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The 100 Percent Solution

Can we make all our energy without oil?

July 23, 2009
Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC

Doubters say that we need to wait until systems are available to store energy when the wind stops blowing, or that clean energies will always be secondary to oil.

But the obvious solution is all around us. Sugarcane has the optimum photosynthesis process to transform sunlight into plant material. There are a variety of methods available to transform these plants into energy, from burning bagasse—which is done today—to planned ethanol factories and modern gasification plants. All of these methods can also utilize leaves that are now wastefully burned away.

It’s a bit more expensive to make energy from sugarcane than from oil. It’s a bit cheaper to make energy from wind. A combination of wind and sugarcane together with solar and storage turns out to be a perfect solution. Analyzing the available resources brings to light that in God’s infinite wisdom, we have just the right amount of sugarcane growing to balance the variations in wind energy.

Old man sugar is in trouble. Sugar prices have not increased in 25 years. Most sugar plantations on the islands have closed. There is not a good alternative crop in sight, but empty fields would allow winds to blow dust throughout Kahului and North Kīhei. Clearly, the transformation into an energy plantation is the only way out.

Thirty 5 MW windmills would generate half of our electricity needs, and sugar plants (including the leaves) would generate the other half. Electricity prices would stop rising and new jobs would be created. To complete the picture, powerful electric cars will be available next year, which could run on 100 percent clean energy if this system was in place.

Given the political will, Maui could be powered by 100 percent clean energy within five to seven years.

 
 
 

 

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