Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Smart Technologies" Could Improve Transportation

The post below is excerpted from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) daily newsletter. It summarizes an attempt of Congress to improve transportation conditions by employing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).

I have been teaching these methods for over a dozen years as part of my CEE 661: Intelligent Transportation Systems graduate course at the UH-Manoa. What is different this time is $1.2 Billion dollars in federal funding over six years for the pilot deployment in six competing cities.

I hope that the bill will go forward and I hope (but do not expect) that Honolulu and State of Hawaii will vie for this ITS initiative. Besides being substantially congested, Honolulu presents an excellent, fully controlled traffic laboratory. By that I mean that 100% of the traffic is local, as opposed to, say, Chicago, that at any time 5% to 15% of its traffic is from neighboring Indiana, Wisconsin and other states, thus its local ITS initiative is diluted by a large number of non-participating vehicles.

The Hill (3/30, Laing) reports, "A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Tuesday announced a bill to create six pilot 'intelligent transportation systems' they say will use technology to ease transit woes in cash-strapped American cities. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) said their 'Smart Technologies for Communities Act' would make improvements to transportation that federal and state governments could not otherwise afford." Notably, "the bill would create pilot programs in six cities to test whether technologies such as cars with crash sensors, bridges that can sense stress from vehicle weight, electronic toll systems and live updates to commuters improve overall commutes."

The Detroit News (3/30, Shepardson) reports the bill "would provide grants to make 'Intelligent Transportation Systems' a reality." They support "spending $1.2 billion over six years" on the initiative. The News says "the pair will tout their bill along with Intelligent Transportation Society of America CEO Scott Belcher in a press briefing Wednesday." Their bill has the support of "the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and its members, including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC." It would "create a pilot program in up to six communities across the country to serve as model deployment sites for large-scale installation and operation of ITS to improve safety, mobility and the environment on the nation's highways."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Real Energy, Real Jobs

By looking at the title, for a second I thought that I wrote this article and forgot about it, but the Real Energy, Real Jobs article was written by Robert Bradley Jr., CEO and Founder of the Institute for Energy Research and author, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy.

Indeed Energy is Big Business and critically important for the US, Hawaii and indeed all civilization. For each location, there is an optimum mix of energy options for abundant, affordable energy, energy jobs and energy profits. There are many sub-optimal mixes that may lead to huge profits, short-term jobs, and unreliably and expensive energy. You can read some of these in Bradley's article.

In addition to the points raised in the article Real Energy, Real Jobs, my own research has revealed that:
  • Denmark: 20% of the electricity is from wind, but much of it is exported at no cost to Norway in return for baseload electricity when the wind does not blow!
  • Spain: For every 1 green job financed by Spanish taxpayers, 2.2 jobs were lost as an opportunity cost. Since 2000, Spain spent $753,778 per “green job.”
  • Germany: Green jobs created by government actions disappear as soon as government subsidies end.
  • Texas: After 30 months, countless TV appearances, and $80 million spent on an extravagant PR campaign, T. Boone Pickens has finally admitted the obvious: The wind energy business isn't a very good one. The Dallas-based entrepreneur, who has relentlessly promoted his Pickens Plan since July 4, 2008, announced that he's abandoning the wind business to focus on natural gas. (Wall Street Journal quote.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nuclear Power Plant ... Oxymorons and Solutions

The Economist has a useful tool for looking up which have nuclear power and how much electricity they produce in a year. The U.S. leads the pack.

One of the oddities of nuclear power is that some countries like Greece are strongly opposed to nuclear power, yet less than 100 miles away their Bulgarian neighbors already have nuclear power plants ... This reminds me of Hawaii with its nuclear power plant constitutional prohibition and the 15 nuclear submarines home ported in Pearl Harbor.

The difficult management of a failing power plant due to major force of nature as witnessed in Japan makes a strong case for locating them on off shore floating platforms (e.g., refurbished decommissioned air carriers.) These platforms, like off shore rigs can be manned as required by helicopter flights but they can be engineered for self power and management by remote control (like the unmanned drones of the air force.)

In the extremely rare care of nuclear reactor failure the floating platform can be de-anchored and de-tethered, and then robotically powered away from populations. This plan offers significant economic, safety and psychological benefits. Perhaps the state of Georgia should look into a floating platform 10-20 miles out in the Atlantic among its alternatives for locating a very large nuclear power plant.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Higher Gas Prices. Go for Trains and Electric Cars?

Fuel prices are trending upward in a hurry due to world events.

Local governments, including Honolulu's also are increasing fuel taxes.

The damage to people's wallets and family budgets will worsen.

So is it more economical to switch to a train or an electric car? This is definitely not a good choice in Honolulu.

Hawaii has by far the highest price per kilowatt-hour of electric power in the nation. The current price on Oahu is about 28 cents per KWh or 230% higher than the U.S. national average. AAA reports today's regular gas price in Honolulu at $4.084 per gallon or 15% higher than the U.S. national average.

Over 75% of the electric power on Oahu is produced by oil.

So it is pain at the pump and pain at the plug. But in relative terms, gasoline is a bargain. Honolulu pays a 15% premium on gas and a 230% premium on electricity.

This has two important implications for transportation in Hawaii:
  1. The 100% electric car Nissan Leaf is rated by EPA at 99 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) assuming the average price of 11 cents per KWh in the US. This reduces to about 40 mpg in Hawaii because power is 230% more dear. As a result, the Nissan competes with similarly fuel efficient Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota hybrids which cost less and have a range of 400 miles instead of 100 miles.
  2. The operating cost and pollution impact of the proposed rail will be staggering because it draws several megawatts of electricity, runs almost empty for 16 out of 20 hours of its daily operation, and has a minimal benefit on traffic congestion.
(Of course by now it is clear that rail is the way for billions of taxes to be reallocated to special groups and politicians -- both of them pushing it madly.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recession 2011

Many economists were warning that the 2008-2009 will be a "double dip" recession because of the mounting federal, state and local debts in the U.S.

2010 was not a "banner year" and expectations were that 2011 would be a better one.
Did you realize what happened in the first quarter of 2011?
  • Momentous changes are occurring in the Arab world including change in regimes, bloodbaths and large increases in oil prices. This in turn makes the recovery of the world economy from the long 2008-2009 recession harder. (See trend below.)
  • Then a few days ago the world's third largest economy was hit with (perhaps) 10,000 deaths and well over one trillion dollar bill in damages.
  • Japan, a country of about 127 million people accounts for about 16% of the annual tourist revenues of Hawaii and Japan's debt situation is actually worse than USA’s (at least the federal portion of it.)
  • Australia is now expending over $6 billion to cover the damages of extensive floods in late 2010.
  • New Zealand's second largest city was hit by a strong earthquake on February 22 causing 166 deaths and damages estimated at $11 billion, or 7% of the country's GDP.
  • Australia, population 22 million and New Zealand, population 4 million account for 1% of of the annual tourist revenues of Hawaii.
The direct impacts of these to Hawaii will be more expensive energy, more expensive air fares and much fewer visitors from Japan and from economies that are strongly linked to the economy of Japan, and fewer visitors from Down Under

Higher consumer basket prices and lower revenues and taxes from the tourist industry are a given. Expect that the second half of 2011 will be a mild (at best) recession for Hawaii.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Simple Analysis of USA’s Debt to China and Japan

The March 5, 2011 issue of The Economist states that USA’s debt to China at the end of 2010 in the form of U.S. Treasury notes was 30% higher than had been thought. China holds $1.19 Trillion in U.S. Treasury notes and Japan holds $882 Billion of the same.

So this form of debt of the USA to China and Japan comes to $2,072,000,000,000.

Let’s try to get a handle on this. The U.S. has about 140 million taxpayers (indeed, less than half of the population files for federal taxes) and 20% of them pay minimal amounts. That leaves about 100 million taxpayers holding this bag.

What’s your share? $20,720!

The average U.S. taxpayer owes China and Japan about $21,000. Your rate will vary depending on your income: If you make $50,000 you pay roughly 15% of that to the IRS, but if you make $200,000 you pay 30% of that to the IRS.

We got ourselves into a deep (and deepening) hole. There is one way to lessen this: Devalue the dollar to ½ its current worth. In this way, our average taxpayer debt to China and Japan becomes about $10,000.

Unfortunately at the same time everything at Walmart and at the gas pump doubles in price. Overnight the gas price goes from $4 to $8 per gallon. And a large portion of the population becomes impoverished.

Twenty plus years of tax and spend and entitlements will come full circle. Entitlements are the wrong way to pull people out of poverty. They ballooned the national and local debts. And the poor will pay the heaviest price no matter how hard “socially minded” decision makes have tried to help them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hawaii Clean Energy: Part 2 -- Summary of a Presentation


Presentation to Hawaii Conservatives in Hilo, Hawaii, on February 27, 2011

We were honored to be addressed by two distinguished speakers at our Feb 27 forum: Michael Kaleikini, manager of Puna Geothermal Ventures, on “Geothermal Energy in Hawaii" and Dr. Panos Prevedouros, Professor of Civil Engineering at University of Hawaii, on “Statewide Implications of the Mandates". Questions were entertained after both speakers concluded.

Mr. Kaleikini described the history and present role of Puna Geothermal Ventures production on the Big Island. The first geothermal wells were drilled in the 1960s in Kapoho. In 1981, the state had a pilot program to prove the viability of geothermal energy production. The plant produced 3 MW of power, and was designed to last 3 years but stayed in production for 6-7 years. In 1993 PGV came on line, the first commercial geothermal plant in Hawaii. It was located on the lower rift zone of Kilauea because “ that is where the resource is."

It uses a hybrid / combined cycle where steam and hot water (brine) comes up in production wells from about 6000 ft down, is used to drive turbines for power generation, and then is returned underground via injection wells. It is a 100% renewable and closed-loop system. Today there are 6 production wells and 4 injection wells in operation.

PGV has 34 full-time employees and contractors. The State of Hawaii owns the mineral rights, and PGV pays royalties to the state and county. Proceeds from those royalties have gone to support the Hele-on bus, lifeguards, park maintenance and other public projects. PGV is owned by ORMAT Corporation, head quartered in Nevada, with geothermal projects located around the globe. They are the only vertically integrated geothermal energy company, involved with drilling, manufacturing of turbines and associated specialized geothermal equipment and electrical power production.

Currently PGV is under contract with HELCO to provide 30MW of electricity, and is permitted to go to 60 MW. They provided 17% of the Big Island total electricity last year, and they just recently signed a new contract to provide an additional 8MW at a fixed price not tied to the price of oil (as their present contract is).

Dr. Prevedouros then addressed us.

He pointed out that Hawaii had the most expensive electricity in the nation, double that of California and 3 times the national average (36 cent per kw-hour on the Big Island). Our energy sources as a state are 77% from oil, 15% coal and the rest “renewable". The Big Island is about 68% oil and 32% renewable, of which geothermal is about 18% and wind 11%. The state is therefore vulnerable to the availability of oil. American national policy has supposedly been to reduce our need for oil as an energy source, but through many different administrations little progress has been made. As Jon Stewart has said about this, "Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me 8 I a @#$% idiot?"

Hawaii has had "renewable energy" mandates since 2001. In 2008, the Lingle administration increased the goal to be 70% "clean" energy by 2030, of which 40% is to be in electrical production and 30% from efficiencies and alternate fuel sources. However, if we kept present oil and coal usage constant, and massively increased production of biomass, H-power (trash), geothermal, wind and solar, we would still not meet the projected demand in 2025.

Part of the problem is how does one define "clean"? Is it energy that reduces greenhouse gases, hazardous chemicals (like mercury and sulfur dioxide), environmental degradation associated from production (like mine tailings and drilling leaks or cutting forests to plow more fields for biofuels), or the pollution hazards of combustion (such as trash)?

In addition, it is true that cheap energy = growth, and this is essential for our economic system. Most of our economic growth is tied to natural resource extraction, which will be limited if resources are not renewable. However, that does not apply to renewable sources of energy, including geothermal, hydro, solar, trash burning, nuclear and potentially algae to fuel.

What is needed is a realistic approach, not pipe dreams", Dr. Prevedouros stated.

  • In Spain, it was found that for every 1 "green job" financed by the Spanish taxpayers, 2.2. jobs were lost from the overall economy.

  • In Germany, "green" jobs financed by the government disappeared as soon as government subsidies ended.

  • One electrical vehicle is the equivalent of a small house in power consumption.

  • He himself had a solar system on his roof at home, but the $14,000 system cost him a net $4000 only after state and federal subsidies

  • After 30 months, countless TV appearances, and $80 million spent on an extravagant PR campaign, T. Boone Pickens has finally admitted the obvious: The wind energy business isn't a very good one. He's abandoning the wind business to focus on natural gas. On a national scale, it is expected the US will transition heavily from present 49% coal/21% natural gas to 40% cheap natural gas/25% coal.

  • Denmark, the poster child of wind energy production at 20%, has to sell much of its peak power to neighboring Norway and buy from them a steady base load in return, as wind is incapable of a steady supply.

  • Wind cannot work in Hawaii, as we have no nearby neighbor for such a deal. What are we going to do, turn the elevators on in Waikiki when the wind blows, then turn them off when it stops? Impossible."

  • Turning food to energy is no good either. " Food prices world wide are rising as a result. " Former vice president Al Gore said that he regrets supporting first generation corn-based ethanol subsidies while he was in office. Gore said his support for corn-based ethanol subsidies was rooted more in his desire to cultivate farm votes for his presidential run in 2000 than in doing what was right for the environment: "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol".

Dr. Prevedouros stated "Energy policy should be grounded in realism, and should pursue the ‘Double A's’: Abundant and Affordable."

Energy policy in the US has consisted of fantasies: fantastical claims of imminent energy independence or imminent technology breakthroughs. Wind and solar power are unreliable for baseload electricity; even with subsidies, they do not scale up enough to reduce fossil fuel use significantly.

Governments simultaneously spend too little and too much on clean-tech. Too little on research, development and demonstration of new technologies, and too much subsidizing the commercialization of older technologies that don’t stand on their own. If clean-tech companies can make a profit making subsidized technologies, why would they try to invent anything better?

So what makes sense for Hawaii?

Clarity of goals is needed

  • ENERGY goals pertain to total energy management for electricity and transportation, local and long-distance.
  • POWER goals pertain to the management of electricity generation and consumption.
  • Hawaii’s priorities should be on ENERGY. Clean POWER cannot bring food, supplies and visitors.

On the Big Island, increase geothermal for complete electrical supply. He notes the geothermal reserve on Earth is 70 million QUADs (hot rock only) but the USA needs only 100 QUAD/yr. In the Philippines they already use 27% geothermal, and in Iceland 100% for electrical power.

On Oahu and Maui, increase trash burning and clean coal as electrical power sources. Australia has a resource of over 75 billion tons of high quality and inexpensive coal: low in sulfur and reduced ash, high in energy content. India recently contracted to purchase 8 billion tons and was building port facilities for that alone. Honolulu should consider that as an alternative to oil.

On Oahu, increased "green bin" biomass use for methanol vehicle fuel, cooking grease for biodiesel, and long-term use of biofuels from algae. Algae have the potential of being both renewable, greater affordable energy potential than wind or solar, and are attracting serious investment.

Also not out of consideration would be nuclear. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is processing permit applications for at least 26 new power plants in U.S. Gallop Poll shows 62% favor the technology, and Obama wants to triple the amount of loan guarantees for new reactors. The current price tag for a large nuclear plant: $6-8 billion. Traditional nuclear power plants are not suitable for Hawaii. However, there is the possibility of extending lengthy power cables to decommissioned Navy vessel with small reactors (50 MW). Also promising are the "micro-reactors" such as the Toshiba 4S (Super Safe, Small and Simple) nuclear power system able to supply 10 MW of electricity for 30 years without any new fuel. The plant is simply buried and then dug up and replaced when used up.

The achievable goal would be to bring Hawaii’s overall present 75% oil usage down to 40% by 2040.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hawaii Clean Energy: Part 1 -- Goals and Reality

Hawaii's past history for electricity generation does not bode well for its "clean energy" goals.

Hawaii has a goal of reaching 40% renewable energy by 2040.
Possible? Yes! Probable? Definitely not!

Here is why, based on our past history as documented in DBEDT statistics.
I used 1993 as the reference year because in 1993 three large energy projects came online: Two on Oahu, the AES coal plant and the H-Power plant, and one on the Big Island, the Puna Geothermal Venture plant.

As a result of these large new power plant investments, oil consumption in 1993 dropped by 11.5% compared to 1992. Ten years later, in 2002 Hawaii was back at the 1992 level of oil consumption for electricity generation!

DBEDT statistics I could find had 2008 as the most recent year in the data series, so I used the 1993 to 2008 period and estimated that Hawaii energy needs increased by 12.75%. I assumed that this will be the growth of demand for electricity for 2025.

I also assumed that:
(1) Both oil and coal consumption will stay constant at the 2008 level.
(2) Covanta will successfully bring online a third "boiler" and increase power production by 50%, by expanding from 2 boilers to 3 boilers.
(3) Hydroelectric power will stay constant.

Based on these assumptions, all the additional energy will need to be produced from renewable energy sources. How much renewable energy does Hawaii need to add compared to its 2008 renewable power plant set?
  • 300% increase in geothermal
  • 300% increase in wind
  • 300% increase in biomass, and
  • 1,000% increase in solar
[Note: these are numerical examples of renewable energy shares that may satisfy Hawaii's electricity needs in 2025. These shares of renewable sources of electric power are not a recommended strategy for Hawaii.]

All these investments in renewable energy are only sufficient for keeping the oil and coal "dependency" constant at 2008 levels.

If these investments were to be executed in the next 14 years, Hawaii's renewable attainment will be 19.8% in 2025.

The pie-in-the-sky state goal calls for 33% renewable electricity generation by 2025. My 19.8% estimate is optimistic: If by 2025 Oahu has a working rail system and several thousand electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, they will require much more electric power than the amount I used for my estimations of Hawaii's 2025 power needs. As a result, the renewable energy attainment will be lower than 19.8%.

It is critically important for Hawaii to (1) set realistic goals, and (2) ensure that the right types and technologies of clean and renewable energy are installed.

This article in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald contains some of my views on energy for Hawaii.