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Hawaii ideal for wave energy

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In the greasy wake of BP’s catastrophic Gulf oil spill, colleagues of mine at the state Legislature (Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Gary Hooser) and the Sierra Club (Director Robert Harris) have called for an energy awakening at both the local and national levels.

They have done this with good reason: America’s unacceptable dependence on oil must change, and Hawaii is uniquely positioned to lead the charge.

It’s time to act, and here’s how we can begin:

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative established the framework for reaching 70 percent clean energy in Hawaii by 2030 (40 percent of which will come from renewable sources).

Neighbor island wind farms and an interisland transmission cable are projected to play a major role.

Undoubtedly, this is a step in the right direction, but wind can only provide a portion of Hawaii’s energy needs. Furthermore, large wind farms consume valuable and finite real estate on neighbor islands to meet Oahu’s energy needs, affecting how that land is able to be used for other purposes.

For true revolution to occur, Hawaii’s energy intelligentsia — its lawmakers, academics, energy executives and administrators — must lead the way with bold, decisive actions that bring renewable technologies online now.

It is for precisely this reason that I have been a tenacious advocate for wave energy conversion in Hawaiian waters.

Hawaii’s wave energy resources are among the best on the planet, and wave energy converters situated offshore leave Hawaii’s finite land resources free for other uses. Due to the fact that ocean waves contain tremendous amounts of extractable energy, wave energy converters as a source of electricity have far more upside than older renewable energy technologies. In other words, while solar and wind have hit technological plateaus in terms of the amount of energy they are able to extract from the resources, wave energy systems will only become more powerful and efficient.

In January, nine countries — Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK — announced plans to build a "supergrid." The project relies upon considerable wave energy resources in the North Sea to realize its goals. The UK also has established a "wave hub" which is situated on the sea floor. Wave energy companies pay to plug their converters into the hub, where converted electricity is then transmitted to the electric grid.

These are exactly the kind of actions that policymakers across the nation need to take, and we in Hawaii should be the first to recognize that.

To start, the state should develop a wave hub in an appropriate area offshore of Oahu. The Energy Division of the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) has staff and initial seed money. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo. is preparing Hawaii’s wave resource assessment and concurrently completing its wave energy technology roadmap.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently funded an independent environmental analysis of wave energy technologies.

Furthermore, the DOE has $40 million in funding to test full-scale prototypes in Hawaii or Oregon.

We snooze, we lose out to the West Coast.

Wave energy technology has advanced to the point where companies in Europe are actively testing and fine-tuning their systems in advance of full-scale commercial operation. Exhaustive environmental, economic and technological analyses have been conducted, and data supports the conclusion that wave energy systems can be a major source of clean, reliable energy as the world moves away from fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Even a test facility following the UK’s Wave Hub model would represent major progress for Hawaii as it strives to move away from its dependence on oil and toward a sustainable future. A wave hub operated by DBEDT or the University of Hawaii could support multiple commercial scale systems, providing clean energy to thousands of homes and creating hundreds of jobs in support of the operations.

Ultimately, this potent, yet undeveloped energy resource can reliably provide the lion’s share of Hawaii’s clean energy mandate.

Gov. Linda Lingle and the Legislature have laid the groundwork by ratifying the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and planning for Hawaii’s future. I am calling on our next administration to be even bolder, by making wave energy — and the transition from overdependence on oil — a top priority. It can do this by approaching wave energy conversion with the same zeal that’s been devoted to wind and the interisland cable.

Wake up and harness our ocean’s energy.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th, represents Kailua and Kaneohe Bay.


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