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Thursday, May 26, 2016

IS GEOTHERMAL ENERGY COMING TO THE ISLAND OF MAUI?

I was intrigued when I saw the headline:         

Ormat Signs $36 Million in Contracts for Te Ahi O Maui Geothermal Project

Finally, Maui would get a geothermal project.  Yes, this is the same Ormat that developed Puna on the Big Island, but, no, this Maui is in New Zealand.  Ormat already has 350 MW (about ten times more than in Hawaii) of geo-power in that country.  This newest one of 20 MW will be in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

Ormat Technologies, incidentally, began in Israel and is now based in Reno, Nevada.  It has built 150 power plants the world over, rated at a total of 2000 MW, most geothermal, but some solar and fossil fuel enterprises.

So where are we with geothermal in Hawaii?  I was part of the team that in 1976 produced the first geothermal well on the Big Island.  This 3 MW system provided the fundamental info to future development and interfaced an applications laboratory that attempted to showcase the co-benefits of this resource:  silica glass for artists, heat for seedlings, potential for Hawaiian onsens, etc.  Five years ago this blog site reported on The Future of Geothermal Energy, and, sad to say, nothing more has happened since then.  Feel free to click on that posting, for it provides details on what this technology is all about.  In particular, there is reference to articles by Don Thomas and Henry Curtis that bring you up-to-date...five years ago.  However, last year I had an update of geothermal energy in Hawaii worthy of your time if you want that latest.

Here are the likely future geothermal activities for Hawaii:
  • A few more megawatts will certainly be added at Puna.
  • Hard to believe this was two decades ago, but Harry Olson (right) of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute proposed shallow hole drilling to explore for geo at Hualalai on the Kona side of the Big Island.  There was a murmur of interest last year about looking for this resource on ag lands around Hualalai.  Mount Hualalai last erupted in 1803, and this remains an active volcano.  Yes, there will be a few serious downsides if you worry about worst case scenarios.
  • It was a quarter century ago that HNEI also discussed with the Maui Prince (now Makena Resort, which is re-developing--good time to re-visit this option) and landowners up on Haleakala to drill for lower temperature geo-fluids, use Ormat hardware to produce some electricity, but, more so, pipe the hot effluents to the hotel to feature a Hawaiian onset.  Haleakala last erupted in 1790 (just upslope of La Perouse Bay, which is that rectangular ocean space next to Makena), and, of course, remains potentially active.
  • Oahu?  Well, Diamond Head stopped erupting half a million years ago, but there are supposedly 6 hot spots on this island.  HNEI in the early 90's negotiated with the U.S. Navy to find geothermal in Lualualei Valley.  Still something worthy of exploration.
  • Kauai?  Not much hope, for the island stopped forming millions of  years ago.  However, there is something called post erosional volcanic series that does not totally eliminate potential.
  • Loihi?  Well, the seamount is 22 miles southeast of the Big Island, but 3000 feet below the surface.  Underwater geothermal energy?  Nah.  Scientifically, the movement of tectonic plates over this Hawaii hotspot (where magma emanates from the mantle) has formed the Hawaiian Islands.  Hawaii already has an Exclusive Economic Zone twice the size of Texas.  In a few million years?
For those opposed to geothermal energy, read this article, it generally agrees with you.  I keep saying, though, that geo is a lot better than importing fossil fuels or installing nuclear power.  Unlike wind and solar energy, geo is baseload, that is, the electricity is constant while in operation, unlike the comings and goings of the sun and our winds.  The use of indigenous resources keeps the money in our state.  And we keep neglecting the potential benefits of utilizing the geo-effluents for the economy.

So, is geothermal energy coming to the island of Maui?  Probably not now, but anyone with any kind of enterprising spirit desiring to develop the full potential of geothermal energy, with co-products, will certainly succeed.

The USA, by the way, has a geo-generating capacity of 3450 MW.  Number two, the Philippines with 1870 MW and #3 Indonesia at 1340 MW.  A typical nuclear facility produces 1000 MW.  Further, our country is teeming with potential geothermal sites:


Finally, hot dry rock systems have been suggested as capable of providing a lot more energy than all the fossil fuel deposits available and awaiting discovery!



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