence on fossil fuel and billions of dollars sent out of state can make. Today’s Star-Advertiser puts OTEC on page one of its Money Section in the print edition – big headline, huge photo, half an inside page devoted to OTEC.

OTEC or Big Wind?

Even as the media were ignoring OTEC in March 2008, prominent space was given to the Big Wind project – 400 megawatts of wind energy on two neighbor islands, power shipped to Oahu’s grid via undersea cable.

Castle & Cooke responded to the mood of the moment with a commentary saying it and other Hawaii companies “are ready to proceed with projects that can help Hawaii meet its goal of generating 20 percent of our energy fro renewable resources by 2020.” C&C proposed a 300-400 MW wind farm – just the ticket to put all that unused Lanai land to use and offset the financial losses of the island’s two upscale resorts.

“We cannot afford to waste another year talking about the problems we face,” wrote Harry Saunders, president of Castle & Cooke Hawaii. “We know what they are and how to solve them. What we need is for government to facilitate private investment in renewable technologies and remove the roadblocks standing in the way of a secure and sustainable future.”

Hawaii’s government has gone “all in” on Big Wind since that March 2008 weekend, when oil traded around $111 per barrel on Friday. We can only speculate where government’s emphasis would have gone if commentaries and editorials back then had been pushing hard for base-load, low-impact OTEC instead of intermittent, high-impact wind. (The price quote for Brent crude two days ago was $118.20.)

OTEC's emerging prominence and the public's new awareness of its potential may be what's needed to pull Hawaii's energy planners back from their "all in" gamble on Big Wind -- a technology at once overwhelmingly unpopular with neighbor islanders and insufficient to meet Oahu's long-term energy needs.

With support comparable to what government has given Big Wind, a Big Ocean project using OTEC technology could be launched this decade and eventually meet our needs for generations to come. The time is ripe for the state to shift its focus from the neighbor island wind energy project and start focusing on the limitless and constant source of energy that surrounds us.

No comments: