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Thursday, October 18, 2012

THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IN HAWAII

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Every so often I bring a renewable energy technology up to date by citing the latest publications.  My previous posting on geothermal energy was on 22May12.  Today, I cite "Development Overview of Geothermal Resources in Kilauea East Rift Zone," by Rob Kinslow of Hawaii Pacific University, Bridget Hass of the University of Nevada, Phillip Maddi of Oregon Institute of Technology and Piyush Bakane of the University of Reno.  Not sure how they got to know this subject so well, but it was an excellent summary.  I won't say anything more except to urge you to click on their paper to appreciate these historic details.


I think this paper was given at the recent Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) conference.  I'll check with Harry Olson, the former Spark Matsunaga Fellow in Geothermal Energy at the University of Hawaii, who went to that gathering and who I'll have dinner with tomorrow.  Frankly, I've been away from this field for more than a third of a century, but my memories linger well.  I don't recognize one person on the present GRC Board, but was on the team that successfully produced Hawaii Geothermal Well-A (left), still perhaps on record as the hottest geothermal well in the world, and do keep up with the technology.

While I was the reservoir engineer in the mid-1970's with UH-Hilo Professor Bill Chen on HGP-A, one of the only examples of anything renewable in Hawaii that actually worked the first time, my interest was more on the total product potential, as I helped get started the Community Geothermal Technology Program, also known as Noi'i O Puna (NOP), or the geothermal equivalent of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority for OTEC on the other side of the island.  The middle photo is that of then Governor George Ariyoshi dedicating the lab.  Interestingly enough, in community polls, NOP was just about the only geothermal activity that had a positive register with the local people.  We had hopes for works of art from the silica byproduct, exciting new fabric designs, Hawaiian onsens for eco-tourism, and a wide range of innovative industries for the Big Island.  Read the details from a paper I co-wrote 26 years ago and you will agree with me that the timing is perfect to resurrect this initiative for Puna.  Now that geothermal energy appears to have re-gained support in the region, the time has come to re-explore these geo-co-products potential.

I might add that a University of Hawaii organization I directed more than a dozen years ago, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, proposed a hydrogen program to better utilize the electricity from the Puna Geothermal Ventures facility during the early hours of the morning.  Universities are tasked to take these bumpy roads towards development, and even if these research projects might not be commercially feasible today, government funding attempts to ease the way for industry by improving the technology and systems, while removing many infrastructural hurdles and working out the permitting and regulatory requirements that plague the private sector.

If you think that this hydrogen transport effort is too blue-skyish, Rinaldo Brutoco has talked to me about the notion of utilizing "fast" dirigibles (several hundred miles per hour speed, as opposed to the current 50 MPH) as the next generation aviation option for Hawaii.  His concept is to refuel his Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper with hydrogen from geothermal powerplants.  The aircraft would come to the site, eliminating an expensive part of the process.  A portion of the fuel would then be sold on the West Coast.  In his dreams, the H2 Clipper would eventually replace jet planes and jet fuel.  As far as I know, no one has a better idea, for when petroleum skyrockets to $200/barrel, it will take a solution on the order of the Brutoco Hydrogen Clipper Plan to sidestep a local economic depression.

In the meantime the Hawaii County Geothermal Working Group has speculated that the Big Island has a geothermal potential of 500 to 700 MW.  Plus, Haleakala last erupted in the late 1800's, so chances are that Maui also has geo-possibilities.  Finally, there are various warm spots on Oahu, especially Lualualei, so if you want to be optimistic, over the next few decades geothermal energy could well provide a significant contribution to the natural energy mix for Hawaii.  Thus the underwater electric cable project linking the islands needs to reach fruition, at perhaps a cost of $2 billion, for long-term stability.  If ocean thermal energy conversion can be developed commercially, these two baseload (as opposed to intermittent wind and solar) options omen well for the long term future of Hawaii.  Of course, electricity is only a little more than the third of our needs, and we are way behind on meeting our future sustainable aviation and ground transport requirements.

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