Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Climate change may not promote hurricane increase

Climate scientists have long known that hurricanes form much more easily when the water is warm.

In the past, they’ve told me the threshold temperature for promoting more tropical cyclone growth is about 28 degrees Centigrade, which is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Image: The average tropical sea surface temperature (black) and an estimate of the sea surface temperature threshold for convection (blue) have risen in tandem over the past 30 years. Credit: IPRC/SOEST/UHM.)

But does that threshold temperature change with a warming climate? New research suggests it does, which seems like good news for Hawai’i.

Researchers Nat Johnson and Shang-Ping Xie at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa’s International Pacific Research Center write in the journal Nature Geoscience that the threshold seems to rise along with climate warming.

They compared tropical ocean thunderstorm frequency with tropical sea temperatures over a 30-year period. Their finding was that the two measures track each other closely, with the threshold rising along with sea surface temperature at about a tenth of a degree Centigrade per year.

“The correspondence between the two time series is rather remarkable… The convective threshold and average see surface temperatures are so closely linked because of their relation with temperatures in the atmosphere extending several miles above the surface,” Johnson said.

The scientists say their research seems to indicate that this trend will continue.

What that means for the Islands is that warming climate does not necessarily mean more hurricane-type storms for Hawai’i—at least not purely because the water is warmer. One of the fears about climate and hurricanes has been that if the threshold didn’t rise, it could mean the water would be above the threshold longer each hurricane season, and we would be at greater risk.

N.C. Johnson and S.-P. Xie, 2010: Changes in the sea surface temperature threshold for tropical convection. Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo1004.

©Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Musings on powering the family car: Gas, electric, pedals?

Imagine the responses if all cars were electric and someone were trying to sell a gasoline-powered vehicle.

(Image: The electric Hungarian concept car Antro, which you can pedal into the garage if your battery runs out, and which splits into two cars for two-commuter households. Source: Antro Vehicle Development Public Benefit Company.)

What would folks say about gasoline cars?

“Gasoline? They can make fuel-air bombs out of that. It’s explosive! You’re going to pour that stuff down a tube and carry it around in your car? That's nuts! What about a collision?”

“Every city’s going to have dozens of gasoline stations with underground tanks filled with explosive liquid that could also leak and pollute groundwater? I don’t think so.”

“Internal combustion engines? They only operate at 25% efficiency. Enormous amounts of their energy are lost as heat. Makes no sense. They’re noisy. They stink. They pollute. You could kill yourself if you left one running in a closed garage.”

And so forth.

A fellow named Robert Llewellyn operates a video podcast on electric cars called Fully Charged. While driving a $2 million Honda hydrogen fuel cell-electric car, he had this comment:

“The internal combustion engine is just a clunky old bit of Steam Age technology. Pistons, crankshafts, valves, all that stuff … It’s clever and complex Victorian technology. It’s not what we should be doing now.”

That said, are there problems with these new post-Steam Age electric vehicles. But there is also any number of solutions for virtually all of them. Here are some pluses and minuses from your federal government.

And some of my thoughts:

Electric cars are expensive. I think of computers. I remember spending $2,000 for one of my first computers some three decades ago. It was quirky, had limited power, was heavy and there weren’t many programs for it. The laptop on which I’m writing this cost a third the amount, is portable, and has capacity and capability that leave that old machine fading like a bad memory. Like computers, they'll be cheaper later.

They’re not sexy and they’re so, well, golfcarty. Let me say two words. Tesla roadster.

Yeah, well, can I fit my kids and the groceries into one? Well, Tesla and Toyota are working on an electric RAV4. AMP has an electric Chevy Equinox now. Shucks, even Range Rover has one.

They’ll never get the price under control as long as they need a ton of batteries for range. Well, battery technology will certainly improve, at least somewhat, which will help. And getting charging stations into parking lots may mean you can fill up any time you stop for a couple of hours—to shop, to eat, to work. And if you charge up when you get home, you’re full at dawn every day. You know, that 300-mile range is mostly so you don't have to fill the car more than once every week or two, not because you drive 300 miles every day.

It’s all so inconvenient. You can charge your iPod and Blackberry and iPhone on a wireless induction plate. No need to even plug them in. Here’s one from Brookstone. And one from Slippery Brick. And there are others. I haven't tried these, but I hear they work fine. Can it work for cars? How about an induction charging plate in your garage. You drive in, and it automatically starts charging. No cables, no fuss. The folks at HaloIPT are among the many that are working on it.

What about long-distance driving? I’ll run out of power and there’s no quick-charge capability. Hard to say how this will work out eventually. Project Better Place is betting on simply driving into a station and quickly swapping your batteries for fresh ones. Others suggest that the induction plate technology cited above can be installed in highways—so you charge as you drive. Here’s a simple discussion on how it works.

The upshot of all this is that you can come up with lots of excuses, but either right now, or soon, pretty much all of them can be answered and put to rest.

Are electric cars the future? Or perhaps hybrids or hydrogen? Or something really quirky like the electric/human-powered Antro, which splits into two cars for two-income commuters and joins back into one car for weekend family outings?

Don't know, but it's clear that the future of alternative transportation is, well, really cool.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ulua aukea and `ōmilu: these species sometimes cross

A groundbreaking genetic study of two Hawaiian jacks, ulua aukea and `ōmilu, has reached a couple of interesting conclusions.

One is that while they often behave territorially, their genetic makeup suggests that either occasional long-distance voyaging or spawning characteristics establish each as a single genetic group across the main Hawaiian Islands.

Another is that there are occasional crosses between the species. In the neighborhood of 6 percent of the fish sampled were hybrids.

(Image: An ulua (Caranx ignobilis) from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Credit: NOAA's Coral Kingdom Collection, Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR)

The groundbreaking study, published in the January-February 2011 Journal of Heredity, was done by researchers Scott Santos and Yu Xiang of Auburn University in Alabama, and Annette Tagawa of the Hawai`i state Division of Aquatic Resources.

Santos has previously done extensive genetic work on the tiny anchialine pond shrimp of Hawai`i that are known as ‘ōpae `ula. His lab website is here.

First, some nomenclature. These fish are in the family Carangidae, whose members are variously called jacks, trevally, crevalle, cavalli, pompano and a few other names. In Hawai`i, big ones go by the general term ulua and little ones papio.

There are more than two dozen members of the family in the Hawaiian Islands, but this study looked at just two very popular sportfish: Caranx ignobilis, aka ulua aukea, aka white ulua; and Caranx melampygus aka `ōmilu aka bluefin trevally.

The white ulua (which turns black when it gets mad) is generally silvery with black spots, and can get huge—more than five feet long. The smaller `ōmilu is much more colorful, a grayish silver with a hint of gold, with blue spots and blue fins.

The researchers write that “catch data imply that (`ōmilu) is more common than any other jack species on Hawaiian coral reefs.” They had anglers collect genetic samples from fish caught on Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i. Maui and Hawai`ii Island. The samples were from 33 whites and 58 `ōmilu.

“Based on mitochondrial sequence data, we found no evidence of genetic structure in C. ignobilis and C. melampygus of the high Hawaiian Islands,” they wrote.

“Taken together, we conclude that the absence of genetic structure…is due to the active movement of adult individuals and/or the passive dispersal of eggs and juveniles at frequencies sufficient to homogenize populations in the high Hawaiian Islands.”

The crossing of the species has previously been reported. Santos and his partners, interestingly, found that in all the cases they studied, the hybrids are the result of a female `ōmilu crossing with a male ulua aukea. It’s not clear why.

Maybe male `ōmilu-female aukea crosses can’t survive. Maybe male aukea manage to intrude on `ōmilu spawning events, which occur more frequently simply because there are more`ōmilu .

“In either case, the potential importance of these hybrids to the evolution of the genus Caranx deserves further attention,” the writers conclude.

Source: Journal of Heredity J Hered (2011) 102 (1): 47-54. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esq101

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Golden Gooney nesting at Midway; this is a big deal

The dominant big birds of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are two albatross species, black-footed and Laysan albatrosses, but an intriguing extended courtship appears to open the door for a third—the exceedingly rare Golden Gooney.

(Image: They take turns. This is the male Golden Gooney incubating its egg in a photo taken Dec. 3, 2010, at Eastern Island in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS John Klavitter.)

This is exciting stuff in the bird world, because this bird is reproducing today on only two small Japanese-owned islands and its numbers remain small.

A pair of Golden Gooneys or short-tailed albatross at this writing is sitting on what is believed to be a fertile egg for the first time in the Hawaiian Islands—at least in recent memory. Their nest is on Eastern Island, one of three flat coral islands within Midway Atoll .

The two birds have been showing up at Midway for several years, initially spending most of their time on separate islets, but occasionally getting together. Last year they made a nest together, but produced no egg. This year they're incubating an egg.

Both of the birds were initially banded on Japan's Torishima Island. The male is an old timer. He was banded as an adult in 1987. The female is a comparative youngster, having been banded as a juvenile in 2003.

Albatrosses generally mate for life, so if both survive, they may begin establishing a small colony of their species at Midway. The birds can live as long as 45 years.

These albatrosses have long arms. Their wingspan of 7.5 feet makes them the biggest bird in the North Pacific. (That's still not much compared to the 10-foot wingspan of the wandering albatross, which is limited to the Southern Ocean, where it spends its life circumnavigating Antarctica.)

The short-tailed albatross' nickname, Golden Gooney, comes from the yellow coloring on its head and neck. The nickname is the more accurate title, because their tails aren't really particularly short, when compared to other albatrosses.

Feather harvesting caused their numbers to crash a century ago, and then in 1939, a volcano eruption on Torishima destroyed the primary breeding grounds, leaving just 10 nesting pairs. Worldwide numbers have now climbed to 2,400 birds, still far below the estimated historic population of 5 million birds.

The Midway egg is not the first there. A short-tailed female is reported to have laid an infertile egg about 20 years ago at Midway. And this year, there are two eggs at Midway's western neighbor Kure Atoll, likely also infertile since there appears to be no male attending the nest.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

New UH Research: Warming to rise to high end of climate change estimates

One of the trickiest things in climate modeling is predicting what clouds will do.

That’s important, because heavy clouds reflect solar radiation, causing cooler conditions, and lower cloud cover let solar radiation reach the surface, increasing warming.

(Image: In this IPRC graphic, covering cloud cover over the Eastern Pacific for the past quarter century, the black line represents satellite-observed cloud cover, while the red line represents model-predicted cloud cover.)

New research done largely at the University of Hawai`i’s International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) is suggesting that clouds may thin when it’s warmer, meaning future climate change could be more severe than the most conservative estimates.

The researchers are conservative in their language, but they say their results are worrisome.

“If our model results prove to be representative of the real global climate, then climate is actually more sensitive to perturbations by greenhouse gases than current global models predict, and even the highest warming predictions would underestimate the real change we could see,” said IPRC researcher Kevin Hamilton.

It comes down to clouds.

“All the global climate models we analyzed have serious deficiencies in simulating the properties of clouds in present-day climate. It’s unfortunate that the global models’ greatest weakness may be in the one aspect that is most critical for predicting the magnitude of global warming,” said IPRC scientist Axel Lauer.

Researchers at the center have developed a new cloud prediction model that may help fine tune the predictive process. After developing their new model, they applied it to satellite imagery of the Eastern Pacific over the past 25 years. As the image with this post shows, it seems to be a pretty good match.

The center’s report on the research, “The Impact of Global Warming on Marine Boundary Layer Clouds over the Eastern Pacific—A Regional Model Study,” was written by University of Hawai`I scientists Lauer, Kevin Hamilton, Yuqing Wang and Vaughan Phillips, along with University of Wisconsin atmospheric scientist Ralf Bennartz. It was published in the Journal of Climate.

They call their new model iRAM, which is an acronym for something that already contains an abbreviation: IPRC Regional Atmospheric Model. In their careful terminology, they say that while this research may not be a slam dunk, it’s strongly suggestive that the ball goes through the hoop with some force (to poorly employ a sports analogy.)

“The iRAM results by themselves cannot be connected definitively to global climate feedbacks; however, among the (Global Climate Models) the cloud feedback in the full tropical–subtropical zone is correlated strongly with the east Pacific cloud feedback, and the cloud feedback largely determines the global climate sensitivity," the paper says.

In essence, the work suggests a troubling feedback mechanism may take place with continued warming, in which more warming means less clouds, which in turn means even more warming.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Our screens for e-book readers--it comes down to Nook and Kobo

Searching for an e-reader is kind of like buying a car.

If you haven’t fallen in love with one from the first, making the decision is a long slog. You’ll be able to tell that from the tone of this article.

First, why an e-reader? I’m the kind of person who goes traveling with three to five paperbacks in the carry-on, because on a flight from the Islands to anywhere east of the Mississippi, I can easily go through two. This is a Hawai’i problem; Most folks elsewhere don’t have those kinds of flight times.

It’s both a volume and a weight issue. Years ago, when the excellent “The Hunt for Red October” first came out, I bought the hardcover for a trip, but sliced the hard covers off to save on size. Today, I won’t even consider a Clancy book; way too much bulk for the useful content, if you know what I mean.

In my search for a reader, I immediately discount the iPad. I have already bought the hype and purchased one. I used it. I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to get books onto it. In precisely the right conditions, it’s wonderful as a reading device. But ultimately, I gave it away. I am over the glare, over the finger prints on the screen, and over the whole proprietary technology thing.

Which is my problem with Amazon and Kindle, arguably the most competent performer among the e-readers. If you want me wedded to your store and only your store, then give me the damn reader. If I want to read one of my personal documents on your machine, I need to send it to you, and pay money to have it converted to a Kindle format? Hello?

My e-reader needs are pretty simple, I think. Two basic things:

· I want to easily get diverse reading material into it. Books, personal documents, magazines, newspapers, and work documents (agendas, reports, environmental impact statements, legislation.)

· And I want the stuff to be easy to read on the device, wherever I am. That means anywhere from under a tree to on a plane, from in a meeting room under fluorescent lights to in the sack.

I guess I don’t need some of the features that are blurring the line between readers and computers. Like audio (my phone does that, thanks), web browsing (my laptop works fine, and I can also type on it), color (I’m not reading the pictures), touch screen (no way around the fingerprints, although the new oleophobic screen coatings are interesting.)

There are lots of resources for comparing e-book readers. Here’s a nice one. These folks really like the Kindle. Unfortunately, this and most other comparison charts only include the most popular electronic readers, and actually, the universe of e-readers is quite large.

Wikipedia has just about the most thorough comparison around.

Using that resource, and screening for non-touch screen, at least 1 gig of memory and ability to read library books (as a screen against proprietary systems), I got the Kobo eReader, Iriver Story and Bookeen Cybook Gen3. All of them can read both pdf and epub files, and though the Kobo eReader can’t read txt files, the others can. (And both Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer will convert to pdf, so that’s not a deal-breaker)

If we forget about the touchscreen ban, but require WiFi and at least 1 Gig of memory, then the list is Bookeen Cybook Orizon, Kobo Wireless eReader, Condor EGriver Touch, Spring Design Alex eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook and Entourage eDGe and Entourage Pocket eDGe.

Okay. One final screen: No touch screens, must have WiFi, at least a gigabyte of memory, must be able to read library books.

Kobo Wireless eReader is the only thing that comes up. However, the Barnes & Noble Nook has its touchscreen separate from its reading screen, so it’s also a finalist. There’s a simple comparison at this website, which includes the Kindle (for those not turned off by needing to be tethered to Amazon.)

So for this reader, it’s between the simpler Wireless Kobo and the significantly more fully-featured (and only slightly more expensive at $149 vs $139, at our last check) B&N Nook.

The Nook plays mp3 files, reads more files and also can browse the web. By contrast, the Kobo has a 25% longer battery life (2 weeks compared to 10 days), weighs about a quarter less (8 ounces compared to 11.2 ounces, or maybe 12.1—there’s been an issue about this.) Kobo is thinner by 20% (.4 inch compared to .5 inch.)

The Nook is Android-based and Kobo is Linux-based, if that matters to you. Some reviewers like to refer to the Kobo as Nook-lite.

The site eldergadget calls it a draw between these two, depending on which features you like.

That’s the research. Next, we’ll be going out to get a hands-on sense of which we like best. Which raises the additional question of what’s available on-island, one of the caveats about living in the Islands.

(Keep in mind that features, prices and models are changing all the time. If you do your own research, know that a lot of the online stuff is older, and the model you like may not be available in that same configuration by the time you’re ready to buy.)

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The NEW Hawaii Home Energy Scorecard: Rate yourself

The federal government is planning to spend most of the next year developing a national home energy scoring program.

(Image: The photo shows a device called a Kill A Watt meter, which allows you to determine how much electricity any home electrical product is using.)

Here at RaisingIslands, we’ve developed a prototype Hawai’i Home Energy Score program, which will be quicker, simpler, and user-friendly.

On its face, the Feds’ idea of a home energy score is a great idea. But our caveats: Must it be so mired in the molasses of bureaucracy that it takes months and months to develop? And must it be so complex that you need “trained and certified contractors” to run the numbers? And you already know there will be stuff about furnaces and in-floor heating that make it minimally useful for Hawai’i.

And really, doesn’t the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program already provide a complex environmental design scheme that requires trained and certified staff?

Microsoft has a generic home energy rating system on which you can plug in your neighborhood and home. It’s called the Hohm Score, but it’s an estimate rather than an actual assessment.

So let’s develop the Hawai’i Home Energy Score system. We’ll use a 10-point system, and allow fractional points. This system won’t work well for apartments, and we welcome comments that will help fine tune the system.

Hawaii Home Energy Score: Draft One.

1. Lights. Walk through your house and check every light (including exterior lights) that you or someone in the household has switched on anytime during the past week. If at least 75 percent are compact fluorescent or LED, give yourself half a point. How many are turned on nightly? If none of those is incandescent, give yourself another half point. (Bonus: .25 points if you have skylights or other daylighting options, if you scored less than 1 on the main scoring.)

2. Water heating. Do you use a solar water heater ? One point. Gas or instantaneous heater, half a point. (If you have and use both, you only get the half point). Total possible: 1 point.

3. Insulation: Is there effective insulation under your roof? Half a point. Alternatively, an attic fan is good for half a point. Are your walls also insulated? A quarter point. Are windows designed to reflect heat? A quarter point . Total possible: 1 point.

4. Water use: Are your toilets low-flow (1.3 gallons per flush)? Half a point. Are shower heads and sink faucets low-flow (2 gallons per minute or less)? Half a point. (Most Hawai’I water is pumped using electricity.) Total possible: 1 point.

5. Air circulation: Windows that open and fans. One point. Air conditioning, no points.

6. Are your appliances newer Energy Star appliances? We’ll keep it simple. Since, after a water heater, the biggest energy hog in the house is a refrigerator, if it’s Energy Star, give yourself one point. If you have a second refrigerator and it’s Energy Star, make that half a point. If a second reefer is non-Energy Star refrigerator, even if you have an Energy Star in the kitchen, you get no points. Total possible: 1 point.

7. Laundry: Half a point for an Energy Star efficient washer. One half point if you have and exclusively use a clothesline. Make that a quarter point if you have a clothesline but still occasionally use a dryer. Total possible: 1 point.

8. Grid: Are you totally off-grid on renewable power, or grid-connected but have no net electricity draw? 1 point. Photovotaic panels on the roof, but still also a net user of utility power? Half a point. Total possible: 1 point.

9. Phantom loads: Walk around your house with the lights off at night. One point if there are three or fewer little red or green LED lights on—on computers, televisions, entertainment centers, charging stations, routers, emergency flashlights, etc. Half a point if there are four to six. No points if there are seven or more. (You can use timers to control those that don’t need to be on all night.) Total possible: 1 point.

10. Good habits: Do you and your family turn off lights in vacant rooms, make sure clothes washing loads are near full, recycle and so forth? If you think you’re doing all you can, give yourself a point. If you’re doing okay but could improve, half a point. If you’re more brown than green, no points and resolve to move up in this ranking. Total possible: 1 point.

This is a first take on the Hawaii Home Energy Score. Please add comments to this post or email us at with ideas for improvements.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got a 7.5 ranking on this scale of 10. But I see a couple of places where I can improve.

A great resource for information on home energy use is Blue Planet Foundation’s site,

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hop-skip-turnaround on climate science data source

The American Geophysical Union, in an interesting little hop-skip-turnaround, is insisting that its plan for a reporter's scientific resource base is not an anti-climate-denial initiative.

Although you might be forgiven for thinking it would work that way.

The AGU first operated its Climate Q&A Service during the climate summit in Copenhagen last year. The goal was to provide a place for reporters to seek correct basic information amid all the competing claims about what is or is not going on.

The AGU is aiming to restart its service, to tell folks what's going on, but, importantly, not what to do about it.

The organization decided clarification was needed after the Los Angeles Times messily blended the AGU initiative with others aimed at actually affecting policy. If you read it, be clear that the AGU initiative and the "Climate Response Team" are two entirely separate things. It is not clear in the article, and that has confused lots of folks with different positions on climate change.

“Climate Q&A Service...aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate science,” the AGU says. You can read the organization's full press release here.

“AGU's Climate Q&A Service addresses scientific questions only. It does not involve any commentary on policy. Journalists are able to submit questions via email, and AGU member-volunteers with Ph.D.s in climate science-related fields provide answers via email,” the organization said.

But despite all its protestations, at some level, it will necessarily act as a debunking service. That's because it will operate in a world in which you have folks aggressively promoting wild, sketchily supported assertions, like, “It's not really warming,” or “Arctic ice isn't melting” or “Sea levels aren't rising.”

In Hawai'i as an island state with limited options, correct information is critical. We require good data to deal with the impacts of ocean acidification, sea level rise, changing rainfall patterns, storm frequency and more.

And in a world in which many news outlets get by without a dedicated science writer, a trusted resource like AGU will help replace a veteran science writer's well-worn Rolodex of sources.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

`Ōhelo berries going mainstream

Ōhelo berries are among the great treasures of Hawai'i, and they may soon be more available than ever.

Rich and red when ripe, they're great for munching off the bush while hiking in the uplands, or for making jam for breakfast.

(Image: `Ōhelo bush full of berries. Credit: Francis T.P. Zee, ARS.)

These relatives of cranberries, Vaccinium reticulatum, can be sweet, or sour, or bland. There are multiple varieties that grow in the uplands of most of the islands.

They are also attractive compact shrubs with foliage that ranges from red and orange to green.

Researchers have now done the work to select tasty, attractive cultivars for both fruit collecting and ornamental uses.

In a press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is the first cultivar of its kind to be released, and that one of the key reasons is to provide a viable stock that will help reduce pressure on wild native environments.

As people scour the landscape to harvest this delectable berry for use in jam, jelly and pie filling, they unfortunately disrupt the fragile habitats where this plant grows,” the release said. (The release says the plant is limited to Maui and Hawai'i uplands, but it's also found on other islands.)

Horticulturist Francis T.P. Zee, of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, led the work, in collaboration with other ARS folks, including Amy Strauss, and Claire Arakawa, and interested individuals at the University of Hawaii, Big Island Candies, and the Big Island Association of Nurserymen.

They used wild-collected seed to grow many plants, then collected the one best suited for fruit production. They named that cultivar “Kilauea. They also used tissue culture and cuttings to develop potted plants suitable for such uses as bonsai.

For an extensive discussion of the procedures and progress, see this University of Hawai'i Cooperative Extension Service report.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010