Sunday, November 14, 2010

PBN Sees a Future with Rail and Ocean Power

Rendering of future Pearl Highlands train station.
The current issue of Pacific Business News is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in knowing what living on Oahu could be like decades from now. If you’re not a subscriber, pick up a copy of PBN in a bookstore or newsstand -- or better yet, become one.

The November 12th edition has stories on the Honolulu Authority on Rapid Transportation (HART) and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), which will be key components of our future society if events play out as expected in the years immediately ahead.

(Subscribers can log in to read complete stories on the website, but others are restricted to only the first couple paragraphs. Clicking on “View This Week’s Digital Edition” allows a temporary preview of the weekly paper’s pages, and you might get as far as page 8 and the HART story before your preview expires.)

Light at the End of the Tunnel

HART, which was approved by Oahu voters earlier this month, will guide the construction, operation and maintenance of Honolulu rail. The system will be the transportation backbone of Oahu’s urban core that will continue to grow between downtown Honolulu/Kakaako/Ala Moana and the Second City of Kapolei to the west.

PBN editorializes in this edition that the election of pro-rail Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie and pro-rail Mayor Peter Carlisle has removed a great deal of uncertainty about the project:

“… it is tantalizing to think that last week’s elections seem to have gotten us one step closer. In other words, the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel may be just the train we’ve been waiting for – well past due, but at least headed in the right direction.”

Ocean Powering the Train

Elsewhere in this issue, PBN continues it series on renewable energy technologies by giving page-one treatment to OTEC, which long has been appreciated by advocates as the ultimate game-changer to get Hawaii off oil- and coal-fired electrical generation.

OTEC uses the temperature difference between warm ocean surface water and deep water (3,000 feet) to generate electricity. A working fluid with a boiling point between those two temperatures (such as ammonia) can be boiled off into a gas when exposed to surface water in a heat exchanger, compressed through an electrical generator and then condensed back to a liquid when exposed to cooler deep water (as illustrated in this NELHA graphic).

Pages 30 and 31 of PBN’s print edition are dominated by the continuation of the OTEC story and by the “Light rail headed in the right direction” editorial – a nice juxtaposition, since decades from now Honolulu rail could well be powered almost entirely by ocean power.

Honolulu rail will improve energy efficiency and air quality even though the system will be powered mostly by electricity generated by Hawaiian Electric’s fossil fuel power plants in its early years. But if OTEC finally realizes its enormous potential and becomes commercially viable in the coming decades, Honolulu rail could run entirely on ocean power.

That scenario is likely to be realized during the lifetimes of most Oahu residents, so this could be one PBN issue you’ll want to read to your children and grandchildren. Firing up their imaginations on what Oahu life could be like by mid-century will help make it happen.

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