Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Trivial but Very Important News

Usually the idea of the government reducing waste is a good thing. The Post Office, the black hole of losses that "makes money" by delivering junk mail you don't want, is a prime example of incompetence. FedEx and UPS usually work better, cheaper, faster, and is profitable so it pays taxes.

My alma mater, Harvard Business School, has it own post office - even though it is just a few hundred yards from the Harvard University post office, and another 0.3 miles in the other direction. No news if this waste will be shuttered.

However, the bureaucracies ashore have rightfully decided that Matinicus deserves to live. Hip, Hip, Hooray! Our post office is much than mail. With our own zip code, UPS and FEdEx can deliver to Criehaven and Matinicus. It give our lifeline airline a steady cashflow, helping to ensure its continued viability. Our trivial little post office's survival is Very Important News for islanders - and shows how hard it is too reduce government.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goodby, Ammonia

This posting is the obituary for http://krementz.blogspot.com/2010/01/matinicus-and-criehaven-sustainable.html

It has been a long time since I posted about the island wind-to-fishing-boat-fuel project. I do not see any way for this project to move forward. A few of the reasons:

1 ) Technical Risk - There are three times the technological risk investors might be interested is.

1 - The technology for running internal combustion engines well with NH3 is still quite aways away. I do not see any fundamental obstacle, but it will need several million dollars of engineering.
2 - The technology of solid state NH3 synthesis is still very early. Will it scale, will it be robust, will it be economic, and most important, will it work? All unanswered questions. Some physicists doubt the process will work anywhere close to being effective.
3 - Can wind, not supported by a grid connection, be stable enough to provide sole power to both the communities and NH3 production facility? Large wind turbines are designed to attach to the grid, and cannot generate power without a grid connection.
2 ) Bureaucratic Risk - This project would have required tremendous efforts to overcome bureaucratic inertia, so-called do-gooders, NIMBYs, BANANAs*, and random naysayers. Cape Wind has been battling for a decade to put a few turbines in the water near Cape Cod, and still has not started construction. There is a ruckus about the Vinalhaven turbines; right or wrong it creates uncertainty in the approval process. Getting community acceptance and governmental approval of a significant NH3 storage facility would be problematic.

3 ) Financial Risk - Funding for many green projects is getting ever more difficult. Convincing investors than our offshore communities are stable enough to service the debt will be challenging. There has not been strong enthusiasm for the project, which further increase the perceived financial risk of the project.

In summary - risk, risk, risk.

RIP, sustainable local energy self-reliance. But who knows what the future will bring.

* NIMBY - not in my back yard
BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Making waves

I had a very interesting visit this week to Ohmsett, a huge wave testing facility in New Jersey. Resolute Marine Energy, who I mentioned about a year ago, is testing one of their wave energy conversion (WEC) devices there.

Ohmsett is four times a long as an Olympic swimming pool, and generates controlled waves at varying sizes and frequencies. Repetitively measuring output of their WEC with different waves, and adjusting parameters on the device itself produces reams of data. A little (or rather, a lot of) number-crunching later, they should have a pretty good model for some real in-the-water prototypes.

The first in-water tests should be next summer (2012) in North Carolina. We had discussed possibly doing some tests off Criehaven, but NC looks like a better opportunity for them. There definitely will not be any Criehaven tests in 2011; no plans have yet been made for 2012.

Resolute's shallow water design is meant for a water depth (MLW) about 10 to 40 feet - one of the tank testing goals is to decide an optimal depth. It is completely underwater, with a vertical "paddle" that oscillates with every wave. Since it is invisible from the surface, there should be little resistance from beach-goers and landowners, and deep enough to be a non-issue for recreational boaters. I think it will be a very useful technology for islands and some other off-grid situations. The Navy is quite interested for some of their island bases; they have a mandate to supply 50% of their shore-side power from renewable resources.

The obvious question: would this wave energy be appropriate for Matinicus? Maybe. The waving paddle clearly would not work tangled with lobster gear, so a dedicated "no-fish" zone would be needed, and respected. The no-fish zone to produce a useful amount of electricity might be 50 feet by 100 feet, parallel to the shore, in 20-40 foot depths, in an area with good wave action. It would not completely replace the diesel generators, but since waves don't "disappear" instantly (unlike wind), there would always be time to start the generator. My very rough guess (without wave data or design data) is that it could produce 90% of the winter electricity demand and 50-75% of the summer demand. However, unless the fishing community is 100% behind it, there is no point in pursuing it.

Does anyone have any estimates on how often we have no surf, winter or summer? Love to hear from anybody.