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Friday, November 30, 2012

WHY RENEWABLE ENERGY IS SO SLOW TO DEVELOP

I belong to a group interested in creating a new industry for Hawaii and World.  I have slightly adjusted a message I sent to them today, why I'm not sure because this is all a public service which should engender goodwill.  I thought my readers would be interested because there is a lot of history as to why renewable energy has just not taken off in Hawaii, where the cost of electricity is 300% the national average.  I have added graphics.

Dear board members:
Xxxxx is, of course, right.  His recommendation as to what PIOS should be is the only pathway.  Pardon me for this rather long lecture, but I thought it was timely for me to share some background on energy, and the reasons why I truly believe that PIOS and the Blue Revolution represent the ONLY hope for Hawaii..and, maybe, a good portion of the rest of the world.   If you have the time and interest, please click on those highlighted items to gain additional details.



As an academician, economics have never particularly concerned me much at a first stage of development.  We just don't know what will work, and what won't.  In fact, I never thought windpower would become so competitive when I was chairman of the Wind Energy Division of the American Solar Energy Society nearly 40 years ago.  Andy Trenka, who at that time headed  the Department of Energy Wind Energy Test Facility in Colorado, had similar views.  Now it is the most competitive wind/solar option.  

However, when you look at Molokai and Lanai, you begin to appreciate that cost factors can be significantly worsened by people.  When we (universities do this because they get funded by the government to do so) faced the community for the first wind energy experiment above Turtle Bay, the Audubon Society, Hilton (they ran the hotel) and assorted nuts testified against us.  We prevailed, even though these machines were still too expensive.  Now, wind energy conversion devices are revolutionizing the march towards sustainability, especially in Europe and China.

PV and solar thermal are much more expensive, but with the soon to be reduced or eliminated government incentives, are worth it in Hawaii because we pay 300% more for electricity than the national average.  You complain about our gasoline costing 15% more than the mainland, but 300% more for electricity hardly raises much ire.  In that same article, you will see a relatively optimistic cost for solar (my sources say PV is not 16 cents/kWh, but closer to 25 cents), but still much costlier than windpower.  OTEC did not even make that list, but is way worse than all the above.  This is why OTEC needs PIOS to add revenue streams.

If you clicked on that link, you would also have noticed that geothermal is better and hydroelectricity is the best.  I've been involved with renewable energy now for exactly half a century when I became the process engineer for C. Brewer's Hutchinson Sugar Company, where Dante Carpenter and I shared the same office for several years.  One of my later stops was the Kilauea Sugar Company.  I take some pride in my grandfather helping build the Wainiha Hydropower Station on Kauai in 1906.  More than a century later, the same basic hardware is still producing 3 MW, and the almost now extinct elders of Kilauea still refer to the road leading up to the facility as the Takahashi Powerhouse Road.  However, forget hydro as not much is left.  

I was one of the reservoir engineers for the Hawaii Geothermal Project in the mid-70's and helped create Noi'i O Puna to serve as the geo-equivalent of NELHA.  I was also involved with the Pirelli-led project in the 80's to use deep sea cables to link the islands.  As sensible as this hot source is for Hawaii, the problem is that cost is not everything and nothing is easy.  Environmentalists, Hawaiian-activists, marijuana growers, local residents seeking quiet, rain forest advocates and others convinced Judge Ezra to eliminate this option.  He just retired, so there is now again some movement.  But we lost decades.

It sure must be getting clearer that we need the right environmentalist on our board, and soon.  If and when Lockheed Martin or OTEC International announces commercial plans for OTEC off Honolulu, the opposition will appear in force.

I spent two stints at the Lawrence Livermore  National Laboratory working on laser fusion (schematic of the National Ignition Test Facility today).  The Sun and all the stars, of course, use this process to produce solar energy.  However, forty years ago I thought it would take at least 50 years for this option to be commercialized.  With the slow progress and outrageous cost of ITER in France, fusion might still be 50 years away, and probably more.  When it comes to next generation energy, multiply by two any projections about timetable.  Certainly nuclear fission (think Atomic Bomb and Fukushima) will only decline.

So look at the forcing functions.  Fossil fuels will over time decline, while polluting our atmosphere and causing global heating.  Conventional nuclear power is declining. Solar and wind are intermittent.  Biofuels are very expensive and biomass is running into a land and water problem.  OTEC (to the left is Mini-OTEC off NELHA in 1979) is baseload, but, more importantly, the ocean is free, supplies free irrigation and natural fertilizers for marine biomass through the cold water efluent, and provides the cheapest mode of shipping.

Before I return to PIOS/BRH, let me compromise some credibility by indicating that I once worked for NASA at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).  During the mid-seventies I thought, what if signals were bombarding us from more advanced civilizations.  Perhaps the solution to world peace, cure for cancer and a free copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica were floating past us.  I sort of did what Jodi Foster did in the Carl Sagan movie CONTACT.  In fact, when I worked for Senator Spark Matsunaga in DC, I helped Sagan re-gain funding for SETI.  The point this paragraph makes is that I tend to be a dreamer, and this is why we have Xxxxx and the rest of the Board to provide some balance.

I also wrote the first draft for hydrogen when I worked for Sparky a third of a century ago, which became law as the Matsunaga Act.  How much more ideal can an energy source be:  most common element in the Universe; when combusted, the waste product is water; is the simplest molecule; and provides the isotopes for fusion.   I served as chairman of the U.S. Secretary of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, and our efforts were so successful that only a few years ago the budget, which was zero when the panel first met, became larger than that for solar.  But like many of these sustainable alternatives, the economics are just not here now, and in the case of the Hydrogen Economy, perhaps a century away.  I particularly cautioned Guy about investing in anything commercial today.  Research, yes, but profit, no.  Someday, hydrogen and cold fusion will help save Humanity...but that is long in the future.

As an aside, you might wonder why all these electronic devices work so well the first time, while ocean energy seems to be going nowhere.  The differences are twofold:  first, your iPhone has gone through thousands of cycles of testing and improvement in various laboratories, and second, they are relatively cheap.  The first testing of PIOS will cost more than a billion dollars and take a decade.  Government and industry just do not fund this type of challenge.  Sure, space when there was a Cold War (Apollo Project to the Moon) and war (Manhattan Project) in general, but renewable energy and global warming don't have any compelling relevance.  Thus, the reason why we need to find a couple of billionaires.

Take Bill Gates, for example.  He is supporting a project on reducing hurricanes.  But the mechanism devised by former Stanford professor Ken Caldeira, will only decrease the temperature of the sea surface.  It has no other product.  Who will pay hundreds of billions for just hurricane prevention?  Future PIOS grazing platforms will not only do this, but will have a cornucopia of revenue streams.  Also, when you add the potential of remediating global warming, who knows some day what this will be worth?  A serious carbon tax is surely in the not too distant future, and as carbon credits are traded, this could become a major revenue source.  Clearly, anyway, a billionaire associated with an insurance company should be interested in PIOS.

Ultimately, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of ocean platforms (Shimizu green float to the right), some no doubt cities and nations, plying the seas, producing sustainable food, energy and materials in harmony with the marine environment.  Just around the corner could well be Rinaldo Brutoco's Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper, which is a lighter than air craft capable of speeds up to 350 MPH, bringing tourists to and from Hawaii and reloading hydrogen at these ocean plantships, for Hawaii's biggest problem is aviation.  When oil shoots past $200/barrel, Hawaii will become the first location to go into economic depression because tourism is really our only industry.  This could unfortunately happen today, even though the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has petroleum at $85 in December of 2021.  Oil price forecasters have been embarrassed too many times in the past to have any credibility, but, if they are right this time, we have more than a decade  for PIOS to succeed and spark the Blue Revolution.

Think about it.  I have for 50 years.  Is there anything else about Hawaii that shows more promise than the ocean around us?

Aloha.


Pat
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Typhoon Bopha, already at 105 MPH, is now expected to become a Category 4 storm, and is still heading for the Philippines:

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