Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hilo to Kona and back, twice, in a four-seater electric car. On one charge.

The impossible just takes a little longer.

The German firm DBM energy is claiming it has solved the intractable problems of electric cars. (Here’s their website, but you’ll need to read German.)

They’re claiming they can produce an electric car that can get from Hilo to Kona, and back, twice, on a single charge—and have plenty of juice left to charge your cell phone and your iPod.

Electric vehicles always worked, but they couldn’t go fast, and they couldn’t go far, the batteries took up all the storage space, and it took forever to recharge them.

Well, a lot of folks with very large brains have been working on those issues for a few years, and little by little, the barriers are crashing down.

You’ve got your fast cars, like the diminutive but speedy Tesla Roadster.

And if you pack enough batteries in, you can go far, like the Japanese team this year that filled a Daihatsu with batteries and drove it 625 miles (they had to take out the passenger seat to make battery space, and average speed was 25 miles an hour).

One solution has been what some engineers smilingly call a “workaround.” The hybrid, for instance: an electric car that also has a gas engine for backup. Or the battery-swap solution: if it takes forever to charge a battery, just change the batteries when you need a charge. Of course, that means you need a lot more battery packs—ones for driving and ones for charging.

Neither is elegant, but they can work.

DBM Energy has a lithium battery technology called Kolibri AlphaPolymer. It holds a great big charge, and according to DBM, it recharges in six minutes from a standard outlet. The company says it has outfitted an Audi A2 with its batteries, kept its four seats, and driven 375 miles with power to spare.

It’s not clear whether any independent agency has tested these claims, but DBM Energy already runs its batteries in things like warehouse forklifts, where they presumably get a pretty good workout.

Have they done the impossible? And what might the impossible cost? We’ll see.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hypergreen at Hawai'i Prep: state's latest LEED Platinum building

The most environmentally friendly buildings in the world amount to a pretty short list, and just a handful of them are in Hawai'i.

The latest of these is Hawai'i Preparatory Academy's new energy lab, just the third Hawai'i building to gain Platinum Certification under the LEED program. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

(Image: horses, and a LEED-Platinum building in the pastures of Waimea. Credit: HPA)

Others are Hawaii Baptist Academy Middle School in Honolulu and the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center at the state's Natural Energy Lab in Kona.

The HPA center is the first to get a Platinum certificate under the new LEED for Schools 2.0 rating system.

Our previous post on the opening of the energy lab is here.

Why go to the difficult task of getting such a certification?

“The green building movement offers an unprecedented opportunity to respond to the most important challenges of our time, including global climate change, dependence on non-sustainable and expensive sources of energy and threats to human health.

“The work of innovative building projects such as the Energy Lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy is a fundamental driving force in the green building movement,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president U.S. Green Building Council.

The energy lab is still in the running for an even tougher green certification, the Living Building Challenge, another environmentally appropriate building ranking system.

What did the energy lab designers and builders do to impress the raters? A sampling: It collects waste heat from its computers; The lab is liberally supplied with hundreds of sensors that track electricity and water use; All wood is from salvaged sources; Solar panels produce its power.

For pictures of the facility, see here.

Here's the school's Facebook link.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hawai'i gripped by historic drought; heavy rain predicted for winter

It's hardly news that Hawai'i is dry, but the extent of the drought may reach record proportions.

Lawns are brown, pasture colors in some areas have gone from yellow to gray, water bills are spiking as residents try to keep their yards alive, cattle and horses need special attention because food is short and normal water sources have dried up.

(Image: the U.S. Department of Agriculture drought map for Hawaii, effective Oct. 12. The darker the red, the dryer it is. Yellow is just “abnormally dry.” Credit: USDA.)

Hawai'i is in the grip of a historic drought—maybe a record drought year if late-year rains don't fill in soon. (And they should, but not until after November. More on that later.)

Agricultural ventures report significant farm losses for tree crops, flowers and any unirrigated fields, pasture production down by as much as 90 percent in some areas, and cattle herds being culled by 30 percent.

The federal government has a drought monitor with five levels of severity, and much of leeward Hawai'i is under the worst conditions, “D4, Exceptional drought.” (The Drought Intensity Categories are: D0 … Abnormally Dry; D1 ... Moderate Drought; D2 ... Severe Drought; D3 ... Extreme Drought; and D4 ... Exceptional Drought.)

Many parts of the state are working on all-time record dry conditions, with small fractions of normal rainfall. Here's the state drought map.

The comparative severity is graphically shown on the national drought monitor map.

The only good news in the scenario is that the National Weather Service predicts the drought will break sometime after November, and that a wet winter is forecast.

It seems bizarre under these arid conditions to be planning for heavy rains and floods, but that's the recommendation of the Weather Service:

Wet season preparedness guidelines:

Clean gutters and drainage ditches

If you live in a flood-prone area, identify your evacuation routes ahead of time

Plan for more rainy weather impacts

Increased road travel times or possible detours due to flooding

Outdoor activities may be postponed, canceled, or adjusted

Increased potential for lightning strikes

Be prepared for possible power outages

Move indoors during a thunderstorm

Do you have a NOAA Weather Radio?

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hawaii 12th in energy efficiency; there's more to do

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has ranked Hawai'i 12th among the states for energy efficiency.

That's up from both 2006 and 2008, when Hawai'i was tied for 15th. The scorecard was compiled by Humboldt State University and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The fact that we're improving is a good sign, in part because everyone is improving, and we're doing slightly better than keeping up with the crowd.

But clearly, and particularly in the state with the highest energy costs in the nation, there's much more that we could do. Our state gets a score on the ACEEE ranking of just 24.5 out of possible 50 points.

The most heavily weighted judging category covers “Utility and Public Benefits Fund Efficiency Programs and Policies” which is a total of 20 possible points and Hawai'i gets 12. This one covers electricity efficiency programs and savings from them, natural gas efficiency, performance incentives and established targets.

Clearly, some of these rankings are a little arbitrary (We don't use much natural gas, and despite a zero score on this measure, Hawai'i still ranked 10th overall in the larger category.)

On Transportation, we get 2 out of a possible 8. It's another area where the rankings are iffy. Hawai'i got no points for transit funding, which means these folks haven't been listening to our state's rail debates, the expanding bus system on Kaua'i, and so forth. We also got no points because our state lacks vehicle tailpipe emission standards, which 15 states do have. We did get a point (the maximum possible) for our state's support of alternative fuel vehicles.

On Building Energy Code we get 4 of 7. Our state is working on enacting a high-energy-efficiency building code, but we're not there yet, accounting for this score.

On Combined Heat and Power, we get 3 of 5. This refers to a power generation system in which the heat from a generation unit is recovered to improve efficiency or produce more power. It's also called cogeneration. This category also includes a basket of measures, including rate structure, incentives for distributed power systems, and others.

On state government initiatives we get 3.5 of 7. The state got full marks for its various “lead by example” demonstration efforts, which presumably include retrofits of state buildings, support for electric vehicles and so forth. We did poorly on our commitment to research and development, and also poorly on the state's tax incentives, loan programs and other financial support for efficiency.

On Appliance Efficiency Standards, we get 0 of 3. Not a proud ranking. “States have historically led the way when it comes to establishing standards for appliances and other equipment,” the report says. And while the federal government has standards for a lot of equipment, it doesn't govern everything. This measure looks at the amount of energy saved by such standards, where they exist.

So, the ACEEE ranking isn't entirely fair, or entirely up-to-date, but it's a useful measure for identifying places where, as a state, we need work.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are motorcycles the obvious environmental choice? It depends.

The European Union is considering fuel economy regulations for motorcycles, an idea which, at first glance, seems like a bit of overkill.

(Image: BMW's 1092cc K1100RS, which the BMW website says has a fuel economy of 5.8 liters per 100 kilometers at 120 kph, which works out to 1.5 gallons per 62 miles at 74 miles an hour, or about 41 miles to the gallon. Credit: BMW.)

The initial proposed regulations are for exhaust pollutants other than greenhouse gases, but clearly, that could be the next step.

Seems odd, since one might be forgiven for thinking that cycles would be the clear environmental choice over any car, given the reduced road friction of two wheels, reduced engine sizes, reduced vehicle weight and so forth.

Would a Hawai'i highway be more energy efficient it it were filled with bikes instead of cars?

Well, it's complicated.

(And as we'll see a little later, a lot of the complication deals with how many individuals are on board the bike or riding in the car.)

Turns out, for example, that if you set a 2007 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic next to a Toyota Prius, the Prius wins the straight mileage calculation. The Harley is listed at 32.5 city/45 miles a gallon highway, while the Prius comes in at 51/48.

But that might be a little like comparing a Clydesdale to a Shetland pony. From some perspectives, the Harley is a big, gorgeous, powerhouse road warrior, and the hybrid Prius a prim, schoolmarmy fuel sipper.

Within the motorcycle category, there is plenty of variation, and often it falls in predicable areas. Engine size, for example.

The Honda Shadow Spirit 750 from 2005 gets 50/55 on the mileage scale, while its little brother the Honda Rebel 250 gets 73/86. Yamaha's 125 gets 90/99.

Yeah, size matters. The big issues are how big the engine is, how heavy the bike is, and how you drive it. Certainly, manufacturers' engine design is a factor as well, along with tire design, wind resistance and lots more. This article at MotorcycleCruiser nicely reviews the issues.

The upshot, oddly, is that on a per-passenger-seat basis, fuel-efficient cars are often more efficient than motorcycles.

But if you're riding to work alone in your car, then almost any option (walk, bicycle, motorcycle, bus, carpool) is a better option from a fuel and climate perspective.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010