Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hawaii's Demise Through the Eyes of the Economist

Homelessness in Hawaii is now international news. The local socialist mindset proposed to offer the homeless houses for free so we can get them off the streets so Honolulu doesn't look bad.  If this happens, the result is predictable: We will get even more of them.

In fact all this is old news: Homeless? Buy a One-Way Ticket to Hawaii -- Hawaii "is attracting homeless people from the mainland US by offering food, a bed, and health care for just $3 a day."

Obviously we are seeing the payoffs of decades of socialism:
  • Homelessness
  • Dilapidated infrastructure
  • Poorly performing public schools
  • Unfunded pensions
  • Quick approvals for million dollar apartments in Kakaako
  • Destruction of agriculture for cookie-cutter homes (Ho'opili)
 and of course,
  • A useless multi-billion dollar rail.
In another article, the political base of Pres. Obama, Illinois, is called America's Greece!

Next year they'll do a follow up: Is Hawaii America's Spain? Spain sunk billions in renewables, trains and overbuilt subdivisions. And they sunk their country.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smart Growth v. Suburbanization Score is 0-1

The Economist: A Suburban World explains that urban trends are driven more by the masses and less by the political, academic and "environmental" elites that love to dictate how the hoi polloi should live.

In short, despite rules, penalties and incentives Smart Growth lost to Suburbanization.  The following highlights from the article show why.
  • The planet as a whole is fast becoming suburban. In the emerging world almost every metropolis is growing in size faster than in population. Having bought their Gucci handbags and Volkswagens, the new Asian middle class is buying living space, resulting in colossal sprawl. 
  • Neither the car nor the motorway caused suburban sprawl, although they sped it up: cities were spreading before either came along. Nor was the flight to the suburbs caused by racism.  The real cause was mass affluence. As people grew richer, they demanded more privacy and space. Only a few could afford that in city centers; the rest moved out.
  • Romantic notions of sociable, high-density living—notions pushed, for the most part, by people who themselves occupy rather spacious residences—ignore the squalor and lack of privacy [that comes with high density].
  • The Western suburbs to which so many aspire are healthier than their detractors say. Even as urban centers revive, more Americans move from city center to suburb than go the other way.
  • Suburbanites tend to use more roads and consume more carbon than urbanites. But this damage can be alleviated by a carbon tax, by toll roads and by charging for parking. 
  • It is foolish to try to stop the spread of suburbs. Green belts [urban boundary policies], the most effective method for doing this, push up property prices and encourage long-distance commuting.
  • A wiser policy would be to plan for huge expansion. Acquire strips of land for roads and railways, and chunks for parks, before the city sprawls into them. This is not the dirigisme* of the new-town planner—that confident soul who believes he knows where people will want to live and work, and how they will get from one to the other. It is the realism needed to manage the inevitable.

(*) Dirigisme is an approach to economic development emphasizing the positive role of governmental intervention.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Made-in-China May be Costly for the Planet: The Case of Solar Panels

A team from Northwestern University lef by prof. Fengqi You performed a comprehensive evaluation called life cycle analysis on solar panels. LCA accounts for the energy used to make a product including the energy to mine raw materials, the fuel to transport the materials and products, the electricity to power the processing factory, and the cost and impacts of most resources required. This yields a more complete picture of costs environmental impacts for making and using solar panels.

The primary differences, the researchers found, are the less stringent enforcement of environmental regulations in China coupled with the country’s more coal-dependent power sector. “It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon,” says co-author Seth Darling. “And in China, that energy tends to come from dirtier and less efficient energy sources than it does in Europe.”

How to Lose Market Share in Public Transit?

Simple: Invest in urban rail systems!

Evaluating Urban Rail

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Reasons Why Sun and Wind Don't Work

One may ignore all the fluff about the talented comedian (but energy clueless) Jimmy Fallon and go straight to the second page of this article in Forbes for the reasons why sun and wind energy is unsuitable and often counter-productive. The numbers from the heavily invested in sun and wind Germany are startling.  One can't run an industry, city or country with such swings in energy supply!
Sometimes sun and wind in Germany can cover 25% of the demand for electricity.  Other times they supply only 2.5%.  Overall in a year these renewable sources of energy can be "dependent upon" to produce only about 5% of the country's needs despite the hundreds of billions invested.  In fact Energiewende is expected to cost close to $1.4 billion by 2040!

Monday, November 24, 2014

America's Infrastructure: Roads are Crumbling, Congress is Fiddling

America's transportation infrastructure, once an engine of mobility and productivity, has fallen into such disrepair that it's become an economic albatross.
From the article Shoddy U.S. roads and bridges take a toll on the economy in LA Times.

A comprehensive summary with startling video by 60 Minutes is titled Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure where Steve Kroft reports on why roads, bridges, airports and rail are outdated and need to be fixed.

All along the American Society of Civil Engineers has been providing biannual assessments of American infrastructure with overall grades typically ranging between D- and D+. Here's is ASCE's 2013 report card for the American infrastructure.

Ironically, Congress and States "cannot find" monies to fix and improve what we have, but they do find (pork barrel) billions for boondoggles such as the California High Speed Rail and the Honolulu Snail Rail.

Much like Nero, the roads are crumbling while Congress is fiddling (and misappropriating.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Honolulu Rail -- Who Pays for the Electric Power?

Gina Mangieri's investigation at Channel 2 News:  People close to the Honolulu rail project including federal advisers have flagged electricity as a major unresolved matter and cost risk for rail. Whether HART or HECO end up paying, either way folks on Oahu are picking up the tab.

“If we don’t have a new power plant,” Prevedouros said, “HECO is not ready to handle all this additional demand, period.”

 MidWeek's Roy Chang accurately depicted the situation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PANOS 2050 O'lelo Shows

Between 2011 and 2013 I produced 18 thirty-minute shows on Hawaii’s O’lelo public television titled “PANOS 2050: Solutions for a Sustainable Hawaii.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Surprising Downward Trends

What do golf, convertible cars, crime, American journalists and infant mortality have in common?
The answer is in my recent article in the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The article describes some downtrends. Our world is obsessed with up and more, whereas down and less are equally important but rarely discussed...unless there is a major recession or a downed aircraft!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Driverless Cars. What's Really Possible?

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many views and comments on my brief article on driverless cars: Driverless Cars. What's Really Possible?  The best and brightest are working on this subject, largely under wraps.

[Sample photo by BMW.]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

As the Nation Turns, Hawaii is Still Driven

As the Nation Turns, Hawaii is Still Driven is an comprehensive and detailed article in the November 2014 issue of Hawaii Business Magazine, by Carlyn Tani. I am quoted extensively throughout the article as follows:
  • “Hawaii’s driving never really went down – it just flattened out and then started going up again as opposed to the mainland, which made a U-turn,” observes Panos Prevedouros, who teaches civil engineering at UH-Manoa and chairs the freeway operations simulation subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council. He projects that Hawaii’s thriving economy and tourism sector will buoy VMT even higher.
  • Prevedouros cites three economic forces driving Hawaii’s trend toward more vehicle miles driven per capita: a rebound in tourism, which puts more visitors on the roads; the construction boom on Oahu, which stimulates the transport of people and materials; and the large number of Hawaii residents who hold more than one part-time job and drive between workplaces.
  • According to Prevedouros, the general tolerance threshold for congestion is 75 minutes for a one-way trip by car. When commute time exceeds that, people are more likely to move, change jobs or relocate to another region or state.
  • But what does Hawaii’s transportation future look like? Prevedouros predicts that cars will continue to dominate because of the state’s tourism-dependent economy, high private-schools enrollment and large number of people holding more than one job.
    “We don’t have mass transit that is flexible and quick enough to take you to drop off your kids or take you to your multiple jobs. You cannot be a resident in Kailua with kids at Punahou and try to do these things by bus,” he explains. “The only mode that can deliver that is private transportation.”

    Prevedouros predicts we will see more cars on the road in the future, but says traffic congestion will eventually be reduced by autonomous cars that drive better than people-driven cars, while more energy-efficient cars will ease environmental concerns.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

AIKEA FOR HONOLULU No. 37 – 2014 Election Commentary

I hardly ever give election advice.  You, my readers, mostly independent and almost evenly split Democrat and Republican have your opinions.  So I just offer some brief comments.

For governor my choice is between Duke Aiona and David Ige.  Duke was a judge and he’s trustworthy. He’s pro small business of which Hawaii has plenty. David is an engineer with a keen knowledge of the state budget.  He has a good working relation with Hawaii’s one-sided Legislature. Both have a grasp of Hawaii’s problems and what a governor can do about them.  I think Hawaii will do OK with either of them. 

Both Duke and David appear to be calm and collected enough to weather a major storm. It’s almost certain that the next economic recession will occur in the coming four years and it won’t be mild. Hawaii’s fragile economy will be clobbered by pension and EUTF liabilities, by Obamacare cost increases and by military cuts; and by the constant parasitic impacts of rail’s construction and tax.

My advice to the next Governor: Take the time to focus on transportation and energy.  The renewable mandates make Hawaii more unaffordable and the mothballed interisland cable is yet another boondoggle; it costs more than the funds needed to mitigate Oahu’s dependency on oil! Rail won’t do anything for traffic congestion, not upon opening (when?) not ever.  Do get serious about tackling the mounting traffic congestion. Upgrade the Honolulu Airport, now ranked 3rd worst in the nation: Fully enclose and air condition all terminals, expand and improve the passport control area, and electrify the Wiki-Wiki asap. Promise to work on these and you’ll get my vote!

I definitely know who to vote for Congress.  Both Charles Djou and Mark Takai are smart, decent and knowledgeable candidates. I think Charles has better answers to important issues for Hawaii. The important question is this: What’s the right choice for Hawaii in the U.S. Congress? Answer: A Republican. Luckily, we have a highly competent moderate Republican candidate.

Hawaii’s congressional seniority has dropped from stellar to minimal.  In a Republican controlled Senate and House, sending four Democrats is stupid, plain and simple. We’ve already been pushed to the back burner; next we’ll be permanently delegated to the pantry.  Charles has congressional seniority and will be positioned in the right side of the aisle. It’s a strategic move to Hawaii’s advantage.

I wish that we finally elect some (centrist) energetic people who will own the mess of state and national debt which jeopardizes the long-term well-being of our state:

Five states with Highest Liability per Taxpayer. Hawaii is in the top-5, of course.

Government Debt per Person. The U.S. has a larger debt per capita than Greece!

The New York Times on Los Angeles' Infrastructure Woes. And an astute commentator wrote: “Can't repair the pipes; can't repair the sidewalks; can't repair the roads. But come hell or high water (pun intended) LA is going to find many tens of $billions for toy trains. Lala Land is no misnomer.”  Honolulu does the same. Is it then Honolala Land?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Farmer's Rail?

Behold! The nation's first heavy rail guideway in 40 years designed exclusively for the commuting needs of corn, string beans and watermelons.

 [Photo courtesy HART]

Climate Change and Hurricanes in Hawaii

While many journalists and some scientists attribute more, and more severe storms to climate change, trajectory plots of major storms and hurricanes in Hawaii over the past of 65 years shows an "inconvenient truth": There is no association with climate change. Hurricane frequency in Hawaii appears to have peaked in the 1980s.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Jones Act Is Irrelevant to Merchant Marine Shipbuilding

A picture is worth a thousand words and in this case even more.

So much is being discussed about the value of the protection that the Jones Act offers to U.S. shipbuilding.  What shipbuilding?  U.S. shipbuilding is less than 1% of the world share!

This is clearly illustrated in the picture above from an article in The Economist. The graph clearly shows that after 1985, the U.S. shipyard merchant marine building supply is practically zero. Japan, South Korea and China provide almost the entire ship building supply.

U.S. shipyards are kept busy with U.S. Navy work and the occasional small order by a U.S. shipper.  Like the recent one by Matson Navigation who in order to comply with the U.S. built requirement of the Jones Act agreed to pay $418 million for two modest container ships that would have cost less than half this amount if they were built in S. Korea. As a direct result of the Jones Act, the people of Hawaii received a direct punishment in the order of $200 million on this transaction alone.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ho'opili Development on the Island of Oahu--Comments to DPP

This is a picture of today (left) and the proposed development of Ho'opili (right.)  DPP is poised to issue permits for Ho'opili to begin construction on prime agricultural lands on Oahu.

I sent the following comments to the Department of Planning and Permitting of the City and County of Honolulu.  The bottom line is that with or without rail, the Ho'opili Development will be a traffic impact disaster for Central Oahu and no meaningful road capacity accommodations are planned, therefore no permits should be granted. My main comments against the (untruthful) assessments of Ho'opili's traffic impacts are as follows.
  • The traffic models used to assess the impacts of the Ho'opili development are too limited in scope relative to the size and regional impacts of this very large development. Most outputs in the TIAR are unacceptable underestimations.
  • In Ho'opili-related traffic analyses, the H-1/H-2 freeway merge which is a critical bottleneck in the region was completely ignored and no mitigation to the existing severe congestion has been proposed.
  • Most analyses I have reviewed present year 2020 projections with only about 1/3 of Ho'opili developed. Comprehensive analyses with the full 100% of the project developed are not available. This is an obvious “salami” tactic and under-representation of the development’s full scale of impacts.
  • The Ho'opili TIAR claims that the OMPO model allows them to take an up to 30% trip reduction in trip generation by the development due to the “integrat-ed character” of the Hoopili community. However, there is no proof that this is a valid or prudent assumption. I cannot think of a more integrated community than Kalilhi with its rich mix of light industrial, services, offices, storage, retail, food, school and residential land uses. Arguing that Kalihi folks make 30% fewer trips than the rest of Oahu is wrong. At any rate, there is no proof, so Ho'opili taking such huge “discounts” in traffic generation is wrong.
  • Ho'opili’s generation of trips by transit is not large. For example, the number of trips made by rail is the equivalent of a few bus loads in the morning peak. Regardless of whether rail is fully operational by 2020 (which is unrealistic in my opinion,) Hoopili’s traffic impact will be immense with or without rail. Well over 90% of the commuting trips generated by Hoopili residents will be made by auto, bus or bike, all of which require lanes. Only localized but no regional lanes are proposed to be added, therefore Hoopili will cause huge increases in traffic congestion in the region.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Incompetence of HART. Cheapest Bid for 9 Stations Comes 75% Over Budget!

Here is good coverage of the situation in the Hawaii Reporter.

Some additional comments:
  • The pain in cost overruns and construction congestion will be severe. The only thing we can do now is kick the people responsible for rail out of office.  Six are out already (Mufi, Peter, Linda, Neil, Stanley, Rida*)
  • These nine stations are the relatively easy ones to build... A couple of them are in empty fields. Imagine the cost of remaining 12 stations in Kalihi, downtown, Kakaako near the water...
  • The next traffic calamity by the elevated rail is the passing of the guideway over the H1/H2 merge.
  • After that is the partial loss of Kamehameha Hwy. in Aiea for a year or so.
  • After that is the debilitating impacts at and near the airport (Hawaii's tourism economy lifeline.) 
 So far we've been talking about politics, trials, concrete poles, contracts and money. We have not seen much of the rail's traffic congestion. The real suffering should start early in 2015.

Recall that the geniuses at HART purchased miles of steel rails in 2010 and since then they rot unused at Barbers Point Harbor.  These rails won't be put in service for about ten years!

(*) ex mayor Mufi Hannemann, ex mayor Peter Carlisle,  ex governor Linda Lingle, ex governor Neil Abercrombie, ex council member Stanley Chang, ex representative Rida Cabanilla.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gas or Electric Car? Website Estimates Fuel Costs

The Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis has a tradition in researching alternative propulsion systems for light duty vehicles such as cars, vans and pickup trucks.  They recently unveiled an interesting website called EV Explorer.

People can input various types of cars and their point to point trips such as their daily commute. The EV Explorer uses Google maps to find the best route and then calculates the annual cost of round-trips depending on how many times a week a person makes this trip.

The website also allows for comparisons that take account of the local cost of living. In fact the user should include his/her local cost of gas and electricity instead of using the default national averages.

Not surprisingly, the results are startling for Honolulu compared to the average U.S. city. Not because Honolulu has expensive gasoline (it does) but because it has outrageously expensive electricity (almost three times the national average!)

I used a popular family car, the 2014 Toyota Camry in two versions, one with the standard 4-cylinder engine and one with the hybrid powerplant.  I left unchanged their two electric vehicles, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. The trip I used was from the UH-Manoa where I work to Kailua where I used to reside. An even 30 mile round trip.

Using average U.S. prices with regular gas at $3.8 per gallon and electricity at 14 cents per KW-hour, the electric vehicles have a clear advantage in terms of money spent on fuel. Just for this trip over a year a Nissan Leaf could save be $500 over the regular Camry.  But wait!

I need to adjust the prices for Honolulu where the price of regular gas is $4.1 per gallon and the price per KWh is 40 cents (including the fixed charges added by the utility.).

The picture changes dramatically.  The EVs cost almost as much to make these trips as the regular Camry! For Honolulu, the Camry Hybrid is the right choice.  I run similar numbers about 15 months ago and indeed I got a hybrid version of a sedan that offers a 30% better city mpg compared to the version with the same gas engine alone.

If you are in Hawaii, drive an EV and brag about fuel cost savings, I am sorry to say, but your savings is a figment of your imagination.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Highway Funding: Do Roads Pay for Themselves? No Because of "Theft"

Here is a brief analysis by Jack Mallinckrodt,  PhD in Electrical Engineering, Stanford University who made U.S. transportation planning his retirement hobby and has developed a series of well thought out articles at his website

The current intense search for additional sources of highway user revenue is grossly misdirected.

Based on FHWA “Highway Statistics” data for 2004 (typical), “highway user fees”, defined as all tax payments by highway users paid as a “necessary condition of their use of the highway system”, are already yielding revenues of $245 billion/yr (2004).  That’s enough to easily pay the full current annual costs of right-of-way, planning, building, maintaining,  and operating, and financing  the entire U.S. highway system, with a surplus (in business called  a “profit”) of $98 billion/yr.

 The fact that they don’t do so is due entirely to:
  1. An arbitrary (not rational) redefinition of “Highway User Fees” hs that counts only about half of the ACTUAL highway user fees paid, and
  2. State and federal politicized congressional misappropriation of those  surplus revenues, (“Diversions) to earmarked political favorites (street cars, bullet trains etc.) that provide little or no congestion reduction capacity at 90 or more times the net the cost per passenger-mile.
As someone might have said: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a revenue distribution problem.”. The revenue distribution process is a leaky sieve. The revered “Highway Trust Fund” initiated long ago as a solution to highway funding, with its latter day revisions has become instead, part of the problem.

No conceivable additional revenue collection mechanism, not increased fuel taxes, not tolling, nor mileage charge system, will resolve this funding gap until we fix the real highway fund leakage problem.  Our first priority must be to fix the highway user fee receipt distribution process. Otherwise we will simply be spinning our wheels faster. There is much more to this story, derived and explained in “Highway User Fee Surplus.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CitiBike? No, SillyBike

  • "The CitiBike program aimed at putting 10,000 bikes in 600 locations around New York City for commuters to share in the name of environmentalism, health and being hip."
  • "CitiBike has put out 6,000 bikes at 325 locations at a cost of $6,833 per bike."
  • "For a $95 annual fee bike-share members in Manhattan get all-you-can-use access to the silly looking CitiBike in 45 minute increments."
  • For $200 one can find a good used bike from an online list, pay $200... and keep it!
  • Worse yet: "In recent months, the program’s operators approached the administrations of Mr. Bloomberg and his successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, about raising the cost of an annual membership, proposing rates up to $140"

Sample Sources:
Another Liberal Amenity for the Urban Upper Class Courtesy Taxpayers

Citi Bike System Successful, but Wobbly From the Start

Bike Share’s Rough Ride

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hawaii State Task Force Recommends Jones Act Exemption

This is a very informative article written by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council.

Debate in The U.S. over the Jones Act is very lively these days. For example, on April 25th, Mark Perry, a University of Michigan-Flint business professor wrote: Want energy independence? Waive the Jones Act.

To which a pro-Jones Act shippers lobby quickly responded: Missing the mark on the Jones Act.

In my opinion, the Jones Act, hurts all U.S. island and non-contiguous regions. At a minimum, non-contiguous U.S. states and territories, and the LNG trade must be exempted from Jones Act immediately!

AIKEA FOR HONOLULU No. 36 – Offshore Nuclear Power Plants Can Be Effective. Well, I Said So Four Years Ago!

The Economist: Researchers find advantages in floating nuclear power stations. You may recall that I proposed this as mayor candidate in 2010: Nuclear Power in Oahu's Future?  I know that my proposal went nowhere, but it feels great to be four years ahead of MIT. Furthermore, my idea is more economical than theirs. There is no need to construct floating platforms.  The Navy has many large decommissioned ships that float just fine and can be refurbished at a lower cost.

Before Honolulu hits the energy wall and desperation sets in, problems with potable water may arise due to drought, sea level rise or other reasons. So another billion dollar project may be needed for Desalination, as I explain in this article based on a large desalination plant currently under construction in San Diego.

The impact of executive priorities is clear if one compares the economic trajectories of a few countries say since 1990: Greece vs. Israel, Russia vs. China, Argentina vs. Brazil, and France vs. Germany to name a few. All of them faced a number of local and regional adversities but each pair has a clear economic winner now. Priorities and selection of wise transportation, infrastructure, energy and investment options made most of the difference.

Here are two examples of infrastructure where Hawaii made major wrong choices and placed itself in the loser column.

Renewables. They are expensive and their intermittency is highly problematic.  They depend on heavy subsidies.  To deal with intermittency HECO plans to invest heavily on … batteries. (Our politicians needed wind mills with giant labels: Batteries Not Included.) See Hawaii Wants 200MW of Energy Storage for Solar, Wind Grid Challenges. This is purely throwing good money after bad.

Rail. Simply put, rail is way too much buck for the bang. For the five billion dollars of Honolulu heavy rail we could have spent:
  • One billion dollars on LNG conversion and a modest floating nuclear power plant to reduce Oahu’s dependence on oil from over 75% to 25% or less, instead of blowing tens of millions in the wind.
  • Two billion dollars on HOT lanes and other mitigations to truly reduce traffic congestion.
  • One billion dollars to redevelop ex-Navy lands and buildings at Kalaeloa to preserve the rich history of the site and relieve Oahu’s pressing homeless and low income housing problems.
  • And one billion on desalination to anticipate water shortage problems.

Join me at the 38th Annual SBH Business Conference, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Hibiscus Ballroom, Ala Moana Hotel. Luncheon keynote speaker is entrepreneur, author, coach and motivator, Patrick Snow, who will speak on “Proven Principles for Prosperity.”

The business  program features Mike McCartney (Hawaii Tourism Authority), Tom Yamachika (Tax Foundation), Bob Sigall (Author and Educator), Mark Storfer (Hilo Hattie), Naomi Hazelton-Giambrone (Element Media), Dale Evans (Charley's Taxi), and Peter Kay (Your Computer Minute). Contact: Sam Slom (349-5438) or SBH (396-1724). Don’t miss it!


Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD
Professor of Civil Engineering
Member, SBH Board of Directors

Monday, May 5, 2014

Desalination Works but It's Expensive

A recent large deployment of desalination in San Diego is useful to Hawaii where Oahu and Maui may approach the need for manufactured potable water in the next 20 years or so if population and tourism growth trends continue and appreciable sea water rise continues (e.g., 0.32 cm water rise was noted between 1993 and 2013, which, if remains steady, results in 32 cm or 13 inches mean sea level rise every 100 years.) Recall that as sea water rises it makes larger parts of the aquifer brackish, thus unusable for drinking and irrigation.

The project in San Diego was smartly located right next to a large powerplant which means that a comparable location for Oahu would be next to the Kahe powerplant and Electric Beach.  This is because desalination requires vast amounts of both water and electricity, and pumping requirements can be reduced by taking advantage of the seawater pumped into a pre-existing powerplant.

The deployment in San Diego is currently under construction. It is designed to produce 50 MGD of water, that is 50 million gallons per day. This amount of clean water can supply 112,000 typical single family homes or more than one third of the current s.f. homes on Oahu.  This would be the upper limit of desalination plant that would be needed for Oahu. This plant would require more than 30 MW of electricity which is what the H-Power plant was producing for decades, before its boiler capacity was doubled in mid-2013.

The budgeted price of San Diego's Carlsbad desalination plant?  One billion dollars including a 10-mile distribution pipe, if the project is completed on time and on budget in early 2016.  Come 2020, Oahu may need to start budgeting for such a large project.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Transportation Engineers Would Be More Relevant if They Did Not Peddle Ineffective Transit Systems

As I opined in the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Mr. Schwartz’s call for making the transportation engineer relevant is important. Sharing this realization, I ran twice for Mayor of Honolulu on an infrastructure preservation and traffic congestion relief platform and I garnered almost 20% in both 2008 and 2010.  Mr. Schwartz' advise to transportation engineers is good except for his instruction to “get people out of cars.” New York City may boast that 70% of commutes occur on non-auto modes, but it’s an exception. The next U.S. city with a low auto-mode share barely has 30% of commutes occurring on non-auto modes. Telecommuting is surpassing transit. Car-sharing, and intelligent and autonomous zero emission vehicles will maintain the auto mode’s dominance.

In 30 years or so, my kindergartener son and his cohorts will be commuting in driverless electric cars that can reach 0-60 mph in 5 seconds, follow at a headway of under 0.5 seconds on narrow high capacity lanes (some four lane urban highways will convert to automated guideways with six 8 ft. lanes), be a full office away from home or work, and still be exciting to drive in off-drivereless mode outside the city.  

The future of transportation engineering in the U.S. will be great as long as we do not expend substantial resources on modes of the past millennium such bicycles and ordinary trains, except for limited applications where they may be both practical and cost-effective.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Useful Uses of Light Duty Drones

Small, light duty remotely controlled (RC) drones(1) that fly at a height between 20 and 200 ft. may perform a large number of useful tasks quickly and relatively cheaply. Here's a partial list of the things that can be done by a $5,000 multi-rotor drone that can lift 2 to 4 kg (4 to 10 lb):

Infrastructure Services (2)
  • Assess road and bridge surface condition with 3D mapping that is far easier than deploying expensive custom profilometers on specialized vehicles.
  • Inventory and condition of road and highway signs, signals, lane markings and barriers.
  • Remote assessment of tree growth, land slide slopes and condition, rock outcrops along highways.
  • Detailed external inspection of newly delivered projects such as roads, bridges, buildings, etc.
  • External inspection of pipelines.
  • Inspection of utility lines.
  • Harbor patrol and inspections for leaks, etc.
  • Area monitoring of air quality: traffic, chemical, other leaks.
  • Traffic management at the site of an incident with no or poor CCTV coverage.
  • Rapid regional land surveys and photogrammetry (i.e., centimeter accuracy GoogleEarth).
Commercial Services
  • Extra live capture of events such as surfing, racing, skiing and other sports where camera placement is challenging. (Example of 2013 RallyX near Honolulu.)
  • Real estate, architectural, promotional and educational videos.
  • Spraying of crops and fertilizers -- used in Japan for over 20 years; see picture above.
  • Wildlife monitoring and rounding of livestock.
  • Remote sensing for archaeology, minerals, other resources.
Security and Rescue Services
  • Police, security and similar quick-deployment surveillance that deploys from the trunk of a police vehicle, and supplements helicopter surveillance.
  • Remote sensing and discovery of lost hikers, avalanche victims, etc.
  • Quick emergency supply drop before "big help" can be mobilized, if necessary.
Small, private drone use may need to be regulated appropriately such as this example: Drones banned from Yosemite, other parks.

Notes (1): Some call them Personal UAVs -- (2): See additional discussion: Researchers Have High Hopes for Drone Use in Transportation


About ten times a year I send out my AIKEA FOR HONOLULU Newsletter in which I usually summarize some of my more important blogs.

I received over fifty responses for issue No. 35 which basically replicated the article below, Sopogy's Demise is a Huge Victory for Honest Engineering and the Taxpayer, including a response from past governor Ben Cayetano who wrote:

"Panos, I suggest you submit a condensed version as an Op-Ed to the Star.advertiser.  Mind boggling stuff.
Aloha, Ben"

Past University of Hawaii President and State DOT director Fuj Matsuda said:
"Thanks for the update:  I had heard that Sopogy was in trouble, but had no idea it was that  bad."

Also, the following response came from a well known person in the area of renewable installations in Hawaii. It reads as follows:

"Always appreciate your emails but couldn't keep myself from responding to this one in particular.

The entire sector has from its birth, been driven by pure "emotion".

Your mature, dispassionate, logical point of view on energy, rail, politics, waste and abuse are appreciated and far too rare.

From the 70's "Japan is taking over the world"and "we're out of oil"... To Y2k's "end of the USA as we know it" .. To today's message of "renewable energy AT ANY COST" ...

I've learned that everyone needs a life mission.  Unfortunately, choosing one's life mission is typically an emotional descision.

A couple more HOKU's from now, just on the other side of Hawaii's very own "Big Dig" (rail), people will be looking for a grownup to lead them, and remember Panos.

we need ya"


Thank you all for your support.  That's my "payment" and it's more than enough!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sopogy's Demise is a Huge Victory for Honest Engineering and the Taxpayer

Along with a trio of highly capable mechanical and systems engineers I spent dozens of hours poring over the specifics of the micro-concentrated solar power touted by Sopogy which shut down several months prior to this April 22, 2014 article.

Sopogy was told by numerous engineers that their Kona projections were absurd and violated the second law of thermodynamics.  Sopogy proceeded anyway with their original plan.

My multi-year effort was particularly painful because this incompetent technology had received the 2009 Blue Planet Foundation Award and my own Dean sat at the board of directors of BPF when this award was made. Keahole Associates, an Oahu venture of Sopogy, was promoted in University of Hawaii, College of Engineering literature.

Here is some of the 2009 hyperbole: "Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil."

The most factual evidence suggests that throughout its existence, Sopogy generated 0.1 MW!  This is roughly equal to 50 modest solar installations on residential rooftops.  It took $20 million (yes million) of Hawaii technology tax credits to accomplish so little.
Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil. - See more at:
Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil. - See more at:

In 2010 is was announced that DHHL was about to enter into a (tragic) agreement with Sopogy. It would have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to develop a 30 MW solar power plant.

Then in 2011, Sopogy won the APEC 2011 Hawaii Business Innovation Showcase award for Honolulu.

Throughout this period Sopogy CEO Darren Kimura was the energy darling of Governor Neil Ambercrombie. The Gov would not grant me an appointment to talk about energy issues for Hawaii despite repeated requests. Of course his energy point man, Bryan Schatz is so pro "renewables" that logic and cost are not an issue.

Despite everything being stacked in favor of Sopogy, I summarized the analysis and warned DHHL that they should be cautious about this type of power plant and investment. The local media ignored my article. Only the Hawaii Reporter printed my opinion.

In January of 2013 the Hawaii Venture Capital Association gave Sopogy the 2012 HVCA Deal of the Year Award for a deal that (thankfully) went nowhere!

All these august bodies failed to do even minimal due diligence. For example they simply could have looked at HEI's Securities and Exchange Commission filings which list the power they purchase from power sources other than their own.  Sopogy's Kona power plant appears nowhere.

Before publishing my analysis in 2011, I met with Darren Kimura at the Pacific Club. I informed him that I can find no power sold to HELCO and he said that he'll furnish me data, although most of the power was used "internally."  Darren never got back to me.  It was clear to me that he was selling duds for millions.

On April 23, 2014 greentech referred to my 2011 article and commented as follows: 

"Kimura and the company always seemed to be on hand to receive an award, bond, or tax credit in Hawaii but rarely could the firm be found making competitive energy, despite the CEO's claims.

"We have about 75 megawatts under contract and in the process of being deployed," claimed the CEO in a 2011 interview. In a much earlier interview he spoke of a 50-megawatt solar farm in Spain and $10 million per year in revenue.

"Even before the price of silicon photovoltaics plunged it was difficult to see how Sopogy could ever be competitive."

This is only one sample of international humiliation for Hawaii.

Several lessons were observed but likely were not learned, as follows:

1.  Good, honest engineering can reveal technical and economic duds.
2.  Once a project (or company) is an engineering or economic dud, it will fail.
3.  The demise of Sopogy is fortunate because duds like it can become a tax supported scheme concocted by greedy rent seekers and enterprising politicians who also create legal supports for the schemes. For example Hawaii's PUC considered preferential pricing for concentrated solar power to make sure that the 30 MW Kalaeloa scheme would make money (while the taxpayer would get fleeced.)
4.  Media, politicians and environmentalists know nothing about engineering stars and duds, but they have bestowed upon themselves arbitrary decision wisdom  that determines winners and losers.
5.  Many people go along to get along, or do the wrong thing for money regardless of what the right, ethical or moral thing to do is.
6.  There was abundant "me too" or follower behavior and scarcity of prudent analysis and caution.
7.  The truth rarely comes out, or comes out after precious funds have been lost. In this case millions of tax dollars were lost at the Kona plant and large acreage in the Ewa plane was bulldozed.
8.  HEI, the parent of HELCO and HECO knew the facts about Kona's Sopogy plant but did not make any apparent public disclosures when DHHL was proposing a mega version of the Kona power plant. Worse yet, HECO ran a Sopogy television commercial repeatedly from 2011 to 2013, touting Sopogy technology and HECO’s commitment to ecology.
9.  Hawaii’s blind promotion of a sub-standard technology sets a bad precedent in an area were Hawaii already is weak.
10.  Nobody will likely be held accountable for the wasted tax credits or apologize for rewarding incompetence. Will there be an AD's inquiry of DHHL and HECO?

Many well-known people such as Governors Lingle and Abercrombie, Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, Blue Planet Foundation's Henk Rogers, and Hawaii's only billionaire Pierre Omidyar have Sopogy egg on their face. But given that this is Hawaii, the Sopogy scandal will likely die off quietly and the charlatans will have the last laugh.

PS. The counsel of attorney and engineer Eric Beal is greatly appreciated. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Honolulu Traffic Lights: 12 Minutes for One Half Mile in Waikiki!

On Good Friday I had the opportunity to observe the typical gridlock traffic conditions of a busy Friday in Waikiki.  Then I found a perfect object to monitor.  An articulated (bendy) city bus with the number 154 stencilled on its roof. I tracked it as it motored along on Kalia Street, made a left turn onto Saratoga Street and eventually crossed Kalakaua Avenue and disappeared from my view.

The total distance from the Hale Koa hotel to Kalakaua Avenue is 0.55 miles.  An acceptable speed for buses is 7 miles per hour including stops so this distance would have taken 4.7 minutes.

Bus 154 took 6 minutes to reach Saratoga at an average speed of 3 mph, and took another 6.5 minutes to cross Kalakaua Avenue at an average speed of 2.3 mph which is much slower than walking speed for most people (3.1 mph according to Google.)

Fantastically, a day earlier I get a call from KHON2 News. They wanted my opinion on the city's
new multimillion dollar proposal to synchronize its traffic lights.  So I marvel at the fact that instantly upon getting elected to City Council, Stanley Chang knew that rail will be Oahu's savior for traffic congestion.  (I met him and he told me that.) Yet it took Stanley three years and a candidacy for U.S. Congress to figure out that Honolulu's traffic signals work poorly and now he wants to fix all of them at once with a five million dollar study!

Ineffective hyperbola rules the day in Honolulu. A day before the traffic project announcement, the president of HART promised to deliver 10 miles of elevated rail with ten stations and operating trains 36 months from April 2014.  I'll bet him $36,000 that this is NOT possible!

What can I say?  We certainly need more lawyers like Kirk Caldwell (Mayor), Stanley Chang (City Council), Ivan Lui-Kwan (HART president) and Mike Formby (City Transportation Director) in charge of Oahu traffic and mobility. All blah-blah and promises while traffic and buses crawl at 3 miles per hour.