by Panos Prevedouros PhD
Electric power is all about baseload and predictable peaks of usage. Wind is all about unpredictability. Among all major resources for the production of energy, wind is among the least predictable and dependable. Ever since I visited the decrepit wind project at South Point on the Big Island I realized that wind farms are investment schemes, not reliable energy production plants. So did T. Boone Pickens with his multibillion dollar order of GE wind turbines for his “Pickens Plan,” a plan that has been abandoned because wind energy makes no business sense on the U.S. mainland.
However, the potential for windfall profits from wind mills is huge in Hawaii because of its outrageous price for a kilowatt-hour: 230% over the mainland average, whereas gasoline is only 15% higher.
A recent study by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute claims that “wind and solar can reliably supply 25% of Oahu’s electricity need.” At what cost? It doesn’t say. Coal is cheap and plentiful on the mainland, Australia and other friendly sources. India and China have locked quantities and prices of Australian coal. That’s energy security and ability to budget in one deal.
How much does 200 MW cost from coal, wind or solar? The HNEI study doesn’t say. The study has identified several “challenges” in the incorporation of volatile wind energy into a power grid for residential, business and industrial use. Along with a “challenge” comes a cost, often a large one, for the partial mitigation of the challenge.
The study is a year 2014 energy simulation snap shot with wind farms on Lanai and Molokai, and interisland high voltage cables. But several baseload oil powered units on Oahu will need retirement. Then what? Where will the baseload come from? Baseload is the lowest amount of power that satisfies basic user needs. Oahu’s daytime baseload is over 900 MW.
One of the best scenarios of the study depends on accurate wind forecast (in terms of hours, not days.) Then the study specifies that “the adverse affect of this strategy occurred when the wind power forecast was inaccurate.” When was the last time we had a routine accurate hour-by-hour wind forecast?
This plot by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reveals how volatile winds are on a daily basis. It also shows that wind has a “bad attitude” as a source of energy because it changes from stiff to calm in an hour or so. This, in turn, places a huge stress on the grid and the baseload turbines that are designed to work at a constant rate. Dependence on wind energy will strand quite a few tourists quite often in Waikiki elevators.
The study also takes for granted the willingness of Lanai and Molokai residents to host power production for Oahu. The opposite is true. The study also states that none of this power will be distributed to the Lanai and Molokai power grids. All of it will be connected to Oahu via a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable system. The latter varies in cost $0.5 to 1.5 billion, all at taxpayer expense.
The Wall Street Journal asks: “So what is Mr. Pickens planning to do with all the wind turbines he ordered? He’s hoping to foist them on ratepayers in Canada, because that country has mandates that require consumers to buy more expensive renewable electricity.” Hawaii has similar renewable energy mandates and studies favoring wind solutions make the investment plans easier to move forward.
Here is the “Big Wind” project in State Senate committee chaired in January 2011 by Hermina Morita http://www.vimeo.com/19504594. Ms. Morita believes in the wind and cable projects. Subsequently Governor Abercrombie appointed Ms. Morita to chair the Public Utilities Commission. Is this a big fix for “Big Wind”?
With over 75% dependency on oil for power, Hawaii needs a reliable, local source for electricity now. In addition to coal as I mentioned above, Hawaii has at least two other moderate sources for power and a major one.
OTEC or (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) is reliable. A modest plant is on the way.
H-Power already takes advantage of the trash in the black bin. B-Power will take advantage of the green bin. B for Biomass which makes methane which fuels a power plant. We need a B-Power on Oahu now.
A major energy source is Pele’s gift to her people and to the residents of the islands: Abundant geothermal power on Maui and the Big Island. Geothermal energy produces 10% to 100% of power in volcanic island nations like Japan, New Zealand, Iceland and the Philippines but only 2% in Hawaii.
Let’s stop blowing taxpayer billions in the wind and start making clean steam.