Friday, September 30, 2011

Rail Construction Delays Will Take Decades to Counterbalance

One thing that the public has not understood and the City has never explained or quantified is this: The impact of construction on daily traffic flow for 6 to 12 years.

Let's say that all attempts to stop the proposed heavy rail for Honolulu fail and the rail as shown in the picture above is going to full implementation. There will be 21 approximately football sized stations 40 ft. or higher in the air.

This will require extensive lane closures and in make cases long term full road closures. In addition to the stations there will be 20 miles of guideways in the middle of major arterial streets such as Farrington Hwy., Kam Hwy., Dillingham Blvd., Queen St. Their traffic will have to divert to other (already congested) parallel roads. Congestion will be paralyzing for a decade.

The congestion due to rail construction will be so bad in total, that rail's tiny traffic relief after it opens won't balance it out for over 50 years.

Let's work out a quick and rough estimate.
  • Call "A" the amount of traffic congestion today from the general Ewa/Makakilo/Kapolei area to town.
  • Say rail will take 10 years to be built and congestion on that corridor will be 50% worse on the average. So rail will make 5A of additional congestion.
  • Now let's say that rail will reduce congestion by a (very large) 10%, so every year thereafter rail will be saving the same folks 0.1A of congestion. (The real traffic congestion reduction will be 2% to 5% at best.)
  • How many years will it take to balance the additional 5A of congestion they suffered while rail was built?
  • 5A divided by 0.1A gives 50
  • 50 years
  • Two generations with zero benefit.
As I have mentioned to folks in Kapolei: The best day for their to Honolulu ... was yesterday. Rail or not, congestion will get worse. (That is, until real congestion solutions are implemented.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jade Moon Wants Louder Support for Her Train to Ruin

Jade used her MidWeek column, plenty of emotion and wrong information to paint a favorable picture for Honolulu’s proposed elevated rail which she wants and supports. (Read it here.)

Jade issued a call to action because the pro-railers are not being heard. “I think it’s time for rail supporters to come back out and make a little noise. Make yourselves heard again.”

At the same time, the City shamelessly uses tax monies to produce, print and mail hundreds of thousands of gloss fliers to households monthly, it produces TV programs including a regular spot on O’lelo, it gives rail propaganda shows with food and music at high schools and colleges, and Inouye, mayor or HART have at least one press release or pro-rail event every week.

Moreover, the Star-Advertiser routinely rejects anti-rail letters and MidWeek has refused my multiple offers to print my articles. Councilman Tom Berg is being shadowed by Go-Rail-Go every time he arranges a townhall meeting with rail on the agenda. Pro-rail unions flooded the Land Use Commission hearings on Ho’opili recently. But none of this is enough for Jade. She wants to make sure that anti-rail voices are swamped.

“Our future demands that we protect our environment, that we have viable transportation choices. Clean mass transit must be one of the options on the menu” she claims.

The energy required just to build the foundations, columns, structures and trains involved is enough to give an energy consumption and pollution stroke to anyone willing to quantify it. National statistics clearly show that hybrid cars are less energy demanding and polluting than heavy rail, and 4-cylinder cars are not far behind the hybrids. That’s by mainland standards which include substantial nuclear and hydro (clean) power and less than 3% oil. In contrast, over 90% of Oahu’s electricity comes from oil with little end in sight. It is the dirtiest electricity in the U.S.

Remember that a parked car does not pollute. A train runs less than half full most the time. Plus station lights, elevators, escalators, ticket machines, controllers, air-conditioners are on all the time. What a waste of resources!

Here is a green transportation alternative for Jade: Telecommuting. Since the turn of the millennium, more Americans telecommute than take trains. Also two years before the 2008 “rail referendum” on Oahu there was another one about bikeways and a whopping 72% were in favor. What did Mufi I (Hannemann) and Mufi II (Carlisle) do about bikeways? Where is Jade’s outrage for this green mode? Perhaps bikes are ignored because they aren’t HECO customers.

“It would revitalize the construction industry…” No, it’ll keep some of them busy for a few years. Then what? Megaprojects are not sustainable. All they do is create “bubbles” of temporary growth. This point is too myopic to discuss any further.

“…stimulate business and economic development and provide opportunities for employment.” Maybe, but correctly spent, six billion dollars can go way further for Oahu. Here is a suggestion: A $6 Billion Plan for Hawaii's Long-term Prosperity.

“Listen to the voices of the people who are tired of traffic hell.” I’d agree that by local standards the Kapolei to town commute is what Jade calls “traffic hell.” But Oahu’s congestion ranking is between 49 and 52 worse in the US according to the Texas Transportation Institute congestion index estimations: Mobility Data for Honolulu (2004 to 2009.)

“My biggest fear for rail is that it will somehow stumble into a legal no man’s land.” Jade got this right. Even if the Cayetano, et al. suit fails, even if the Bombardier complaints fail, there will be dozens of eminent domain and other suits. Big projects typically get stuck. One heiau in Halawa did it for H-3 Freeway. How’s several football field sized stations in Waipahu, Kalihi, Kakaako 40 ft. up in the air?

Rail for Oahu has been, is and will be a losing proposition. Manini traffic relief, huge visual and environmental impact, colossal cost to implement, and ridiculous traffic and court tie-ups once real construction begins.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hawaii Solar Technology Choice

Q: Will the consumer gain or lose?
A: Lose big if a proposal gets approval

The technology battle is between Concentrated Solar Panel (CSP) and Photo-voltaic (PV). Here are the facts:

Why should Hawaii pay more for electricity generated from CSP than it does from PV? Hawaii’s leaders have proposed that HECO pay CSP developers up to 60% more than it pays PV developers for the same power. Even a modest size CSP facility will cost Hawaii 10’s of millions of dollars more in tax credits and electricity purchases. CSP (also known as Solar Thermal) is the most expensive of all energy options, as shown in the figure below. Choosing an obvious and unnecessary waste of money.

PV wins the Solar Technology Battle: Government and industry analysts say that CSP (also known as “solar thermal” technology) is losing the solar energy cost battle and is doomed (1,2.) The project developers are cancelling numerous CSP projects or converting them to PV (3.)

Hawaii’s Experience with CSP is even worse
. Hawaii’s first CSP facility cost approximately $20 million dollars to build and has a capacity of 100 kW (4,5,6.) The cost to build that CSP facility is approximately $200/watt while PV is less than $7/watt. Actual electrical output from the facility has not been made public.

Outrageous cost!
HECO buys renewable energy produced by geothermal, wind, PV, and biomass local suppliers at 12 to 22 cents per KWh. With the proposed CSP rate, HECO will be forced to buy solar energy at 31.6 cents per KWh. Such discriminatory favoritism is unjustified and insulting to electric power customers. For reference, the average price of electricity sold to mainland households is 11 cents per KWh. HECO’s rate is approximately three (3) times higher.
Bottom Line: Hawaii should not subsidize an expensive and unproven CSP technology when proven and less expensive PV options readily exist.

Call to Action:
The Governor and the PUC are preparing to approve a “highway robbery” deal with Sopogy for a multi-million dollar CSP deployment at Kalaeloa on Oahu. This deployment must not be approved. Call the Governor and the PUC and ask them to step away from this very costly proposal.

Note: Sent to Governor, Lt. Governor, the Public Utilities Commission and all Hawaii Legislators on Sept. 13, 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Internet in China. Not Much is Accessible.

I spent nearly two weeks in five cities in China, Shanghai, Nanjing, Harbin, Chanchung and Beijing in August. It was a great tour of China's developing might and physical beauty which I describe elsewhere. One of the low spots was Internet access. Here is a pictorial testament of my experience.
No access to Blogger, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Vimeo ...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Taxis Are Flexible and High Tech Public Transportation

Cities rely on taxis to serve business people, tourists, the handicapped, the auto-less and people who cannot drive, and all those with urgent and important trips. In Honolulu for example, about one fifth of a taxi's night customers are restaurant, bar and medical facility workers many of whom can't afford high parking fees or do not drive -- given that bus routes shut down by 8 or 9 pm.

Throughout the world, taxis are common carriers, which means that they serve everyone without preference or discrimination. They typically provide 24x7 service, and improve public safety by transporting intoxicated drivers home. Taxis provide essential intermodal connections at airports, harbors, rail and mass transit stations.

The taxi is a privately owned and operated public transportation service.
As an industry, taxis provide thousands of jobs in an urban area for drivers, dispatchers, managers and other vehicle-related jobs. A typical taxi “clocks” approximately 32,500 miles per year in Honolulu and close to 47,000 miles in New York City: A taxi vehicle is used roughly three times more than the average private vehicle in Honolulu and NYC. This in turn generates more business for others: Gas stations, service stations, car repair shops and auto sellers. And lots of fees and taxes paid to government at all levels.

The taxi industry tends to be heavily regulated which may be tolerable during positive economic times but is burdensome during economic downturns and fuel crises. The cyclically revised tariffs per mile and minute do not take into account fluctuations either in the prices of vehicles and fuels or in the value of time. Other disadvantages of the taxi industry are the constant exposure to traffic congestion and traffic accident risk.

Managing a fleet of hundreds of taxis over thousands of miles of a large city network is a daunting task. Done wrong, there can be tremendous waste of driver time and fuel on empty hauls, or long waits at the wrong location. This is where Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) come in with the combination of computerized optimization, automated vehicle location (AVL), global positioning systems (GPS), and fast mobile network based communications between fleet and dispatch center. Fuel savings and more revenue trips per shift pay for the technology and improve the taxi operator’s bottom line.

With an integrated system, the right customer is paired with the right available taxi within seconds resulting in superior customer service and minimized down times and wasted fuel. On the aggregate, thousands of taxis (e.g., Honolulu has nearly 2,000) conducting optimal trips can save a lot of congestion and emissions for the whole city.

Mentor Engineering of Canada recently installed its IntelliFleet ITS system for taxis to Honolulu’s oldest taxi company Charley’s Taxi which manages over 200 cabs on Oahu. While Oahu has several ITS components, they tend to operate in bits-and-pieces by city or state departments. The Charley’s Taxi/Mentor Engineering/Sprint/Verizon system is a fully integrated one with additional features for safety and convenience of both the driver and the passengers. A news story by Hawaii News Now can be seen here.

Taxi is arguably the best mode for urban transportation and this is evidenced by its worldwide success. It is car-based so it is fast, convenient, private, clean, and provides door-to-door service. The customer is free to be productive during the trip, and at the end of the trip there is no need to look for and pay for parking.

Indeed, taxi is one of the most basic modes of urban transportation which along with taxis include car, car-pool or van-pool, bus, walk, bicycle, moped or motorcycle, and telecommuting. Some cities have express bus service or bus rapid transit (BRT), light or heavy rail, jitneys, ferries, funiculars and other specialized modes. Taxi service is public transportation and is an essential mode of metropolitan transportation throughout the world.

Could taxis solve the Ewa plains to town congestion problem on Oahu? This is only a half-serious question, but given how government wastes money, it’s worth looking into. Federal and local government wasted $6 Million on TheBoat. It carried roughly 300 people per day for about two (2) years. The same subsidy to 100 taxis would have carried the same people for 6.5 years!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ten Reasons Why Nuclear Energy Is Necessary For Another 50-Years

Today I attended an interesting presentation on the merits of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and fusion with heavy ions (HIF). Fusion is the “miracle” no-radiation, no noxious waste energy concept that for the past 50 years it’s been “20-years in the future.” There are no fusion power plants in existence, in part because of the giant size they require, and the giant budget that comes with it: $50 Billion for one installation which, in turn, would be enough to supply all of California with fuels and electricity. But $50 Billion for the first-of-its-kind installation is a proposition that no private company or politician has put forth.

What we have available today is the much more scalable and affordable fission process of nuclear reactors. So I summarized below ten key reasons why nuclear energy is necessary for areas that anticipate growth in one million people increments. Many cities in Asia and Africa fit this growth profile.

1) Growth: World population was 3 Billion in 1960, 6 Billion in 1999 and expected to be 9 Billion in 2046. Population growth and improving standard of living globally demand increasing amounts of energy. Energy production must roughly double in the next 30 years to accommodate demand.

2) Fossil fuel depletion: Fossil fuels are being depleted, are not renewable and carbon taxes or pollution limits incentivize low carbon power production alternatives, one of which is nuclear.

3) Plant aging: The post WWII rapid growth of 1st world countries was facilitated in large part by electric power plants of various types and sizes. Many of them are past 50 years of age and need replacement.

4) China alone is growing very fast and a major bottleneck of its growth may become the supply of electric power. Mopeds are electric in its large cities and BYD and CODA are selling full-featured electric vehicles.*

5) Uranium as a fuel has advantages: It is relatively abundant, it does not cost much, not a lot of it is needed to fuel nuclear reactors, and supply comes from stable countries such as Australia and Canada. It is only mildly radioactive and its alpha radiation does not penetrate the skin. Uranium metal is commonly handled with gloves as a sufficient precaution.

6) Modern nuclear power plants provide large amount of power, typically over 1 GW which is 1,000 megawatts. One 1.5 GW plant can cover the needs of a 1st world city of about one million population. Its impact on land and other earth resources is very small compared to many other clean energy sources such as photovoltaic and wind.

7) Familiarity: By 2010 there were 440 nuclear power plants in 31 countries supplying about 15% of the world electric power. Also, there are hundreds of naval vessels with compact nuclear reactors.

8) Vinod Koshla told The Economist that Earth is on an unsustainable energy trajectory and the development of affordable new energy is essential for the billions of peoples on the planet and particularly in fast growing China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria.** Until a feasible and affordable breakthrough is achieved in the energy field, nuclear energy is a major option for large populations because of its cost per MW, safety and near zero carbon footprint.

9) Normal safety: Current nuclear plant designs have many more safety features than the 1950s-era power plants that exhibited critical problems in Pennsylvania, Russia and Japan. Here is an example of a late 1980s nuclear reactor that shut down recently because it auto-detected some equipment failure.

10) Catastrophe scenario: The Fukushima, Japan Daiischi nuclear power plant failure is a great example of resilience. Whereas nature’s force and infrastructure failures in the 9 R earthquake on March 11, 2011 (Tōhoku earthquake) claimed over 30,000 lives, this major nuclear power plant accident had no fatalities. The plant designed with 1950s technology and built for an 8 R earthquake actually withstood an earthquake that was 10 times stronger. Flood water from the powerful tsunami jumped over the 25 ft. protective sea-walls and drowned the external diesel generators used to circulate water and cool the reactors. Because of the surrounding catastrophe, nobody was able to fix this external power system. After the 8-hour backup batteries ran out, cooling stopped and partial meltdown commenced. The September 1, 2011 press release of TEPCO Power Company reads in part: “By bringing the reactors and spent fuel pools to a stable cooling condition and mitigating the release of radioactive materials, we will make every effort to enable evacuees to return to their homes and for all citizens to be able to secure a sound life.”

Power is the key ingredient for prosperity. Without adequate and affordable power, our life-style, health and well-being cannot be maintained. Power fundamentally affects our basic needs such as water distribution, sanitation, food production and transportation for covering essential needs. Once it is understood that every 750,000 population requires approximately 1,000 MW per day, the production of affordable energy by existing solar and wind technologies appears only on the lists of severely math (and reality) incompetent individuals.

Unfortunately “environmentalists” and self-appointed “public protectors” are most effective in blocking nuclear power plants for communities with the best engineering, strict safety standards and political stability (e.g., Germany, Japan and U.S. locales.) At the same time, gigawatts of nuclear power are shifting to less secure environs, such as developing ex-soviet and ex-communist countries. This may be an unwelcome transfer of risk for the planet as a whole.

(*) China is one of a few nations with no apparent hesitation for the deployment of nuclear energy. I show a sample collage below. The approximately 10 million population city of Harbin in northern China has two large nuclear reactors as part of the cityscape. They were within a 30 minute walk from my hotel where I took the picture shown below in late August 2011. A week earlier I was sitting on the left side of the bus from Nanjing to Shanghai, a 160 mile trip. I saw and photographed three large nuclear power plants shown at the bottom of the picture; one every 50 miles!

(**) Add the U.S. (~500 million) and the Philippines (~200 million) to those four and their combined population projection for 2100 reaches 4 Billion!