Cynthia Thielen

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wave Energy Beats Oil for Hawaii

Representative Cynthia Thielen’s
Keynote Address to International OMAE Conference
June 1, 2009

Aloha to all of you, and particularly to my friends from overseas: Professors Antonio Falcao, Teresa Pontes, Cameron Johnstone, and George Smith.

I represent the coastal communities of Kailua, Mokapu and Kaneohe Bay in the Hawaii Legislature. I’m an outspoken advocate for wave energy systems in our island waters.

Those of you who are engineers know the trick is to find the best solution to each problem. In Hawaii, it’s not oil; just as in Colorado, it’s not waves.

As we sit here, with the sun shining and breezes blowing, it’s hard to imagine that Hawaii is 93% dependent on imported fossil fuel for our energy needs. Each year we export 7 billion dollars to pay for imported oil. This has been calculated to be $2,100 from each woman, man and child (and that’s excluding aviation fuel). This means that Hawaii residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation (over 20 cents per kilowatt hour on Oahu, and higher on some neighbor islands). We are totally vulnerable to price fluctuations in this volatile market and to supply disruptions. We learned in the 1970’s: with an oil shortage, California gets what it needs; Hawaii is left in the dark. But we failed to act 30 years ago. Fortunately, or wisely that has changed.

So what are we, as an isolated island state, doing about this energy crisis? The State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy have entered a partnership to develop Hawaii’s natural sources of energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. Called the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), the goals are to achieve 70% clean energy by the year 2030. Forty percent of this will come from renewable energy; the other 30% from efficiency. Hawaii, with help and funding from U.S. Department of Energy is becoming the renewable energy laboratory for the nation. This is where wave energy converters will play a major role. We can’t reach that percentage without wave energy systems being part of the renewable portfolio. This is an opportunity and a challenge for those of you in the audience who are in the technical community, in industry and academics.

Why should you consider Hawaii? Hawaii’s wave climate is the second best in the world, with the first being at Tierra del Fuego. EPRI, the utility-funded Think Tank in Palo Alto, California has estimated Wave Energy Converters (or WEC’s) can provide 100% of our neighbor island’s needs and 80% of Oahu’s.

I’ll explain a bit about our wave climate. The northeasterly trade winds blow year-round, creating rough seas. The average sea state in summer is 6-8 feet within 10 second periods. Powerful winter swells created by “Aleutian Lows” (Arctic Storms) augment the available wave energy resource off Northern and Eastern shorelines.

The Hawaiian Islands are effectively volcanic seamounts that rise precipitously from the sea floor. The absence of a continental shelf means that wave energy arrives in island waters undiminished—unlike other locations such as North and South America and Europe. This is the same reason why surfers talk about how “powerful” Hawaiian surf is. In contrast, waves traveling through open ocean waters slow when they hit a continental shelf. The lack of a continental shelf in Hawaii means that waves literally slam into our coastline going full speed. With this constant, reliable wave climate and 24-hour forecasts available from NOAA, wave energy becomes in essence a “firm” power source for utilities.

Another major advantage is that, due to Hawaii’s underwater topography, the open ocean locations suitable for wave energy conversion occur from shore out to three miles from the coastline. This cuts down on the length of cable needed to transmit power to stations on shore, which in turn decreases project costs significantly. This is a major advantage that Hawaii has over mainland United States’ locations.

And for those of you who have been caught up in the federal bureaucracy: Operating within the State’s 3 mile jurisdiction means WEC developers avoid the bureaucratic battle at the federal level between two federal entities, MMS and FERC.

And still a further advantage for a Hawaii location is that Hawaii has a deep-water harbor, which combined with the presence of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Fleet, means that there are a wide variety of marine services available.

And what about our University of Hawaii? After the United States Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007”, I saw that the Act contained grant funding for National Marine Renewable Test Centers. I met with Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and some of her deans to encourage UH to apply for the grant. The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) took the lead and was awarded the grant and designated as one of only two National Marine Renewable Test Centers, with $1.2 million per year Federal grant and a five-year designation. The grant enables SOEST to study and implement wave energy systems in Hawaii’s seas.

At the Legislature, I co-sponsored two key renewable energy bills: House Bill 1271, places the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s provisions into law. The bill also creates and funds the position of energy program administrator plus seven planning and renewable energy positions. The HCEI no longer is a voluntary document. HB 1271 mandates we achieve 70% clean energy by 2030.

House Bill 1464, among other things, directs the State Energy Resources Coordinator to identify geographic areas containing renewable energy resources, which, of course, include areas suitable for wave, and to designate these areas as renewable energy zones. HB 1464 importantly authorizes the Energy Resources Coordinator to deem that a permit is approved, when the county or state permitting authority has been given adequate time, but has failed to act on the permit application.

The idea of Wave Renewable Energy Zones has gained international and local support for Hawaii:
Matthew Seed, CEO of Wavegen, a division of Voith Siemens, has testified: “We request that [wave energy] zones are selected and designated so that they are suitable for all types of WEC’s, including the implementation of breakwater, nearshore and shoreline wave energy converters.

Derek Roberson, President of Wavebob, an Irish technology, testified: Wavebob and utility Vattenfall have a joint venture to develop a 250MW commercial wave farm off the west coast of Ireland. Wavebob has established operations in the US and will have advanced demonstration projects, which would be ideally suited to Oahu’s wave resource.

ReVision evaluates technical and economic viability of WEC companies for international governments and utilities. ReVision testified: “Results of studies show Hawaii is uniquely positioned to become a leader in this technology. This, in turn, will create local jobs in science, engineering, construction, operation and maintenance.”

Dr. Sidney Chao and Peter Janda, VP of CIIIS testified: “Wave energy industry is on the verge of crossing the tipping point where power from WEC’s may easily surpass that from photovoltaic and wind.”

Also, Professor George Smith, who is a presenter at OMAE, and is Joint Head of Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy, University of Exeter, UK, stated” “Marine renewable energy is now coming to have real potential as a contributor to the generation of ‘clean’ energy and the reduction of carbon emissions from conventional energy production.” Professor Smith sees the “need for sea scale trials and developments as critical.”
As Hawaii moves to become the renewable energy capitol of the nation, I encourage you to look at Hawaii as a wave energy laboratory. Oceanlinx is in the process of installing two commercial Wave Energy Converters off Pauwela Point, on Maui’s windward side. The Oceanlinx project will total 2.7MW of capacity. Wavegen recently met with State Department of Transportation officials about shore and harbor-based systems.

Our island state provides the perfect environment in which to develop the Wave Energy Systems that will become the industry standards in this emerging sector of the world’s renewable energy portfolio. We have federal financial support and involvement through the HCEI and federally designated and financially supported University of Hawaii Marine Renewable Test Center; we have support from the Legislature and Administration; and we have cooperation from the major utility, Hawaiian Electric Company,

Some of you might have seen yesterday’s headline: Wave power budget faces cut.” The Obama administration is proposing a reduction from $40 million to $30 million for wave and tidal research funding. The $30 million is still 10 times greater than the funds provided by the Bush administration. Democrat Senator Patty Murray, from the State of Washington, is actively challenging that reduction, as will leaders in Hawaii. The article further notes: “Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2 percent of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world.” To those of you in industry, there is your challenge.

I’ll finish with a comment about someone who knows the power of Hawaii’s waves from firsthand experience: On his recent trip home, President Obama bodysurfed at Sandy Beach on the Ka Iwi coastline. The shorebreak at “Sandys” is notorious for its hollow, powerful waves, which come out of deep water and break right upon the shore. The waters just a couple of miles East of Ka Iwi are ideal for wave energy conversion. I invite you to develop and deploy your technology here, so on his next trip to his birth-state, President Obama can see your Wave Energy Converter in operation, providing clean, renewable power to the electric grid.

Mahalo and aloha.


  • Spot on - glad to have you representing us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:51 PM  

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