ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES: TIM JONES FINDS PLENTY TO WORK WITHIN PACIFIC
Local businessman and former candidate for governor of the territory, Tim Jones, along with his company, ‘Extreme Power Samoa’ has been spending valuable time researching and experimenting with coconut oil, seeing it as a reliable fuel in the Pacific region.
In seeming support for the work he is doing in the field of viable alternative energy sources in the Pacific, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appointed Jones as the Director of the Territorial Energy Office, in a General Memorandum (No. 045- 13), dated Feb. 11, and signed by the governor.
Jone’s work in 2005 was even featured on a United Nations Works Website: www.un.org/smallislands2005/tonga.html.
On the website, it states how the coconut oil is being used in the island Kingdom of Tonga. "Recently, the Extreme Power Samoa outfitted generators to burn duel fuel (diesel and coconut oil) and put them to use, making a huge difference in the lives of many.
“Villages in Tonga with no previous access to electricity have successfully used coconut oil to run the generators and bring electricity to their homes. Not only was the fuel for the generators natural, relying solely on natural and renewable sources, but it also benefited the local population," stated the website.
Samoa News had a chance to speak with Jones about his coconut oil project, which he believes could have wide implications in the search for viable alternative energy sources. (At the time of the interview, his appointment to TEO was not yet announced.)
“When I was eighteen years old, I joined the United States Navy and started my engineering career. I got interested in alternative energy in 1992 when I was still in California working on steam power plants. When I came to American Samoa, I considered solar and wind because it seemed like a no brainer, but the truth is, it is not viable venture, unless the government funds it,” said Jones.
He explained that he spent a lot of his free time looking into Ocean Wave and Ocean Current power. In 1997 he discovered a powerful ocean current off the coast of the village of Leone that was so strong, according to Jones, that he was challenged to keep a small boat there.
“I started looking into underwater hydro generators and communicated with Congressman Faleomavaega’s office about leasing the energy rights to that ocean area off the coast of Leone,” he told Samoa News.
“That project stalled when I got an estimate for the environmental impact study. It was going to cost several million dollars — and banks will not fund that!”
That's when he decided to work on projects that were smaller — projects that didn't need bank funding or environmental impact studies. In 2004, he stumbled on coconut oil as a possible solution.
“While coconut oil is not a new technology, it was not being commonly deployed as a resource for energy, so I did some experiments. I bought a 20KW diesel generator and about 100 gallons of pure coconut oil from Samoa. I started playing around with the engine and the coconut oil until it ran smoothly. I then ran 20ft refrigerated containers on the coconut oil engine and it worked fine,” he explained. He then went to Wally Thompson, who was then the Representative of Swains Island to see if he was interested in making a power supply deal to help Swains Island.
“I offered to supply free power to Swains residents in exchange for access to the raw coconut materials there as well as some land to set up some processing.” Unfortunately for Jones, Thompson indicated that he didn't want private investment on his family land, but he did say that if Jones could get government funding for it, Thompson would consider it.
“I didn't want to get involved with government funding, so I explored other coconut rich areas such Apia and Tonga. Apia Utility EPC liked the idea, but instead of going with my company, they branched off and did their own coconut oil project starting with EPC vehicles. I don't know what the status of that project is today,” he said.
He went on to explain about going to Tonga with a new idea on how to sell this project, with money being the main problem. “Everyone wanted renewable energy using local products. No one wanted to pay for it. So I set up a barter and trade deal with some small families in Tonga. They supplied me double the value of the generator sets in the form of handicraft or local goods (even coconut oil) and I supplied them with generators that would burn coconut oil. That was at the end of 2004,” explained Jones.
In 2005, Jones began working on a proposal to compete with the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) by taking the canneries off the power grid. He proposed a 15MW, $12 million dollar deal that would make both canneries in the territory power independent and save them millions in energy costs, according to Jones.
“ASPA responded by lowering their existing rate close to my proposal and the deal died there,” he said. “The reason I was able to propose a competitive bid against the existing ASPA rate, was because we utilized a 'COGEN' (Cogeneration) cycle which basically uses waste heat from the diesel engines and converts it to steam.”
He stated that ASPA currently uses a simple cycle which means they only make so much electricity for each gallon of diesel. In his proposed system he said, he ran pretty much the same equipment as ASPA, but where ASPA exhausts 100% of their heat to the atmosphere, his system extracted the exhaust heat and recycled it to make steam which was according to Jones, 100% sellable to the canneries. “This is where we became much more efficient than ASPA,” he said.
Jones even explained how his son Tommi, who is now a high school student at Samoana High School, used coconut oil for fuel as his science project in 4th grade, and won first place at his school that year.
Tommi then went on to the island wide science fair with his project where he displayed a big generator and demonstrated coconut oil being used for electricity.
His older son — Tim Jr.— while in the 7th grade created a windmill for his science project. “We tested the windmill at 25 mph down Vailoa road, mounted in the back of my truck. We charged a 12 volt battery with it and ran a microwave oven to make my coffee. These were the beginning years of me teaching my kids the engineering side of renewable energy,” he said.
During his campaign for governor, he was heavily focused on what he could do for American Samoa in the way of energy from the ocean in the form of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Jones calls it "the largest solar panel in the world" — adding that it is just a stone's throw away from our shores.
Today he's working hard on building a steam plant large enough to supply power on the power grid. “With the new administration mandating ASPA lower their rates, it is my feeling that now is the time for the private sector to come to the table and be allowed to put power on the grid. This system would burn wood, or any dried vegetation, possibly tires and rubbish. (Asked about burning tires, he noted that this would be an EPA preferred method, because under pressure, in a boiler, tires burn absolutely clean, unlike burning them out in the open, which is dangerous and toxic.)
"If successful on a small scale, we would try to deploy this on a larger scale to the Futiga land fill to reduce the land fill and generate power at the same time”.
“Again, it is not a new technology. But it is new to the island, so getting it started is the hard part. The private sector is the key to thinking beyond routine and the youth is the key to new technology,” he said.
Jones told Samoa News that each of the energy projects he has worked on take into strong consideration the environment, clean air, the best interest of the public, and future generations.