Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hawaii's Energy Options

Status quo, Part 1: oil and coal -- Coal will remain affordable for decades (excluding made up carbon taxes). Oil prices will reach $150/barrel again in the future and at anything over $200/barrel using 2010 as a base (barrel under $80) will stress transportation budgets on Oahu, cost of goods, and price of flights.

Status quo, Part 2: burn trash is profitable now and probably still doable at $150 per barrel of oil. Oil is essential to mix with trash for the incineration process. The downside is that about 20% of the trash volume is converted into trash so every five years the pile that needs to be land-filled is as big as one year's worth of land-filled trash.

Other energy from trash: Collect methane from decommissioned trash land fills. This is a remote possibility for the Waimanalo Gulch and the power gain will likely be small.

Geothermal is a great option, very clean, but for the Big Island only. With all the volcanic activity, it makes little sense to burn oil on the Big Island for electricity generation or for other renewable energy installations.

Then there is a host of renewable energy technologies some of which have known risks, costs, reliability and effectiveness. Others are heavily dependent on subsidies to make their cost per mega-Watt (MW) competitive when oil costs less than $150/barrel. The mix that is worth investigating for feasibility, planning and costing in producing electric power includes:
  • photovoltaic (PV) or solar,
  • wind, various technologies,
  • wave, various technologies,
  • biomass, various technologies,
  • nuclear, various sizes, configurations and location options,
  • other less known technologies, some of which appropriate for small scale deployments.
The state needs a detailed 20 and 50 year plan for the four main islands completed by 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Panos,
You are quoted in the recent mayoral debate as advocating an offshore nuclear plant for Oahu's energy. While I'm not as nuclear-phobic as some, I worry that position may cost you some votes, and would like to offer an alternate.
Rail advocates often claim that an electric rail system would be "greener" than automobiles. However, neither Mufi's Train nor electric cars, already proven in California , on your piggy back freeway can be any greener than HECO since it provides the electricity, generated by ancient sunlight (fossil fuel).
Current HECO electrical output is 1,727 MW using 76% oil and 19% coal (the dirtiest of all options) to generate the electricity. Of course HECO can become no greener than the monolithic fossil fuel industry will allow, and it appears that industry will not give up until every lump of coal and drop of petroleum has been exhausted. However, that time may come sooner than expected.
Fuel Sources HECO
(island of Oahu) HELCO
(island of Hawaii) MECO
(islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai) HECO family of companies
Oil 76.65% 69.57% 85.44% 76.90%
Coal 18.67% 1.84% 14.38%
Biofuel .04% 0.12% 0.05%
(includes waste-to-energy) 4.64% 3.04% 3.89%
Geothermal 13.85% 1.64%
Hydro 4.95% 0.79% 0.68%
Solar 0.11% 0.01%
Wind 11.63% 8.66% 2.45%
TOTAL: 100% 100% 100% 100%

The land area of Oahu is 600 square miles The length of the shoreline is 227 miles.
I have done some preliminary calculations on matching that HECO 1,727 MW using current sunlight-"CS" (solar panels, windmills, and wave generators.) Tidal energy would be another possibility, although not strictly current sunlight. Geothermal is not really green but that's Madame Pele's fault, not ours, and it's limited to dirtying up the Big Island anyway. Hydroelectric would be CS but not very helpful due to our paucity of rivers.
1,727 MW of electricity could be generated by 20 miles of German Enercon E-126 wind turbines spaced along the 27 mile long Koolau ridgeline, currently used mostly by hikers. ~ 246 turbines would be needed
Direct solar panel power over all continental areas has the potential to provide 1,000 times total world energy consumption in 2008. Applied to Oahu it would appear that 1,727 MW of electricity could be supplied by ~ % 5 of Oahu's land area covered in solar panels
The formulas at are quite arcane but I gather that we could get ~ 36 kilowatts of wave power per meter of coastline. That would mean ~ 29 miles (12%) of Oahu shoreline given to wave generators to equal the 1727 MW output of HECO. Possibly one could reduce that figure by staggering the generators or placing them above and below each other at appropriate depths.
These, of course are only rough estimates. However, I believe that local labor could install these various energy modes and locally trained electical, aeronautical, and civil engineering graduates could do much of the design work. Furthermore, local industry might well be up to the task of some parts fabrication, thereby keeping the moneys in the state. I'm not sure this can be said of a nuclear generator.
At any rate, these factors could play a role in vaporizing the strong union support for Mufi's rail, which may well be displaced anyway, since much of the rail system would probably have to be shipped out here from the mainland.