Archive for January, 2011

APEC Means Business For Hawaii

January 25th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

On Wednesday, February 24th, the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and ThinkTech will present a luncheon panel program called “APEC Means Business for Hawaii.”
More specifically, we will talk about not only about what APEC is and what it hopes to do among participating nations, heads of state, diplomats and global CEOs, but also about how it will affect or could affect business here in Hawaii. We know APEC is huge, but what does it mean to us?

Actually, there hasn’t been much in the news about APEC, except perhaps that it’s going to cost us $25 million plus in security costs to protect the VIPS and how the hotels, restaurants and highways will be full up for a week in November. What we haven’t heard is how it will benefit the city or the state in general.

It’s early for details, but HVCA and ThinkTech feel it’s not too early to inquire. Why? Because most people, including local business people, are coming to believe that APEC is for the VIPs and the hotels but will have little or no effect on them. They’re ready to ignore it as they would any large convention.

So we’ve decided that at this point it’s best to tell the business community exactly how APEC will affect them, and what benefits and opportunities APEC will present for local business people. After all, the VIP participants are in a position, either during or after APEC, to do a lot to bring tourists and trade to Hawaii. We need to understand how that could work, how we can make it happen and whether it'll be worth the effort.

We’re therefore organizing a blue ribbon panel who are involved in organizing APEC, who have attended earlier APEC Summit conferences, who understand the business aspects and prospects that could flow from APEC, and who have been thinking about how they and we can creatively take advantage of those prospects. Will it be investments from Asia, or to Asia, import-export or other trade connections with Asia, direct flights, public and private partnerships with Asian countries and companies, or what?

If we play it right, APEC could mean a lot for Hawaii and in fact for you.

Given its size and scope, APEC is likely to have a significant if not profound effect on Honolulu and the state. At the very least, it will make us more globally aware. We need to analyze what we should be doing and how we can prepare for the effort. All in all, this is an outreach worth considering and an inquiry worth making. If we come together to compare notes now, it will be better for all of us then.

The purpose of the February 24th program is to drill down into what will happen during APEC, who will be here, and how the placement of the conference in Hawaii can turn into long term business benefits and contacts. It’s not easy to look inside the tent 10 months in advance, and it’s not easy to predict APEC’s interaction with the local community, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do on February 24th.

It’ll be at the Plaza Club, 20th Floor. Bill Spencer, president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association,, will moderate this special panel. You can get more information or sign up to attend the program at, and it’s probably a good time to check it now.

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Touching base on renewables with Steve Holmes

January 17th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

I received several emails on my column in last Sunday's StarAdvertiser, discussing the possibilities for geothermal energy in Hawaii. One of those was from Steve Holmes, formerly of the Honolulu City Council. He worked on geothermal when he was an energy analyst for DBEDT in Hilo some years ago. He continues to be a supporter of geothermal, "while recognizing all the issues.” He feels Hawaii is lucky to have an abundance of renewables and that it has made remarkable progress in recent years under the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

Steve is working on a combined PV and solar hot water project for Kona Pacific condos. It’s all third-party financed to leverage tax credits and the Treasury Grant Program under ARRA. The homeowners association has signed a power purchase agreement to buy solar for less than they would pay Gasco and HELCO. The 100KW PV system will be net metered and the solar hot water allows for storage for cloudy days. Steve says the savings should be over $2 million over the term of the contracts. He says the project has benefited from the passage of Act 53 in 2010, which streamlined the process under state condo law.

I really appreciated his comments to my article. With his permission, those comments are reprinted below:

“Geothermal in Puna is curtailed at night. This makes no sense at all. With billions of gallons of fresh water going through the lens in the Puna District, we could be using off-peak geothermal energy to split water to make hydrogen. Hydrogen could be used as a transportation fuel or to run fuel cells for power. Geothermal has had some problems over the years with wells clogging due to silica in the brine. Power production has dropped and is an issue that would need to be addressed.

“Geothermal, as it exists today in Hawaii, relies on tapping into discrete pockets of fluids at great depth. The mere fact that there is magma, does not equate to a viable resource. Magma, also, has a habit of moving around in active rift zones. Puna Geothermal sits on lava flows that date back to the mid-fifties, a mere blink of the eye in geologic terms. An entire well field could be destroyed by an underground intrusion of magma into the lower East Rift.

“Large scale geothermal development didn't die because of hippy protesters, environmentalists, or Pele practitioners. It came from the realization brought on by the on-going 30 year eruption that this is a risky area to develop.

“There is a second geothermal resource that has potential and that is geothermally heated groundwater. Using a binary technology, it would be possible to utilize a lower temperature, lower pressure resource for industrial process heat or power production. Research was done in Puna many years ago on using waste heat from geothermal energy to kiln dry native woods, heat treat papayas to kill fruit fly larvae, set dyes in cloth, and other potential cottage industries that could provide jobs to economically challenged Big Islanders, but this was abandoned.

“Geothermally influenced groundwater can be tapped into using regular water well drilling and can be found at shallow depth. It can be found off the active rift zone where the risk is lower. Geothermal influenced groundwater doesn't have the issues with hydrogen sulfide gas that the deep wells in Puna have. It has no silica problems, either.

“Geothermally influenced groundwater has the potential to be used for district heating or cooling. Cooling is done via an adsorption chiller. Areas other than Puna may be candidates. Hualalai, for instance.

“Anyway, I appreciate your advocacy and just wanted you to think of geothermal other than just a deepwater cable to Oahu. The U.S. Department of Energy is doing a great deal of research on enhanced geothermal. The Geysers area in California is looking at using wastewater to enhance dry holes for steam production. Lots of possibilities for the future.”

Thanks, Steve.

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The Year of the Report - finding out where we are

January 11th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

So 221 is dead. No more incentives for startups in Hawaii. Everyone asks, where does the tech industry go from here? Let’s hope for an early answer, but in the meantime, as the navigators say, “we need to know where we are before we can plot a course to where we want to go.”

During the Lingle years, tech reports fell sharply. The reports from HTDC stopped. The Tiger Report from City Bank stopped. The Hawaii Science and Technology Council wrote some reports, but then they stopped. And the tech status reports from state government during the Lingle Administration were political and visibly adversarial, and soon lost all credibility.

As a result, economic planning and diversification have suffered in Hawaii. We had no generally accepted way to track our progress, or decline.

So do we know how the tech industry is doing now? No. There's no single periodic report that can give us a basis of comparison with a comprehensive data set. Do we need one? You bet, and it’s going to have to be better than those we got from the Lingle Administration. It’ll have to be done well on regular intervals , with carefully selected data points, before the industry, the legislature and the public will treat it as dispositive. That would be refreshing, and helpful.

At the insistence of the board of HTDC, and without any noticeable support from the Lingle Administration, HTDC outsourced one State of Tech Report to the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs about five years ago. Although it was only done once, it was done well. HIPA has the skill and credibility, and would be a good candidate to pick up and do these reports on a regular basis.

On the same notion, the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum is presently developing a periodic report on the State of Energy. The process by which it’s being developed is healthy and calculated to engender accuracy, acceptance and credibility. HIPA could initiate the same kind of process for a State of Tech report, and the industry, the economy and the state would be much better off.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had and widely disseminated a State of Tech report as well as a State of Energy report to periodically measure and analyze our progress in these two critical areas, and with them to plot a course that will take us to a better future? Compared with the benefit, the cost would be peanuts.

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Social media finds new opportunities and reaches new heights

January 5th, 2011

ThinkTech Hawaii

In the deal with Goldman Sachs and the Russian firm Digital Sky Technologies, Facebook was valued at $50 billion, up $10 billion from a year ago. This will allow Facebook to stay private, even though Goldman Sachs will be selling the shares to its clients on minimum investments of $2 million.

Before, IT firms liked to go public. Now Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and others are raising big money in private financing that gives them cash to stay private. The irony is that while they stay private, it’s not clear that your data will too.

Facebook, which has more than 500 million users, plans to use the new cash it has raised "opportunistically," whatever that means. My guess is that it means acquisitions and hiring, even though Facebook grew from 1,000 to 1,700 in 2010.

The value Goldman and DST have put on Facebook is based on you and 500 million of you. They think you make Facebook extraordinarily valuable, more than last year and more than anyone would imagine. Why? And should you be concerned about it?

After seeing the movie, nobody is going to convince me that Mark Zuckerberg is a nice guy bent on protecting my interests. I think that Facebook would like nothing more than to make a buck on my data. It's not for nothing they could get an 80:1 valuation.

Facebook is no longer a fad, although people said that at the beginning. And Facebook is no longer limited to the teenagers, although they said that too. Facebook is now spread across the generations and the globe and has caught and touched everybody. It’s a global phenomenon, no question about it.

People really love to network this way, but in their compulsion do they realize that they’re talking in the clear? Do they see the elephant in the room? The more networking you want out of social media the more information you have to give them. The more information you give, the more information your faux friends will get.

We all want to feel that all things about the web are good and pure and will lead to a better world. But can we afford it? Can we assume that everyone out there, including government, is acting in good faith and respecting our privacy (assuming there is still such a thing) and would never try to misuse the data we enter for them.

Let’s not be naive. Lest we forget we are mammals, and some mammals operate in bad faith. There are faux friends who would not hesitate to take advantage of you when you offer your personals up, when you wear your heart on your Facebook page, trusting all to feel the same way that you do.

Like it or not, there is a cost benefit comparison. If you don't mind the risk (assuming you truly understand it) of putting it all out there for a curious and hungry world, then go for it. But if on reflection you don’t feel you can trust the nether, maybe you should be more cautious about opening your life to 6,891,463,699 strangers.

It's about data mining. Social media companies can leave it untouched on the server, but if they want to get a big valuation opportunism may kick in. This could motivate a company to capitalize on your name and identity, your tastes and buying habits, your credibility and credit. And even if you can trust them today, can you feel the same way tomorrow? There’s a hacker born every minute and a scam born every second.

I predict that in the not too distant future there will be a headline scandal about the abuse of social networking data. It won’t be a happy story. More of us may then realize that social networking is not necessarily a demonstration of the perfectibility of mankind, and that unthinking disclosures can be geometrically painful.

At some point, you may decide to back up a little and get your information off the web, only to find that that isn’t so easy once it’s been propagated. It’s out there and there’s nothing you can do to get it back, even years later, something like the story just broken about Navy Captain Honors’ video projects in 2007. Public is public.

Hopefully, social networking will become more sophisticated and protective going forward. People will clamor for security and there will ultimately be additional safeguards, voluntary or otherwise, along with valuations that are perhaps less exuberant. In the meantime, don’t be carried away. There are other better ways to express your unbridled confidence in the future of the race.

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