Monday, April 30, 2012

Hawaiian Island Sustainability

How can we tell if an island is sustainable or not? All islands are net importers, meaning residents depend on external resources to survive, so they tend to be less sustainable compared to a self-sufficient continent.
To get a handle on island sustainability, a UH study group developed a database of 52 islands with populations in excess of 50,000.

With a sustainability score of 300 being “very good” and a score of 30 being “very bad,” Oahu scores 140 and Maui scores 180. The Big Island scores 170 and can improve to 200 with all-geothermal power. Overall, Hawaii’s population-adjusted score is exactly average at 150, so its sustainability profile has a lot of room for improvement.

Read full article in Honolulu Weekly.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Move Oahu Forward?


More than thirty of Hawaii’s leading business and community leaders have joined together to form a new organization, Move Oahu Forward...

There are hundreds of large companies and thousands of small businesses on Oahu. Now the usual pro-rail suspects* got together and gave another name to the old and tired Go Rail Go which morphed into a construction unions operative.

Campbell Estate should be "credited" for giving Oahu mainland suburban sprawl (where transit has no chance to succeed,) instead of diversified ag. If they are so proud of their 2nd city why do they need a five billion dollar tether to the first city for it?

HECO alone has given Oahu the nightmare of 77% oil dependency for power generation and power rates 300% higher than mainland, and climbing. Instead of cutting down, it wants to sign up the 40 MW electric rail customer. How greedy and irresponsible!

Move Oahu Forward? Move Oahu Toward Us ... for our sustained profiteering, is more apt.

(*) The MOF list does include a few surprises such as Hawaiian Airlines and Outrigger Hotels. Business dealings and obligations to bankers and other creditors are partly at play here. Don't forget that Aloun Farms has agreed to be obliterated by B.R.Horton's Hoopili development in Ewa. Mufi manages the hotel association. Sen. Inouye can facilitate for foreign landing slots for Hawaiian Air, or intervene to protect HA stronghold markets. All kinds of interactions are at play. The rail is the tip of the collusion and interdependency iceberg. Overall, however, it is becoming clearer who the political puppet master is in the Honolulu rail affair.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Transportation Seminars in Nepal and Korea

I'll be giving a total of eight seminars in Nepal and Korea in the second part of April, 2012.

The seminar series in Nepal is on
Then in South Korea I visit and lecture at three universities as follows:

April 25 at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
  • TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY: Fundamentals and Comparisons

April 26 at Ajou University
  • URBAN TRANSPORTATION FOR LARGE CITIES (Population 500,000 to 2,500,000) -- BRT, HOT, CS, EV and … BTU

April 27 at Korea University

Friday, April 13, 2012

Keep a 9 y.o. Car or Replace it with a Hybrid?

I own a sporty 4 door sedan with almost 70,000 miles on it. It's a good car that will likely serve me well for another 6 to 10 years with proper maintenance. It does require premium gas and its average real world 20 miles-per-gallon (mpg) is decent. Could a high efficiency hybrid car be a less expensive choice in the long term?

The general question is: What is the total cost of a new and a used car and how can one estimate it? Each person's choice will vary so I use my case to illustrate the approach.

The only high-mpg alternatives to my car are the 2012 Toyota Camry LE Hybrid and the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The remainder of the hybrids are too "sleepy", too large or too expensive for me.

I chose to make comparisons with the Camry. It is less sporty that my current car but various magazine tests praise it for its good acceleration and good fuel efficiency. It is rated at 43 mpg city so I assumed a 40 mpg for my estimations. Having used a rented Prius for a few days I confirmed that its city mpg is as good as advertised at 51 mpg. I excluded the Sonata despite the fact that it is $4,000 less expensive than the Camry because tests have shown that its real world mpg is worse than its EPA rating of 35 mpg city. [1] According to both have a similar 5 year total cost to own. [2]

Real world mpg is important and EPA has revised the rules because of large deviations. For example, I did complain to Honda in 2000 because my 1999 Accord LX rated at 24 mpg city never did any better than 20 mpg even with a bit of freeway use thrown in the mix. In 2011 Honda had bigger problems with its Civic Hybrid (lawsuits about the claimed mpg) which stresses the importance of the real world mpg rating in different areas by different users.

There are many variables in this long term calculation, some more important than others:
  • Length of analysis: 6 years and 10 years.
  • Out the door cost of the new car: $29,160.
  • Current value of the 9 y.o. car: $9,500.
  • Insurance and registration: I called my insurer to find out today's premium for the 2012 Camry Hybrid: 5% higher than my current car. Registration is the same at $300 per year.
  • Usage: this is hugely important in comparing a high mpg to a low mpg car because high use makes the high mpg car cheaper in the long term. My scenario was for 6,000 miles per year which is what I averaged in the past three years. I also run the numbers for 10,000 miles per year.
  • Tires: New set of tires costing $800 every 30,000 miles.
  • Maintenance: annual average cost of $900 for the 9 y.o. car and $300 for the new car based on past experience. In other words, in the next 10 years it’ll take $9,000 to keep the 9 y.o. car in very good shape and $3,000 to do the same with the new car.
  • Cost of fuel: this is another critical variable because fossil fuel pricing will be quite uncertain in the future. There is no doubt that the price of fuel will fluctuate a lot between 2012 and 2022. Some argue that new large deposits will be found, Libya’s production will come up to normal soon and China’s thirst for oil will be leveling off. Others point to the diminishing reserves (they are good for up to 100 years more) and the large unrest likely in the Arab peninsula, like Syria or worse. So I run three scenarios of average annual price change of -4%, +2%, and +5%. I explain each scenario below.
Today's oil price is about $105 per barrel. When President Obama took office the price was $35 per barrel. Many analysts expect that in the next decade the price of oil will average $50 to $80 per barrel, so gas may be cheaper than it is today. This is represented by the -4% scenario. In this scenario, today’s unleaded gas is $4.35 per gallon and the average price in the next 10 years will be $3.65/gln. (All prices mentioned are in today’s dollars.)

The 2% scenario assumes that the current level of oil price per barrel is high, that it will drop some time after the 2012 elections and then begin to grow again resulting in a mild average increase. In this scenario, today’s unleaded gas is $4.35 per gallon and the average price in the next 10 years will be $4.76/gln.

The 5% scenario assumes major unrest in Saudi Arabia or another calamitous event that affects oil prices. In this scenario, today’s unleaded gas is $4.35 per gallon and the average price in the next 10 years will be $5.47/gln.

The estimation of total costs takes quite a bit of analysis. The figure below shows the calculation for one car, one mileage scenario and one gas price scenario. The final results require 12 estimations like this.

The results are summarized in the table below. The obvious result is that regardless of gasoline pricing scenario, the car with 40 mpg city is a good choice for high annual mileage users. In my case, staying with what I've got is the smart choice.


[2] Hyundai: True Cost to Own®: $42,406 -- Toyota: True Cost to Own®: $42,915 (both are 5 year estimates) from [1]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Panos 2050

My program on sustainability solutions for Hawaii is now permanent on the TV guide.

Please check it out on the public access channel VIEWS 54.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sustainable Development is an Oxymoron

On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth. Read more in the Smithsonian Magazine.

More recently, Australian physicist Graham Turner of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.

Looking at the thick line updates of the 1972 trends, I find the energy trend alarming. The rest of the trends do no seem to be as alarming as originally forecast in 1972. Significantly, the population growth in China is under substantial control. But growth in China, Brazil and Nigeria counterbalance the population reduction of China.

The retired MIT professor who led the original study had this to say:
  • Sustainable development: I consider to be an oxymoron actually...
  • Predicting a global collapse ... is like being in San Francisco and knowing that there is going to be an earthquake and that it is going to cause buildings to fall down. Which buildings are going to fall down, and where are they going to fall? We just don’t have any way of understanding that.
  • You can for a brief period spend more out of your bank account than you save, if you have come through a long period of thrift. But eventually, of course, you bring your bank account back down to zero and you’re stuck. That is exactly what is happening to us on the globe. We are living off the savings of biodiversity, fossil fuel accumulation, agricultural soil buildup and groundwater accumulation, and when we have spent them, we will be back down to the annual income.
  • In 1998 we had the dot-com bubble bust. In 2008 we had the housing bubble bust. Both illustrated what incredibly primitive understanding and capacities we have for dealing with bubbles. We are now forming a bubble in population, and in material and energy consumption.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

$10 Gas? Not Really!

Gas at $10 is a myth. China's big boom is over. Their cities are so congested and polluted that they can't absorb more cars so their demand for gasoline should level off.

Similar story for Brazil where Sao Paolo just exceeded 19 million people. In such vast and growing cities rail systems are an obvious need. The explosive growth in demand for oil distillates from the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will subside significantly soon. Most of the problem in gas prices is actually created by the restrictions of the EPA and the President.

$10 per gallon of gas is called ... Greece, Italy and several other countries where most people drive 40+ mpg cars instead of 20 mpg cars. In this way, their relative cost for fuel is roughly the same as ours. People find a way to assure themselves independent, flexible transportation. See more in this post: Gasoline Price Comparisons: Taxes not Octanes Matter

People in Hawaii can adjust should gas prices "explode." I am still amazed at the $30K to $50K trucks people buy when a hybrid family sedan is much safer and less than $30K to buy -- let alone the sub-$20K and over 35 mpg compact cars available in the market. There is a lot of room for downsizing in Hawaii.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Has Been the Biggest Failure in Transportation in Recent History?

A well known transportation academic posed this question recently to other transportation experts.

Failure he said. You decide the criteria. Failures could be big small, but not too small and localized.

I am looking for projects, systems, technologies, or policies that have been failures.

To provide a response in a general way, I had to define failure in a general way. So I defined it as “the usefulness of a transportation mode or infrastructure to my adult life and the quality of it—the mode with the least usefulness would be a failure.” Here’s my assessment looking back in the last 30 years which also coincides with the length of my adult life, more or less.

Roads and cars allowed me to access everything that was out there… people, sights, activities, opportunities.

Roads and buses let me travel intra- and inter-city when I was making little money.

Roads, bicycles and mopeds made college life much easier and efficient. The bicycle as exercise on public roads and bikeways is among the least demanding and most enjoyable. It works for me.

Airplanes took me the world over. Nowadays, large airports like Incheon in South Korea allow me to get to Asia in one flight from the US and then the rest of Asia is one flight away.

Helicopters allowed me to study the main freeway in Honolulu and observe traffic shock waves in action. They are the best mode to view volcanoes in Hawaii and among the best means for rapid rescue the world over.

Bridges and tunnels. All had an obvious utility in time savings and safety.

Small ferries took me to islands with my car, large ferries took me to countries with my car, and container ships got me food, TVs, furniture and cars. Tanker ships bring oil to fuel most of the transportation I listed above. I love fish, so many thanks to the global fishing fleets and their harbors.

Freight trains. Without these trains and coal the US would not enjoy the cheap power it used to propel it to a global dominating status and the highest standard of living. Their indirect effect to my well being has been substantial.

Cable systems and telepheriques have a practicality all of their own and once built they are not too expensive to operate. The alternative, if one exists, is typically a long drive along narrow, winding and occasionally icy roads.

Passenger trains. There was always a substitute and they never were a necessity. I took the TGV in France, Shinkansen in Japan, and China’s fast trains. Without exception, all of them were one way trips, just to try them out. All of them were expensive and difficult to handle with two suitcases. They were much more crowded than airplanes. I also use metro rail in Europe and Asia, and in a handful of very large cities in the US chiefly because their downtowns are devoid of parking and their bus systems are too complex to learn in a short visit.

Thus, in relative terms, rail systems have done too little for my life experience and quality of life, thus, almost all rail systems built in the last 30 years were a failure. Add to this that all but Shinkansen are constant loss-makers and their first place as modern era transportation failures is assured.

One maybe tempted to say that my response is skewed because Honolulu does not have rail. I've been in Honolulu for 22 years and my residence and work locations have been in a triangle formed by Kalihi, Kailua and Kahala. Rail would not be useful to me.

I spend a lot of time in Athens and my brother, sister and their families reside there. Less than 1% of our trips use any of Athens' multiple rail lines. For most people, a rail line makes no difference in their 21st century life style.