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Thursday, July 28, 2016


I just saw a headline from CleanTechnica indicating that solar power only supplied 1% of global electricity.  Mind you, electricity is about the only sector that actually uses renewable energy, for both air and ground transport run mostly on oil.  Do the calculations from the right column.  I get something around 2% of all energy utilized.  However, 43 years after the First Energy Crisis and 17 years after I retired, the renewables remain relatively insignificant.  Why? 

I've long been a cheerleader for renewable energy.  After all, I ran the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii for 15 years, and prior to that spent three years in the U.S. Senate, helping draft the original bills in the U.S. Senate for hydrogen and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, playing a role in the passage of the first wind energy legislation.  My SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth provides much of the experience I gained through most of my professional life.

Notwithstanding, I've come to a current conclusion that some of these green options are not worthy of commercialization today.  Further, there should be an appreciation that our Sun and winds come and go, so there is a definite devaluation factor when it comes to these intermittent options.

Compound the problem with the fact that oil prices are less than half what they were a couple of years ago:

Worse, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Oil Futures show petroleum at $57/barrel at the end of 2024.

So what is the renewable energy field to do under these depressing circumstances?  If you happen to be in academia or long-term research, continue most of your efforts, for it takes at least a decade and more probably a generation for anything particularly innovative to make a real difference.  Much needs to still be learned about biofuels and hydrogen, for example.  Regarding the latter, Stanford last month announced something to do with bismuth vanadate and nanocones that sound exciting, but I'm afraid will just join the annual list of concepts that make news splashes, but turn out to be uneconomical.

If you're into commercialization, there is a definite problem, for there is no way many of the clean energy options can compete unless, for reasons that mostly can be justified, governments provide generous incentives to level the playing field.  After all, there is such a thing as long-term life cycle analysis that can validate the utilization of your tax dollars for this purpose.  Many of these stimulus packages, however, are beginning to disappear, and most are in various stages of being diminished.

There are several pathways today that are just not ready for prime time, and some will never get there anyway.  One is wave power.  Hawaii has become a semi-active site, mostly because there has been some hysteresis related to once-powerful congressional influence we had and Cynthia Thielen, a local legislator, who, bless her heart, has continued to press for action.  Long ago I tried to explain to her the problem with waves, but she has persevered anyway.  Very simply, there are only a very few natural sites ideal for wave power.  The force of storms are such that you need to secure or protect these devices to such an extent that they become uneconomical.  Every facility I visited failed to continue operations, and a couple of them actually were good sites.  Most them self-destructed.

EcoWatch provides a balanced summary of wave power today, and let me use one quote:

I’d like to be optimistic, but I don’t think realistically I can be,” said George Hagerman, a research associate in the Virginia Tech University’s Advanced Research Institute and a contributor to the U.S. Department of Energy’s assessment of wave energy’s potential. “You’ve got all those cost issues of working in the ocean that offshore wind illustrates, and then you’ve got [an energy] conversion technology that really no one seems to have settled on a design that is robust, reliable and efficient. With wind, you’re harnessing the energy as a function of the speed of the wind. In wave energy, you’ve not only got the height of the wave, but you’ve got the period of the wave, so it becomes a more complicated problem.

I remember George a quarter century ago as the ONLY true advocate for this technology.  If he has given up, I fear the worst for this alternative.

I can add two more directions which are attempting to make a commercial run:  battery storage for electricity and hydrogen vehicles.  Over the next few weeks I'll detail why I think these efforts will fail today.  Someday, maybe, but not under current technological, pricing and infrastructure conditions.

Then there are those options which show incredible long term promise, but going nowhere for a variety of reasons.  Ocean thermal energy conversion and the Blue Revolution represent one such sustainable system because it takes an up-front billion dollar investment at high risk just to prove a principle.  The only hope is an enlightened mega-billionaire or two with a dream.  I'll continue to pursue this fantasy.  Unfortunately, I'm not close to being even a billionaire.

So am I advocating abandoning green power because most of them are non-competitive?  NO!  NO!  NO!  I admire many of those well-intended and questionable efforts because, for one, you need a transition towards progress, but also, there is that ominous aura of global warming that someday could well finally trigger a carbon tax (I wrote this article for the Huffington Post a little more than six years ago), suddenly making these investments both profitable and redeeming.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Two days ago (Monday, July 25) more people visited this blog site than ever before, 4325, compared to 3000 or so when I wrote on the 2010 Chile and 2011 Tohoku earthquakes.  Natural disasters, I've noted, tend to draw the most interest.  I normally average around 300 pings/day, so a factor of 15 increase gave me cause to wonder why.

In the Chile catastrophe I was in Amsterdam when the Huffington Post e-mailed me to please write an article on an earthquake approaching Hawaii.  Not really informing them I was not in the state, I did submit Hawaii Tsunami?  (don't have the faintest idea why the date says 4/29/10 when I published it on 2/27/10).  Clearly, there is a link with my HuffPo, for my blog posting of 27 February 2010 on  the Chile Earthquake became my highest readership ever.  

Similarly, on 11 March 2011 (the result of the monstrous earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster) my blog about-equalled the record.  I was in Bangkok scheduled to fly to Tokyo the next day, one of the more difficult days in my life.  The Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami on 21 March 2011 was my longest report for The Huffington Post.

So why did the following postings stimulate the most number of readers?

Graph of Blogger page views

As best as I can determine, those Solar Impulse articles somehow became linked to popular reporting sites, but my other postings written during this period actually got more viewers, so something else might be going on.

I might finally note that readers also most connected with this blog site when I wrote about "creatures," like whale sharks, sharks, snakes and giant alligators, plus psychedelics, such as magic truffles:

To close, my most popular postings according to Google are listed in the right column.  For some reason Qatar fascinates.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016


In my third year at Stanford I was taking more art than chemical engineering courses, and seriously thought about transferring into architecture.  However, that would have resulted in an extra year on campus, so that was my token venture into that field.

Here are 25 modern buildings CNN lists as the greatest.  Another grouping of 25 to inspire you, going way back in history.  The Haggia Sophia in Istanbul ranks at the top in most of these compilations.  No great surprise, but Hawaii completely missed the cut.  Thus, the purpose of my blog today.

Our 15 Craigside Photography Club has an August assignment focusing on architecture.  As others will probably feature beauty, shadows and perspective, I thought I'd try the other extreme.  Here is the result combining three of my recent The Bus trips in Honolulu covered in previous posts:  but with a focus on architecture.

I've long felt that the Pimple Building on Queen Emma Street, and officially called the Queen Emma Building, was the ugliest in Hawaii.  This ugly edifice appeared in my $1 JOYRIDE AROUND OAHU.

Designed in the 1960's by Jo Paul Rognstad to symbolize brute strength for the York Barbell Company and weight-lifting personality Dr. Richard You, the structure has led a checkered life.  

At one time it was scheduled to become housing for Hawaii Pacific University students.  More recent plans indicate 106 condos for seniors, with a rename to Queen Emma Regency.

Queen Emma was the wife of A. Liholiho, who in 1855 became Kamehameha IV.  She helped establish a public hospital to help Native Hawaiians, now called Queen's Medical Center.  With the King, she founded St. Andrew's Cathedral (located across the street from that Pimpled erection), starting Saint Andrew's Priory School for Girls and Saint Alban, which later became Iolani School.

The part that hurts is that I knew Jo Paul and his wife.  He is better known for Century Center (left), where he was headquartered.

We were interested in wind power using buildings to channel the trades into a giant vertical wind energy conversion system.  The power of the device increases with the cube of the velocity, so amplification made sense.  This was more than a quarter century before the Bahrain World Trade Center  (below) was built with three turbines.  Hawaii had the chance to be the first, but there is something about this state that fears doing anything extraordinary.

My primary reason for spending a night at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel earlier this month, reported on in REFLECTIONS FROM WAIKIKI, was to take a photo of what I considered to be the ultimate example of mediocre architecture in Hawaii:  the "new" Halekulani Hotel.  Unquestionably rated as the Best Hotel in Honolulu, in 1981 Mitsui Fudosan bought the property and hired Killingsworth and Associates, led by chief designer, Ronald Lindgren, to totally rebuild the rambling and decaying 190-room hotel into a 453-room jewel.  They instead created what appears to be a misplaced tribute in the classic style of a motel at a truck stop:

Here, the site of my favorite restaurant, La Mer, plus House Without a Key, made famous by Charlie Chan, where I took my photo at the masthead above with Diamond Head in the background, stands now an expensive monument to banality.

Flop #3 was partially covered last week in HOW TO BUY A $120 ALOHA SHIRT.  Here was an opportunity the School of Architecture at the University of Hawaii had two decades ago to design that quintessential blend of East, West and the Ocean for their new showcase building...and failed.  Again, Elmer Botsai, who was then their dean, was a good friend of mine, with a strong personality.  Why he acquiesced to settle for a typical block building baffles me.   They could have set the tone for our future with a spectacular masterpiece symbolizing Hawaii at the Hub of the Pacific.  They instead put up what looked similar to Hawaii Hall located across the outer mall of the Manoa Campus:

Okay, Architecture did not have any columns, but from a short distance they still look about the same, and Hawaii Hall was built in 1912.  I can almost empathize with what Elmer went through, for I retired from the University 17 years ago mostly because the system has historically been bogged down in futility.  Very simply, no one wants to get embarrassed, so no chances are taken.

Thirty-seven years ago I spent a short period as Academic Advisor to the Chancellor, and had an office in Hawaii Hall.  However, Holmes Hall and the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Building (corner of Dole and East-West Road) have housed me for forty years, and I'm still in that blue building:

That is Holmes Hall for the College of Engineering to the left, and it looks like a parking structure, but it does have a kind of charm with its internal greenery:

At least my POST building is blue, an acknowledgement that it houses the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology.  I say "my" because I (actually, most of the effort was led by Pat McGarey, who then headed Congressman Dan Akaka's staff, and Michael Cruickshank, who ran  the Marine Minerals Technology Center under the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, which I directed)  helped secure the initial funding from the Department of Interior towards planning and construction.  There was an effort made to name this the Daniel Akaka Building.  That failed.

So, anyway, at the end of my bus ride after buying my aloha shirt in Waikiki, I  walked by the Royal Mausoleum, for I remembered mentioning in my WAIKIKI REFLECTIONS that Princess Kaiulani was interred close by where I lived:

Turns out that we are even closer neighbors than I thought, for that blue building in the background is 15 Craigside.  For 34 years I have lived on the same block, Craigside to the right for 32 and 15 Craigside to the left for two:

Just realized that my home and campus office have almost the same kind of bluish windows.  But to close, I am mostly disappointed at the mundanity of architecture in Hawaii, compared to where we could have been if opportunities and chances were taken.


Monday, July 25, 2016


We flew 40,000km without fuel, a first for energy! 

Emotions, tears, relief, exhilaration is running through the team right now after completing the first Round-the-World solar flight. Bertrand Piccard touched down for one last smooth landing at 00:05 UTC, 2:05AM CEST on July 26th and 8:05PM EDT on July 25th in Al Bateen Executive Airport, Abu Dhabi after 48 hours of flight from Cairo, Egypt. The solar airplane has now made it full circle around the world, proving that clean technologies can really achieve the impossible.
Against most odds, Solar Impulse 2 did it.  While the planned five month trip took more than 16 months,  I'm impressed.

Bertrand Piccard and Andres Bromberg alternated in completing a global journey that rivals the Wright Brothers.  I worried when they were stuck in Hawaii for several months.  But they prevailed.  Now, all we need is a cost-effective commercial hydrogen jetliner to replace aviation as we know it, for a solar-powered plane will never be able to take 500 occupants round the world in a day.


The latest issue of TIME magazine (25 July 2016) has the back of the head of Donald Trump on the cover.  Inside, you can learn that he has a golf handicap of 4.  

Further, the latest CNN poll shows the following:
  • Donald Trump  44%
  • Hillary Conton 39%
  • Gary Johnson    9%
  • Jill Stein            3%
If you're a Trump supporter, you should be ecstatic.  If not, don't get too depressed, for the Democratic National Convention just begun.

There were a few more interesting articles in this TIME:
  • Spending time with nature--and golf, I would think, qualifies--improves your health.  
    • One-third of Americans suffer from hypertension, but just spending 30 minutes in a park can help.  Maybe it's just the fresh air, but stress reduction was also indicated.
    • Women living near vegetation had a 12% lower risk of death.
    • Forests emanate something called phytoncides, which increase Natural Killer (NK) cells in your body to strengthen your immuno-capabilities, reducing inflammation, preventing cancer, helping your heart and reducing diabetes.
    • Apparently, just two consecutive long forest walk days in a row increase NK activity by 56%, and this effect remains 23% higher the following month, reducing the risk of cancer.  Somehow, this sounds too good to be true, but read that article.
    • Nature walks improve the attention of attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children.
    • A nature setting helps reduce depression and anxiety.
    • Apparently, artificial nature, such as plants in your room, sounds of birds and the like also work.  I'm surrounded by a variety of green--my lanai herb garden where I have a lot of my meals and next to my computer where I'm now composing this blog (note that Tropical Storm Darby has left and one of these plants is Camellia sinensis,  from which comes tea):
  • Serendipity at Oregon State University created something called YInMn Blue, a pigment that is non-toxic, easy to produce and durable.  Watch the world get bluer.
  • Pokemon Go (I'll provide a full posting of this phenomenon later this week).

To improve my health, I'm off to Ala Wai:

Darby is now a Tropical Depression, moving away from Kauai, Estelle is gone, Frank has diminished, but Georgette is now a Category 3 and seems headed for Hawaii:

However, current projections point to all of them weakening and not significantly affecting the state.