Hawaii Should Be Our Kuwait

About 10 years ago my wife and I took a “work-cation” to Hawaii, to the Big Island.

Back then I was an “expert” on Internet commerce. I knew those days were ending, because as I said at the conference I attended in Kona, Internet commerce is becoming just commerce, Internet merchandising just merchandising, and Internet publishing just publishing.

But I was impressed, as we toured the island after the show, with the wealth of renewable energy resources on display. The Sun shines steadily on the Kona side of the island (the word means “dry” in Hawaiian), the trade wind is reliable, as are the ocean currents. And, needless to say, we were sitting on top of liquid rock.

Yet fueling our car cost us over $1.00 per gallon than it did on the mainland. Electricity prices, I learned, were similarly outrageous, which is why the city on the island’s east side, Hilo (the word means “wet” in Hawaii) was populated first. Water falling over rocks, nurturing shady plants, turns even a hot day into paradise.

“You should be Kuwait,” I told our host as we left, and I have wondered why, in the last decade, this hasn’t yet happened.

Maui does have a 30 MW wind farm. Ormat Technologies has a 20-year power purchase agreement to supply geothermal energy to the Hawaiian grid. There’s an active Solar Energy Association http://www.hsea.org/ which is fighting for its slice of the subsidy pie.

But it’s slow going. That geothermal resource is tricky. It’s close to the surface, close enough to see a plant as an outlet, man-made volcano. The wind is not 100% reliable. The Sun does not shine at night. Hawaii has to import solar panels just as it imports nearly everything else.

The slow pace (and continuing high prices for gas and electricity) have opened the political door to global warming deniers like Panos Preverdouros, a civil engineer who insists Hawaii’s energy future is Australian coal. He twice ran for mayor of Honolulu (the whole island of Oahu is part of the city) as an opponent of rail transportation but lost.

Still. If Hawaii can’t power itself, what chance does the rest of America have? That’s what made Hawaii interesting to me in 2001, and it’s still what makes it fascinating today.

 

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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