Paradise, Energy and Beer

My wife, daughter, and I were driving from our last meal on the Big Island after a 2-week stay. We had just eaten at a restaurant that is acclaimed as the most southerly restaurant in the U.S. We soon noticed bright lights reflecting from the island's tropical cloud layer. Getting nearer we could see that the lights were coming from local softball game so we stopped to watch. Being a typical engineer and having a background that included lighting design, I calculated that the energy cost (at up to 38 cents per kWh) would come to about $150 for each game. I also noticed the local referee, who was calling “OUT” or “SAFE” from the bleachers, toss a beer over the fence to a husky, tattooed player on the field. The player, who was taking a last drag on his cigarette, opened his beer bottle with his teeth.

Floating on the lithosphere and moving northwest at the geologically dizzying speed of 3 inches per year, the Hawaiian Islands embrace some of the most diverse geographical, historical, biological, and geological situations on the planet. The extreme isolation prevented the first human settlements until roughly 1500 years ago, and the islands were not discovered by Europeans until 1778. The islands have 11 of 13 of the world’s climate zones and have shield volcanoes that are up to 13,796 feet high. .

Along with this diversity, the islands pose almost every means of producing renewable energy - wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, biomass, and tidal. On the Big Island these contribute about 40% of the island's electric energy, and this does not include the energy saved by rooftop solar water heating or conservation efforts. It is also a perfect location for electric vehicles. But its geography is also the reason that energy costs are high. Shipping costs from the mainland for coal and petroleum products and the separated small islands do not allow power sources on each to be shared.

The production of renewable energy with the large area requirements on these small islands does have its consequences. This means that Hawaii's feral agricultural land will have to produce biomass along with required trucking on 2-lane highways, its wind-swept land will be privatized for the production of wind power and transmission lines, its coast lines will be filled with maintenance roads and whatever for the production of tidal energy, and more of its ground and surface water rights will be dedicated to hydro power. Geothermal energy production on the Big Island is located right over the east rift zone. The volcanically active rift zone is actually a fault that allows the western part of the island, which is being dragged northwest, to be structurally released back to the sea floor. The injection piping from the geothermal plant can reach the top of its magma chambers and has the potential to produce 200 MW of power. The island's peak power load is 180 MW and the largest load requirements are on the opposite (Kona) side of the island.

As we left the ball game I noticed that lights in the homes were turned off. The little town had no street lights, and there was no street traffic. It was quiet and wonderful. I wondered how these people survived such high energy costs. I also wondered how the guy who opened the beer bottle with his teeth was doing.

To read further about Hawaiian Island renewable energy check out the article in IEEE Energy and Power