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Products: Hawaii's Environment

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Do Natural Disasters Make Sustainable Growth Impossible?

We consider the prospects for sustainable growth using expected utility models of optimal investment under threat from a natural disaster. Extension of a discrete, two-period model, to continuous time over an infinite time horizon permits the analysis of sustainability under uncertainty regarding adverse events, including both one-time and recurrent disasters. Natural disasters, with destruction of productive capital, disrupt the optimal consumption and utility paths, but the Arrow et al. (2004) sustainability criterion is still satisfied even without adding strong or weak sustainability constraints. We also consider a separate natural resource sector and show that, except for extreme cases, the optimal steady state level of the renewable resource is not affected by the possibility of natural disasters. In the case of catastrophic events, however, damage to the resource system may be severe enough to push the system below a critical value tipping point, undermining the prospects of long-run sustainability.


Electric Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emission Assessment for Hawaii

This study estimates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of electric vehicles (EVs) compared to that of other popular and similar cars in Hawaii, by county over an assumption of 150,000 miles driven. The GHG benefits of EVs depend critically on the electricity system from which they derive their power. The analysis shows that EVs statewide are an improvement in GHG emissions over similar and popular internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). Due to Oahu’s relatively high dependence on fossil fuels, including coal-burning, however, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) offer an improvement over EVs. Notably, Oahu also has the most EVs on the road. Hawaii Island, where there are few EVs on the road, shows a clear GHG benefit from EVs because of its high penetration of low carbon sources for electricity. This difference in benefits suggests that policies supporting EV uptake should consider impacts per island, based on available types of electricity generation. For example, because EVs on Hawaii Island provide near to mid-term GHG benefits, there should be assessment of provision of fast-charging stations to overcome potential range anxiety. Until Oahu substantially transitions towards greater penetration of renewable sources for electricity, it may be too early to tout EVs on Oahu as a GHG emissions reduction strategy. This of course depends on the type of vehicle from which drivers switch to EVs. If EV drivers largely pull from potential HEV consumers, as is suggested in prior studies, then there is no gain in GHG emissions reduction. On the other hand, if EV consumers switch from ICEVs, there are GHG emissions savings. Oahu’s electricity generation mix must become similar to that in carbon intensity of Kauai and Maui to make high performing EVs at least comparable to high performing HEVs in GHG emissions.

Read the full report at the Electric Vehicle Transportation Center.

Assessing the Costs of Priority HISC Species in Hawaii

Over the past decade, funding for the Hawaii Invasive Species Council (HISC) has ranged from less than $2 million per year in the three years following the recent economic downturn, up to almost $6 million in FY2015. The HISC website provides total award amounts for past projects, but it is difficult to attribute exact dollar amounts to specific species for projects that target multiple species. As a starting point, we consider the number of times each invasive species was designated as a target over the period FY2005-2015. While this list does not necessarily represent species that generated the largest economic damages or species for which the most spending has occurred, it is a list of species getting the most attention by HISC. For the most part, the top ten have remained fairly consistent over time, although in recent years, axis deer, albizia, and ivy gourd have received noticeably more attention.


Recent Trends in Hawaii's Green Economy: Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resource Management

This report provides an update to the 2012 “Foundations for Hawai‘i’s Green Economy: Economic Trends in Hawai‘i Agriculture, Energy, and Natural Resource Management.” Although economic information has long been collected for many sectors in Hawai‘i, including agriculture and energy, the 2012 project was the first to collect indicators specifically for the natural resource management (NRM) sector. With financial support from Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation and research assistance from The Nature Conservancy, the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization was tasked with collecting and analyzing information from three sectors that are key to future sustainability in Hawai‘i - energy, agriculture and natural resource management.

project report

Electric Vehicle Lifecycle Cost Assessment for Hawaii

This study develops a model to estimate the total cost of ownership of electric vehicles (EVs) in comparison to similar internal combustion engine (ICEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). The model includes issues related to purchase/finance, insurance, maintenance, resale value, future fuel prices and access to solar photovoltaic (PV). It also estimates the impact of proposed EV time-of-use rates on ownership costs.

Key findings are as follows:

  •  EVs on average cost more than their internal combustion engine (ICE) or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) counterparts, though this gap is substantially reduced with the federal tax credit.
  •  The Nissan Leaf is cost competitive without the federal tax credit and has the lowest lifecycle vehicle cost when incorporating the federal tax credit (among all vehicles considered).
  •  Electricity rates in Hawaii are much higher than the national average. Using the Energy Information Administration’s range of forecasts for future oil prices (low, reference and high), a set of future electricity and gasoline prices are determined. The model finds that when oil prices are low or reference, lifetime fuel costs are higher for EVs than other vehicles. When oil prices are high, on the other hand, EVs offer notable cost savings while accounting for Hawaii’s historic relationship between oil prices and electric rates.
  •  Having residential PV substantially brings down the cost of EV ownership, even considering the capital expenditure for PV panels.
  •  The pilot and proposed TOU rates offered by the utility reduce lifecycle EV fuel costs, assuming charging only when rates are lowest, by an average of 10%.

Read the full report at the Electric Vehicle Transportation Center.

ThinkTech Hawaii: Makena Coffman on Sustainable Hawaii

UHERO Research Fellow Makena Coffman appeared on ThinkTech Hawaii to discuss lifecycle analysis and greenhouse gas emissions.


Balancing Opportunities and Costs in Hawaii's Increasingly Green Grid

Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy and oil-fired power plants make it the most oil dependent state in the United States. It also has the nation’s highest electricity prices, often between 3 and 4 times the national average over the last decade. These high prices, the state’s sunny and windy climate that make it amenable to increasingly economical renewable energy, plus a relatively progressive political culture have pushed the state to adopt an ambitious goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2045. Focusing mainly on the state’s largest grid on Oahu, where most people live, we discuss the cost structure of the current electricity system, the potential benefits and challenges of growing the share of renewable energy, and make a few policy suggestions. In particular, we argue that all homes and businesses should be given an opportunity to buy and sell electricity at the marginal cost of generation. Variable pricing could greatly reduce the cost of renewable energy, and perhaps seed development of Hawaii as a technology center focused on batteries and smart machines that can help shift electricity demand to align with the variable supply of solar and wind energy.

Working Paper

Factors Affecting EV Adoption: A Literature Review and EV Forecast for Hawaii

Electric Vehicles (EVs) reduce or negate gasoline or diesel use in vehicles through integration with the electric grid. Both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)—which can draw from a battery as well as liquid fuel—and battery electric vehicles (BEVs)—solely powered through electricity—provide the opportunity for power-sharing with the electric grid and can potentially ease the integration of sources of intermittent renewable energy. This is a potentially important technology to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, local air pollution, and vehicular noise.

In this paper, we review studies informing the factors that affect EV adoption. We also review and harmonize studies that develop forecasts of EV adoption over time. We select a set of forecasts that represent low, reference, and high EV adoption and apply them to Hawaii-specific EV and car sales data to provide a preliminary forecast of potential EV adoption in Hawaii.

Read the full report at the Electric Vehicle Transportation Center.

Vog: Using Volcanic Eruptions to Estimate the Health Costs of Particulates

The negative consequences of long-term exposure to particulate pollution are well-established but many studies find no effect of short-term exposure on health outcomes. The high correlation of industrial pollutant emissions complicates the estimation of the impact of individual pollutants on health. In this study, we use emissions from Kilauea volcano, which are uncorrelated with other pollution sources, to estimate the impact of pollutants on local emergency room admissions and a precise measure of costs. A one standard deviation increase in particulates leads to a 23-36% increase in expenditures on ER visits for pulmonary outcomes, mostly among the very young. Even in an area where air quality is well within the safety guidelines of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this estimate is larger than those in the existing literature on the short-term effects of particulates. No strong effects for cardiovascular outcomes are found.

Revised: Posted August 14, 2017


Benefits and Costs of Implementing the IAPMO Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement in Hawaii

We calculate the benefits and costs of implementing the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) 2012 Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement (GPMC) for various building types in Hawaii, with particular emphasis on water-use efficiency provisions in the code. Benefits of the GPMC are measured as water savings, where baseline usage is estimated in accordance with the 2012 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), which has been recently adopted by the state and will soon be adopted by the counties. We also monetize those benefits at the household level (water bill savings) and at the state level (cost savings to the water supply boards and departments throughout the state). Based on discussions with plumbers, building contractors, developers, architects, mechanical engineers, planners, and other water specialists, as well as an assessment of prices at major home improvement stores and other online retailers, we estimate the costs of GPMC compliance for new structures planned for Hawaii over the next decade. If the GPMC is implemented, the payback period is two years and the net present value assuming a discount rate of zero is $15.13 million. For a discount rate of 5%, the NPV is $11.29 million.


An Economic and GHG Analysis of LNG in Hawaii

Hawaii currently meets the majority of its electricity needs through costly oil-fired generation causing rates to be nearly four times the national average (EIA, 2013a). The "shale gas revolution" has led to rapidly declining natural gas prices within the continental U.S. The emergence of a natural gas market that is de-linked from oil prices has renewed Hawaii's interest in natural gas imports. Potentially lower natural gas prices as well as the view that it will help to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions and increase energy supply security through domestic sourcing are major reasons why the State and key stakeholders are deliberating over importing large amounts of natural gas in liquefied form (liquefied natural gas or LNG). This study uses detailed models of Hawaii's electric sector and overall economy to estimate the impacts of Hawaii importing LNG for use in the electric sector.


A Hurricane’s Long-Term Economic Impact: the Case of Hawaii’s Iniki

The importance of understanding the macro-economic impact of natural disasters cannot be overstated. Hurricane Iniki, that hit the Hawaiian island of Kauai on September 11th, 1992, offers an ideal case study to better understand the long-term economic impacts of a major disaster. Iniki is uniquely suited to provide insights into the long-term economic impacts of disaster because (1) there is now seventeen years of detailed post-disaster economic data and (2) a nearby island, Maui, provides an ideal control group. Hurricane Iniki was the strongest hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history, and wrought an estimated 7.4 billion (2008 US$) in initial damage. Here we show that Kauai’s economy only returned to pre-Iniki levels 7-8 years after the storm; though 17 years later, it has yet to recover in terms of its population and labor force. As we document, these long-term adverse impacts of disasters are ‘hidden.’ They are not usually treated as ‘costs’ of disasters, and are ignored when cost-benefit analysis of mitigation programs is used, or when countries, states, and islands attempt to prepare, financially and otherwise, to the possibility of future events.


In the Eye of the Storm: Coping with Future Natural Disasters in Hawaii

Hurricane Iniki, that hit the island of Kauai on September 11th, 1992, was the strongest hurricane that hit the Hawaiian Islands in recorded history, and the one that wrought the most damage, estimated at 7.4 billion (in 2008 US$). We provide an assessment of Hawaii’s vulnerability to disasters using a framework developed for small islands. In addition, we provide an analysis of the ex post impact of Iniki on the economy of Kauai. Using indicators such as visitor arrivals and agricultural production, we show that Kauai’s economy only returned to pre-Iniki levels 7-8 years after the storm. Today, it has yet to recover in terms of population growth. As an island state, Hawaii is particularly susceptible to the occurrence of disasters. Even more worrying, Hawaii’s dependence on tourism, narrow export base, high level of imports and relatively small agricultural sector make Hawaii much more likely to struggle to recover in the aftermath. By thoroughly learning from Kauai’s experience and the state’s vulnerabilities, we hope we can better prepare for likely future disaster events.


Incentivizing interdependent resource management: watersheds, groundwater, and coastal ecology

Managing water resources independently may result in substantial economic losses when those resources are interdependent with each other and with other environmental resources. We first develop general principles for using resources with spillovers, including corrective taxes (subsidies) for incentivizing private resource users. We then analyze specific cases of managing water resources, in particular the interaction of groundwater with upstream or downstream resource systems.

Published version: Burnett, Kimberly, Sittidaj Pongkijvorasin, James Roumasset, and Christopher A. Wada. "Incentivizing interdependent resource management: watersheds, groundwater and coastal ecology". Handbook of Water Economics. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015. Print.


Groundwater Economics without Equations

In many parts of the world, irrigation and groundwater consumption are largely dependent on groundwater. Minimizing the adverse effects of water scarcity requires optimal as well as sustainable groundwater management. A common recommendation is to limit groundwater extraction to maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Although the optimal welfare-maximizing path of groundwater extraction converges to MSY in some cases, MSY generates waste in the short and medium term due to ambiguity regarding the transition to the desired long-run stock level and failure to account for the full costs of the resource. However, the price that incentivizes optimal consumption often exceeds the physical costs of extracting and distributing groundwater, which poses a problem for public utilities facing zero excess-revenue constraints. We discuss how the optimal price can be implemented in a revenue-neutral fashion using an increasing block pricing structure. The exposition is non-technical. More advanced references on groundwater resource management are also provided.


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