Larry Ellison has huge, impressive plans for the Hawaiian island of Lanai, which he bought in 2012.
It will become “a laboratory for building the next generation two-way power grid, which will be a mix of photo-tech (solar), with a little bit of wind with a backup of liquefied natural gas,” he told attendees at an event in Las Vegas Thursday evening.
The island is a “special case” that can be used “to demonstrate that green energy can be economical,” he explained.
Ellison is CEO of Oracle and the event was held to talk about the company’s HR cloud software. But in the Q&A session, he invited the audience to ask him “anything,” and that was a part of the evening that he clearly relished.
An Oracle employee and Hawaiian native stood up and asked about his long-term plans for Lanai. Since buying the island, Ellison, though his company Lanai Resorts LLC, has also bought two Lanai airlines, refurbished the hotels and invested in everything from wind farms to local businesses.
“I was just looking at the Lanai five-year budget and wow, it’s expensive,” Ellison joked. He’s one of the world’s richest men, worth $US41 billion, Forbes estimates.
But his true motive has less to do with running a profitable resort than saving the planet.
Ellison says that North America is not running out of fossil fuels, especially a “transitional energy called liquefied natural gas.”
In the past five years, North America has found 100 years worth of natural gas, he says, and we’re sure to find more. In order to compete, the green energy industry needs someone to show that it can be just as affordable as traditional energy.
He explained his plan in detail:
We think we can demonstrate that green energy can be economical. Right now green energy is considerably more expensive than conventional fossil fuels. The island of Lanai is small enough, it can serve.
One of the great things about Lanai is that the weather is always fabulous. Always 82 degrees and sunny. The problem is that, like California now, Lanai needs more water. It’s in the rain shadow of Maui …
We’re going to use our solar power, our wind power grid to convert sea water to fresh water … desalination. We think we can do that in a very effective way and use that fresh water to bring back commercial agriculture.
Lanai at one time grew 98% of the world’s pineapples. But the world’s pineapples are now grown in two places, Costa Rica and Panama, because no one wants to spend $US45 for a pineapple from the United States.
We’re using computers to distribute the water through drip irrigation. There’s sensors in the drip irrigation heads so you know when to turn the head on and off. If part of the field is in shadow, you put less water on that part of the field. If part of the field has higher acidic content, you fertilize that part of the field differently. …
We think this is what agriculture is going to look like 20-30 years from now. We’re trying to model all of that and do it in a way where it can be very cost effective. …
We’re empowering the locals to start their own businesses, [whether that's] in agriculture or a juice bar in Lanai City. We’re providing them with the appropriate mentoring and help.
If they are growing all these wonderful organic crops, we’ll figure out how to get them to market.
We can fly the products from Lanai to Honolulu and then ship them to Japan. We have an airline that takes people around during the day and an airline that takes produce around in the evening. Fresh produce picked on Thursday can show up in a Japanese or Chinese restaurant on Friday.
We’re also improving the schools and free public facilities for the people of Lanai. There are 3,200 people that live on the island. We’ve done a bunch of things in terms of building community pools, basketball courts and for the first time Lanai has a football field where the high school can have home games.
We think if we do a good job of taking care of the locals, the locals will do a good job of taking care of our visitors.