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Hawaii's Energy Problems

There is this enormous and dangerous assumption embraced by the Governor [of Hawaii] that "renewable" energy sources will save the day.

The concepts of energy are difficult to appreciate and the generation of electrical energy is more so.

We expect our leaders to be astute on energy issues, to appreciate the crucial roles of reliable electricity, and be wise and aggressive in sustaining future reliable energy supplies in Hawaii.

Clearly, the state of Hawaii is unique in its energy supplies. More than 95 percent of the electricity on Oahu is derived from the burning of fossil fuels, 77 percent from the burning of oil, 18 percent from the burning of coal (4.5 percent comes from the burning of Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW).

These sources provide the total electrical capacity on Oahu 1669 Megawatts. This is by far the highest dependence on oil of all of the 50 states, and all of the oil and coal is imported.

To be complete regarding the Hawaiian use of petroleum Hawaiian Electric Company website reports that of all the oil imported (including petroleum products such as jet fuel and gasoline), 32 percent is used for electrical production, 34 percent for air transportation, and 27 percent for ground and water travel. Notice that the air transportation sector uses more than all auto and shipping fuel combined).

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The concepts of energy are difficult to appreciate and the generation of electrical energy is more so.

We expect our leaders to be astute on energy issues, to appreciate the crucial roles of reliable electricity, and be wise and aggressive in sustaining future reliable energy supplies in Hawaii.

Clearly, the state of Hawaii is unique in its energy supplies. More than 95 percent of the electricity on Oahu is derived from the burning of fossil fuels, 77 percent from the burning of oil, 18 percent from the burning of coal (4.5 percent comes from the burning of Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW).

These sources provide the total electrical capacity on Oahu 1669 Megawatts. This is by far the highest dependence on oil of all of the 50 states, and all of the oil and coal is imported.

To be complete regarding the Hawaiian use of petroleum Hawaiian Electric Company website reports that of all the oil imported (including petroleum products such as jet fuel and gasoline), 32 percent is used for electrical production, 34 percent for air transportation, and 27 percent for ground and water travel. Notice that the air transportation sector uses more than all auto and shipping fuel combined).

The growth of major economies in India, China, Brazil etc., are putting serious demand pressures on oil supplies. Compounding these increased demand pressures, are the political instabilities in the Middle East.

These are raising the simultaneous specters of supply interruptions.

These in turn present a serious threat to the energy security of Hawaii.

According to the Hawaii State Energy Resources Coordinator Annual Report 1999 (a check disclosed that the 2005 version is available but not posted on the Web site), Hawaii imports about 141,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Around 60 percent comes from Southeast Asia and the remainder from Alaska. According to the 1999 Report none comes from the Middle East.

In addition, Hawaii imports about 19,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE)/day of refined oil products (gasoline, jet fuel, etc.). These come from Southeast Asia, the mainland, and a bit from South America.

The energy contained in these fuels and put to good use by Hawaiians, is huge and underappreciated. To think in terms of replacing this oil dependence requires a good understanding of the magnitude of the problem. It’s going to take some serious energy problem solvers to address the serious energy problems.

So it was disheartening to read of Gov. Linda Lingle’s approach outlined in her Jan. 23 State of the State speech. The response to the Hawaii energy situation was a basket full of superficial fixes having to do more with political correctness and a shallow understanding of energy.

There is this enormous and dangerous assumption embraced by the Governor that "renewable" energy sources will save the day. They won’t. Of that 141,000 barrels per day which Hawaii imports, 32 percent or 45,000 barrels/day are burned each day for the production of electricity. That’s a great deal of energy to ship to Hawaii with 2-3 thousand mile supply line.

The notion that we can reduce the need for 45,000 barrels/day with conservation, solar, photovoltaics, wind, ethanol, geothermal, etc., is institutional deception. There is a heck of a lot more complexity to energy sources than starry-eyed assertions and heavy handed government demands. Then there are the overlooked areas of engineering, of scaling up from bench top prototypes, of field and operational performance, and the entire list of energy costs involved.

The economics can be appalling and often the unknowing public is slipped the huge costs in the form of increased energy bills or increased taxes at year end, or both.

For example, as has been pointed out by Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell, bio energy from ethanol from corn, wheat, switchgrass, etc., is for most production situations an energy loser. This is to say it requires more energy to produce the ethanol than can be achieved from in combustion. In fact it takes, according to Pimentel, about 70 percent more energy to produce the ethanol than can be obtained from it. Such an ethanol program in Hawaii would make Hawaii even more dependent or foreign sources of energy, not less.

Furthermore an ethanol energy infrastructure is land intensive. As Miller and Ponnuru pointed out in National Review (8/13/01), from their review of Pimentel’s work "If all of the automobiles in the U.S. were fueled with 100 percent ethanol, a total of 97 percent of the U.S. land area would be needed to grow the corn feedstock."

The same energy restrictions apply to the production of hydrogen. It also requires more energy to produce hydrogen than can be obtained from its burning. A thousand Hindenburg accidents cannot alter that high school chemistry lesson. It’s nice to tout hydrogen fuel cells, but it is not nice to omit the major engineering problem of producing the needed cost-effective hydrogen in the first place.

Other serious engineering and cost problems can be found with geothermal energy (it’s a mixed bag and very site specific), wind (its intermittent, unreliable, costly, and non-dispatchable).

These "solutions" to our energy problems are thrown out into the public discourse as if they were cure-alls needing only the money to build them. As a matter of fact we have built many of these in the form of "demonstration projects" across the U.S. for the past 35 years. Nearly all of them (wind and solar projects) have failed.

According to Ron Bailey (Wind Breaks" www.sepp.org 4-3-03) a 1000 Mw(e) wind farm would require a land area of about 2000 sq miles. Pro-rating this to Oahu’s installed electrical capacity of 1669 (MW(e) electrical capacity, this would require more than 3000 sq miles of land.
With only 4028 sq miles of Oahu, wind is hardly the way to reduce oil imports to Oahu. Remarkably, the state of Hawaii is demanding that in 2020 HECO produce 20 percent of its electricity from "alternative energy sources, not 100 percent. Even this works out to more than 300 square miles if provided by windmills. And these are very costly when the heavy subsidies are included.

Many such alternatives (they are not alternatives at all, they are at best "supplementary" energy sources) are not "net energy sources" in the first place. Political correctness is running amuck in energy planning the state. It’s often called the Jiminy Cricket Law of Nature: "That wishing will make it so."

The Nuclear Option

Consider another energy option which is apparently forbidden to discuss. It does not emit a single molecule of CO2, that dreaded global warming greenhouse gas, nor does it emit a single molecule of methane, an even more potent green house gas. It does not emit a single molecule of other regulated pollutants such as SO2, NOx, ash and particulates. Its fuel requirements are trivial, about 100 tons per year per 1000 MW(e) plant. Compare this to the 45,000 barrels/day of oil in Oahu.

The nuclear waste is now being converted commercially into immobilizing glass in France, England, and soon Japan. Much of this technology was developed in the U.S. 30 years ago. While no new nuclear power plants have been ordered in the U.S. for 30 years, many other nations have continued to build them.

China now has several under construction and plan to build 30 more in the next 15 years. China is also building new hydro and coal plants, too. Other nations such as Brazil, Canada, Finland, and Ukraine are building more.

Japan plans to build 12 more and Korea plans to build 8 more. I might also add that many of these nations have deliberately chosen, by their own energy analyses, not to follow the "alternative energy" path as we seem to do.

Some of the advanced designs (called Generation IV reactors, or "Gen IV") are incredibly safe and much simpler to build and operate. One of these is called the "pebble bed reactor." It comes in several designs and is extremely robust and very safe. Its fuel is comprised of graphite spheres containing carbide forms of uranium and other fissile materials. This fuel design is extremely stable thermally, and is a very good conductor of heat. These go into the safety features of the reactor.

As the reactor gets hotter the distance between the atoms of fuel get farther apart. As this distance grows larger the number of nuclear reactions decreases, thus reducing the energy output. In this way safety is increased tremendously since now high temperature excursions are not possible.

The coolant can be a choice of several inert gases, helium being a favorite. It is extremely inert and non corrosive and can be expanded directly into the turbines and returned to the reactor. It can be refueled during operations which avoids costly fuel outages. The reactor are modular is design which means the sizing of the reactor can be "locally appropriate" depending upon the number of people and industry in the service area.

China has a license to build a small 10 MW(e) pebble bed reactor, and a full sized 200 MW(e) plant in a few years. They plan to build 30 more of these by the year 2020.

A number of U.S. utilities are looking into this option as well.
And oh yes, for the "alternative energy" advocates. There is another way of producing hydrogen which does not require the electrolysis of water. At very high temperatures (well within the range of the pebble bed reactor), water can be thermally cracked into its components, oxygen and hydrogen.

During off-peak hours these reactors can be used to make copious amounts of hydrogen for those hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Now that could lead to reduced oil dependence in the Hawaii transportation sector as well.

It would appear that Hawaii state leaders need some serious energy advisors. The people of Hawaii and their future are not being well served when it come to energy.

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., is the energy and science writer for Hawaii Reporter. He has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level. His interest in the communications of science has led to several communications awards, hundreds of speeches, and many appearances on television and talk shows. He can be reached via email at: mailto:foxm011@hawaii.rr.com

Source: http://www.hawaiireporter.c...

JAN 25 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1088-hawaii-s-energy-problems
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