Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Energy Sources in Hawaii

The topic came up in discussion with some friends the other day. Where does Hawaii get energy? What energy sources are available in Hawaii? The following is my own research in to the subject, so if anyone has anything to add, feel free.

First, those who don't know, Hawaii is composed of many islands. The islands are so far apart that they lack physical utility connections between them. That means that each island has its own generating facilities and for fuels like gasoline, they are brought to the island. But more on that later.

Hawaii has no sources of natural gas and since it's impractical to transport natural gas by any means other than pipe, Hawaii just doesn't have natural gas. What we do have is synthetic natural gas (SNG). Synthetic natural gas is made from petroleum byproducts and while the composition is different, can be used in applications where natural gas would be appropriate. SNG is currently only available on the island of Oahu and even then in limited areas. The Gas Company provides SNG service to customers on Oahu via tank delivery or access to their pipeline network. Their site claims to have around 1000 miles of SNG pipeline.

So are those tiki torches I see at night around Waikiki using SNG? All of the information I can find on the Internet tells me no. They primarily or exclusively use propane for the torches. You can also tell by the smell when they light the torches. It smells like someone firing up a barbeque.

Which brings me to propane. Propane is used in a lot of places in Hawaii where natural gas would be used on the mainland. It's an established energy source in Hawaii and can be transported by tank or pipeline. Propane also makes sense because it's a byproduct you get when you refine petroleum. There are two petroleum refineries on Oahu, so it makes sense for Hawaii to make use of as much of that fuel as possible.

Which brings me to gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels, and bunker fuels. We have all sorts of vehicles zipping around the islands. Cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, jets, and ships. All of these vehicles require petroleum for their engines. Hawaii's two refineries produce these fuels and they are distributed from tank sites that are very similar (if not identical) to tank sites you see on the mainland. Ever see those not so tall but really large diameter white cylindrical towers in the industrial area of your city? These hold the fuel that you will eventually buy from your local station. There is not one tank site for each brand of fuel. There is generally one or two suppliers for a major area and all stations buy from that. The branding of fuel is simply that, branding. Larger brands add stuff to the fuel, like detergents, to make their fuel better (or worse) than other brands. Chevron Techron, for example, is a branding for a detergent that is added to fuels sold at Chevron stations.

Fuel is refined on Oahu and sent on barges to the neighbor islands. This is one reason why fuel tends to cost more on neighbor islands than on Oahu.

What about electricity? Since each island has to generate its own power, we have many different solutions. Here is the breakdown by island:
  • Oahu: Serviced by Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). There are 3 petroleum-fired generating plants owned by HECO. There is another petroleum-fired generating plant owned by Kalaeola Partners. In addition, Oahu is home to H-POWER and AES-Hawaii. H-POWER is a waste-to-energy plant (it burns trash to make power). AES-Hawaii is a coal-fired generating plant. Yes, they ship a small amount of coal to Hawaii to run this plant.
  • Kauai: Serviced by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. They generate power via petroleum, hydroelectric, biomass (like burning trees or sandwiches), and solar.
  • Maui: Serviced by Maui Electric Company (MECO). There are two petroleum-fired generating plants on Maui. HC&S also generates power on Maui by hydroelectric means, bagasse (sugar cane pulp), coal, and petroleum. Maui is also home to the Kaheawa Wind Farm and a small as-needed petroleum generator in Hana.
  • Molokai: Also serviced by MECO. Molokai has a single petroleum-fired generating plant.
  • Lanai: Also serviced by MECO. Lanai has a single petroleum-fired generating plant.
  • Hawaii (Big Island): Serviced by Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO). There are six petroleum-fired generating plants on Hawaii. Puna Geothermal Venture and Hamakua Energy Partners can supply up to 90 MW for Hawaii. There are also three wind farms (one owned by HELCO) and two hydroelectric generating plants.
HECO, MECO, and HELCO are all part of the same holding company.

The needs of each island vary, but you can see the majority of the electricity in Hawaii comes from petroleum. There is also no way for one island to back up another island if the lights go out. Each island is self-sufficient for electricity generation. And yes, the lights have gone out before. Oahu went dark around 7pm on 27-Dec-2008. Among the many people here at the time were the Obamas for Christmas.


Someday'59 said...

This is EXACTLY the kind of nerdy thing that interests me. (Should I admit that I don't understand 1/2 of the computer blog posts?)

Do you know what the Hawaii does about trash? What about recycling? Just curious...

Anonymous said...

I dreamt of Hawaii utilizing wave turbines to harness renewable energy. Idea hit me when we were being oriented by our surf instructor regarding surf safety where huge waves that pummel the coast lines are strong enough to knock out cold a surfer.

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