Sunday, June 22, 2008


Living in Hilo, Hawaii we are daily aware of the stunning impact of our active volcano Kilauea. In March, a new vent opened that emits volcanic gases with 10 times more sulfur dioxide than the volcano previously emitted. Vog, consisting of volcanic gases mixed with moisture, now daily impacts the skies of the Big Island and often other Hawaiian islands.

Climatologists and Volcanologists do not consider Vog to be a factor in influencing weather or ocean temperature due to two critical misunderstandings. The first is that Vog supposedly only impacts weather if it reaches the upper atmosphere because it is not stable in the lower atmosphere and rapidly dissipates within hours or at most days. In fact, the Hawaiian Vog is quite stable in the lower atmosphere and lasts many days, even weeks. This is obvious to the people that live in the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii who must deal with Vog that persists for days. And when the winds blow it out of the western part of the Big Island it reaches Maui , Oahu and even Kauai. The degree to which Vog persists became obvious last week when the island of Guam, 3828 miles away from Hawaii, reported persistent Vog from Kilauea blocking their sunlight and ocean views. Guam is further from Hawaii than Washington DC is from London, England. It takes at least nine days for the Vog from the Big Island to reach Guam.

The second misunderstanding is that Vog in the lower atmosphere is not able to effectively block sunlight. On any Voggy day one can easily tell that Vog very effectively blocks sunlight; noon in Kona can look like twilight. Since the Vog started in March, solar energy distributors are reporting that solar panels are producing 50% less power in Kona.

These misunderstandings about Vog published by Climatologists and Volcanologists made us wonder whether Vog can impact ocean temperatures. The images below show a NOAA map of surface temperatures and NASA view of Sulfur Dioxide emissions from Kilauea. The temperatures are Celsius, where orange is warmest and blue the coolest temperatures. The Sulfur Dioxide intensity or mass is greatest when orange in the NASA diagram. A huge mass of SO2 is east of the Big Island of Hawaii and the surface temperatures are cooler in the same location. It looks like the Vog is cooling the surface temperatures.
Vog’s surface temperature cooling interests us because of findings in ice cores published recently by National Geographic. Ice cores show higher levels of acidic sulfate molecules in them in the years 535 to 536. Ancient texts from that time period in Mesoamerica, Europe, and Asia document a cold darkness that withered crops resulting in widespread famine. The sulfate molecules point to volcanic activity, but no major eruption has been identified for that time period.

We wonder if it is possible for massive volcanic gas emissions to occur without being associated with a major eruption, as is occurring today in Hawaii as well as from other recent active volcanoes like
· Llaima and Chaiten in Chile,
· Karymsky and Shiveluch in Russia,
· Ubinas in Peru,
· Arenal in Costa Rica,
· Tungurahua in Ecuador,
· Santa Maria and Fuego and Pacaya in Guatemala,
· Popocatepeti in Mexico,
· Cleveland on Chuginadak Island,
· Anatahan in the Mariana Islands,
· Batu Tara on Kombu Island,
· Kerinci on Sumatra,
· Semeru and Krakatau and Merapi on Java,
· Sakura-Jima Japan,
· Veniaminof in Alaska,
· Lopevi in Vanuatu,
· Rabaul in New Britain.
Etna on Sicily recently covered Athens and other Mediterranean areas in Vog.

Though politically incorrect with the popularity of Global Warming, we wonder if the current global sulfuric emissions could cause a cooling event, such as occurred in 536AD?

As we watch the endless plumes of sulfuric gas pour out of the Kilauea’s vents, we wonder if we are watching something that is merely a local inconvenient irritation or a global cooling event that will effect the future course of human history.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


We have often heard it said that people that move to Hawaii usually lose 30 pounds of fat the first year and live an average of 10 years longer as a result. We moved to Hilo, Hawaii for the slower pace of life, the weather, and the plentiful fresh fish and produce. We were both obese (BMIs over 30) when we arrived. After living here almost 7 months, one of us has lost 22 pounds, and the other 15 pounds. So now we are both merely overweight!

We have another 5 months before we can say for sure that we will lose 30 pounds in our first year, but so far it looks promising that by next year we will have not only lost the 30 pounds, but be at our ideal weight. As we continue life in the slow lane, we are delighted to watch our most valuable asset, our health, improving.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The rapid increase in oil prices is having a major impact on Hawaii. In Eastern Hawaii, a lot of people’s life styles have suddenly become less sustainable as the cost of gasoline approaches $5 a gallon. Folks that have lived 30 to 40 miles outside of Hilo for decades and depend upon driving into town to sell their produce or to get to a job or do their shopping are reaching a point where the cost of gas to get to town is diminishing the value of the trip. Their job income or produce sales have not gone up enough to cover the sudden surge in the cost of gasoline. We rely on the outlying families and farms to provide produce, products and work to the town of Hilo.

The rapid rise in peoples pain due to gas prices have made me very interested in what solutions currently exist that would reduce the cost of driving. I started by comparing the driving cost for high mileage gasoline cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars to determine which of these would be the most affordable long term solution. I assumed that an electric car would use solar electricity to recharge, to decouple it from the cost of gasoline. I used a 20 year period for the calculation to encompass the life of the solar panels.

My key assumptions were:

  • Vehicles are driven 15,000 miles a year and approximately the same mileage per day.
  • Gas prices are $5/gallon.
  • The car prices are approximately the same and all cars are 2008s. The premium that hybrids are currently getting (about $2000) was not considered significant over the 20 year time period. I was able to find electric cars and trucks in all price ranges and similarly priced to gas cars.
  • The cost of maintenance of all 3 types of cars is similar and therefore was not considered.
  • In the case of the electric car, a $10,000 capital charge was used to cover the cost of ten 180 Watt Kyocera solar panels and other solar system components. I assumed that the solar panels are installed on the car, or available to the car during day time to recharge, or electricity is available free via net metering using a home or business solar system connected to the electric company.
Over a period of 20 years the fuel cost of a Phoenix electric car was $10,000 versus $99,000 for the Ford 150 truck, $51,000 for the best mileage gas car and $33,000 for a hybrid Prirus. The electric car fuel cost is not affected by gasoline cost increases or lack of availability. The cost of using solar panels to charge an electric car or truck is so attractive that it is something we need to consider sooner than later as the current gas prices continue upward.

Although an electric car requires an up front capital investment for solar panels, the investment will be recovered within two to six years depending upon what other type of car you compare it to. Electric cars have a range limitation (100 miles in the case of the Phoenix car) before requiring that the battery is recharged. The key to making an electric car work when you have to drive long distances is to have solar panels on the roof of the car to recharge during the day or have solar panels near the car during the day. If you’re a small business owner it may make sense to have solar panels on the roof of your business to recharge you vehicles during the day.

As painful as the high cost of gas is now, the price is probably going to go higher and may eventually be unavailable at any price. Five years from now people maybe saying, "I remember when you could get a good solar panel for just $800 not the $10,000 they sell for now!"

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Since we moved to Hilo, Hawaii the high cost of our monthly electric bill has made us curious about how much electricity each appliance and device in our home is actually using. We wanted a gadget that we could plug our appliances into and view how much electricity it was actually using to identify the worst offenders.

We finally found a gadget called the Kill A Watt Electric Usage Monitor and ordered it online from Northern Tool & Equipment (

Once we received the gadget we began plugging our various appliances, computers, and devices into it to see how much electricity they were using. We discovered appliances were using power even when not in use, just by being plugged in, like our coffee maker, exercise bike, and hand held vacuum cleaner. These devices draw power 24 hours a day as opposed to a light bulb which only draws power when it is turned on. We discovered that a fan speed setting at high drew almost double the power of a fan speed setting on low. Air Conditioners, on the other hand had a minimal difference due to the setting and the power draw of a small window AC is 28 times the power required for a ceiling fan.

I was telling someone from Puna about my findings and he laughed and said he had discovered that over 25 years ago when he installed his solar system. It is called a “ghost load” and is a top challenge for solar systems as it drains the power off the system without any benefit. He keeps all his appliances unplugged to reduce his power load.

The gadget has given us the ability to understand and control our power usage.

Here is our personal Electricity Conservation progress report based on our HELCO power bill:
In Feb 2008 – our average use per day was 28KW translating to $10.77/day

- We replaced our 60 watt light bulbs with 26 watt bulbs
In March – our average use per day was 21.4KW/day translating to $8.33/day

- We turned off appliances when not in use based on the Kil-a-watt gadget readings
In April – our average use per day was 17.7KW/day translating to $6.46/day

We have reduced our daily Kilowatt usage by 42%, which is a good start. We will continue to find ways to reduce our usage as the cost per KWH continues to rise each month.