Cordilleran Section - 113th Annual Meeting - 2017

Paper No. 23-1
Presentation Time: 8:35 AM


THOMAS, Donald, University of Hawaii, Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720; Hawaii Inst. Geophys & Planetology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822 and LAUTZE, Nicole, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, HI,

Hawaii’s volcanic origin has endowed the island chain with what may be great geothermal potential. Early exploration efforts began in the 1960’s with several “wild-cat” geothermal wells on the Kilauea East Rift Zone (KERZ) without much success. A more studied effort, conducted by the University of Hawaii, in the 1970’s led to the drilling of the state’s first successful geothermal well, located on the lower KERZ that was both productive and had the highest bottom-hole temperature in the world (at that time). That well demonstrated the resilience of the resource to steam production powering a demonstration power plant for ~8 years of continuous operation. The success of the state’s test well led to additional commercial exploration for geothermal resources on the Kilauea and a state-wide geothermal assessment but, with the crash in oil prices that occurred during the early 1990’s, urgency for and interest in Hawaii’s geothermal resources crashed as well and very little additional geothermal exploration – privately or publically funded – was conducted in Hawaii until the 2009 when the cost of oil began to rise again. Several individual projects as well as a collaborative University effort have resulted in the identification of additional, previously unrecognized potential geothermal resources on Hawaii Island as well as new exploration on the older islands that is currently underway.

In spite of the progress made on identifying Hawaii’s geothermal prospects development of those resources, and displacement of Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels for its electrical generation, has been extremely slow: only one geothermal power plant has been constructed on Hawaii Island, in the early 1990’s, and there appear to be few prospects of development of additional geothermal capacity in the immediate future. The delays that have occurred are the result of a complex interaction of political, economic, and social conditions that will need to be resolved if Hawaii is to have any prospect of geothermal energy contributing to its goal of achieving 100% renewable electrical capacity by 2045.

An overview of Hawaii’s geothermal resources, exploration results, and challenges to further development will be presented.