I visited two different islands over the past several weeks and both sparked some thought about sustainable living. Islands are interesting because they represent our planet in microcosm. They’re almost like big biospheres.
The island on the left is San Juan Island, a member of the San Juan Island chain here in Washington State. The island on the right is the famous Oahu, home of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. I was on San Juan Island over the New Year’s holiday and was in Hawaii for just a few days in December.
Islands that were populated before the arrival of western society were great examples of sustainable communities. They grew enough food for their populations (and obtained seafood). They needed to keep waste materials under control. Because they were isolated, viruses were rare if not unheard of.
While we drove through some open territory on Oahu, it became oddly apparently how little (if any) energy production actually takes place on the island. And, of course, I began to daydream about the possibilities. Could they ban all gas-powered automobiles and switch to all-electric? The island is almost small enough that you could get away with it. If you supplied free electricity for everyone, would that be enough to make it happen? The state of Hawaii uses oil to generate 78% of its electricty, according to the Star-Bulletin (Note: data from 2001). In fact, it looks like Oahu generates none of its energy from renewable sources (there is some methane generation occuring, but in true MLW fashion, we’ll consider the burning of anything a non-sustainable solution). This is crazy. First of all, to be so reliant on oil tankers rolling into the home of some of the most sensitive ecological area in the world, not to mention the most beautiful beaches is just nuts. And don’t forget about those tourist dollars you’re risking. What’s more, there’s plenty of wind rolling across the islands. Oh yeah, and that thing so many of us go there to see — the sun.
Meanwhile, while I was on Oahu, I picked up an issue of Honululu Weekly, a free alternative paper. The cover story was about a controversy over Biofuel production. A company is interested in growing albizia trees to use for biofuel. The tree is apparently a non-native invasive species that grows quite well in Hawaii. Anyway, lots of politics of land use, water rights, etc. The unfortunate thing is that while biofuel might be an important part of the mix for Hawaii, wind and solar seem to be completely ignored. Instead of planting albizia, they should be planting windmills.
The other island, San Juan, was quite similar. I didn’t see any obvious evidence of renewable energy activities on the island. Their utility reports 84% of their power comes from hydro-electric, which tells me that they get power from the mainland. Basically a pretty standard grid buy. That’s pretty unfortunate because, like Hawaii, they have massive amounts of wind and wave possibilities available. Although, unlike Hawaii, they don’t have such a massive influx of tourist dollars to spend. There’s such an opportunity here to take destinies into one’s own hand, but it seems the cheap easy solution wins out every time. Perhaps the magic of high prices will get us there or perhaps bold leadership, but either way, let’s hope it’s soon.
UPDATE: Coincidentally, it looks like Hawaii is making a big investment in Solar Power. Greenbang says a BusinessWeek article points to the big investment, although I couldn’t find the link. But looks like good news!
OK, so we already know waves can generate power. So if you’re going to be on the waves, why not use their power to propel you along? That’s the idea behind this innovative idea from famed “eco-adventurer” Kenichi Horie. Horie is famous for being the first person to sail solo across the Pacific in 1962. Now he’s planning to depart from Hawaii in March for Japan.
The boat is equipped with two special fins at the front which can move like a dolphin’s tail each time the boat rises or falls with the rhythm of the waves.
The theory is that a vertical motion can drive it forward at a speed of three knots.
No one has ever tried to travel only by the power of waves, Horie said, although several experimental wave-power boats have been built in the past.
“Throughout history, mankind has used wind for power, but no one has appeared to be serious about wave power,” Horie said. “I think I’m a lucky boy as this wave power system has remained virtually untouched.”
This will be one to watch. The potential of this seems quite extensive if it works. I could see it being used as a primary or secondary source of power for pleasure craft or even as a booster for larger ships. If I’m able to find any video of this beast in action, I’ll be sure to post it here. Should be interesting.
I guess if you’re not testing, you’re not learning. And if you don’t run into challenges, you’re not trying hard enough.
Case in point: The wave power experiment here in Washington State I wrote about recently has sunk. According to the Associated Press, the buoy began taking on water and sunk before it could be rescued. The company isn’t discouraged, however, and vows to keep testing and take the improvements foward to the next version.
Never give up, guys!
The ocean covers 3/4 of the planet and is always in motion. Plus two sides of our country have long stretches of oceanfront area. For that reason, developing power from the ocean is a growing area for potential power development.
And another interesting development via EcoGeek. This innovation from Swell Fuel, uses a pivoting action as it floats on the waves to generate kilowatts. We’ll see if it takes off, but even if it doesn’t it’s great to see this creative thinking and people willing to put their time and effort into trying something like this.
And one more concept on video. This is the Wave Dragon energy converter seen here in Denmark.
Â According to the Associated Press, two buoys associated with a wave energy system are being deployed this weekend in Oregon.
The Finavera systems work by converting the natural rising and falling action of the waves into electrical power.
The Finavera buoys, which are 70 feet tall and weigh 70,000 pounds apiece, use the vertical power of rising and falling waves to drive sea water through an onboard turbine, which generates electricity. Clusters of the buoys would be linked to electrical cables on the sea floor, which in turn would plug into the onshore power grid.
The sheer size of the Aquabuoys prevents them from impeding such marine creatures as gray whales, said Bak.
“We have done a number of environmental studies specifically on that,” he said. “We have found that these populations will migrate around them.” As a precaution, he said, “we need to site the arrays so that we are not interfering” with fishermen.
Finavera CEO Jason Bak says if licensing can be accelerated, the first deployed in Washington State as a demonstration project:
“We hope that the device will be tweaked in 2008, and installed in 2009,” he said of Aquabuoy 2. “The first commercial arrays, or at least the first phase of projects, would be deployed in 2011 or 2012″ in the Makah Bay in Washington, where Finavera already has conducted tests on the environmental impact of such devices.
This isÂ going toÂ bear some closeÂ watching.