Hawaii County Announces Web Based Puna Traffic Cameras

The County is pleased to announce the launch of punatraffic.com, a publicly available web based traffic monitoring service for the lower Puna to Kea`au area.

Click to view current conditions

Click to view current conditions

Traffic conditions along several transportation corridors that may be affected by the June 27th Lava Flow, including HWY 130, will be monitored with thirty cameras. The images are available for public viewing at punatraffic.com.

The camera images refresh every three to five minutes and are meant to assist the public in making their travel plans. The website also provides estimated drive times based on current traffic conditions.

The traffic monitoring system is a part of the County’s overall plan to monitor traffic flow that may have to be re-routed as a result of the June 27 Lava Flow.

The cameras were installed by ICX Transportation Group. The service went live on March 25, 2015.

The cameras are government property and specifically programmed to only work with government equipment. Please kokua and respect this public benefit and service.

The website also provides social media links to Civil Defense and the County of Hawai`i and can be updated to inform the public about road incidents.

NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric to Hold Informational Meetings Across State

NextEra Energy, Inc. and Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc. and Maui Electric Company Limited (collectively referred to as Hawaiian Electric), today announced that the companies will be hosting a series of 13 open house informational meetings across Hawaii to introduce residents to NextEra Energy and the benefits of the companies’ pending merger as well as to provide members of the public with the opportunity to provide input directly to company officials.

NextEra Logo

The open houses will take place on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai from April 7 to April 16.

“Since we announced our merger late last year, we’ve been gratified at the reception we’ve received as well as the high level of interest in this important topic for Hawaii,” said Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, LLC. “NextEra Energy shares Hawaiian Electric’s vision of increasing renewable energy, modernizing its grid, reducing Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, integrating more rooftop solar energy and, importantly, lowering customer bills. We recognize that addressing Hawaii’s energy challenges requires Hawaii-specific energy solutions, and that is why we look forward to meeting with and listening to residents across Hawaii. The meetings will provide us with the opportunity to receive valuable feedback while allowing residents to learn more about NextEra Energy and the significant near- and long-term benefits this merger will deliver to Hawaiian Electric customers and the state of Hawaii.”

“In selecting NextEra Energy as our partner, we will join a company that shares our community and environmental values, has a proven track record of lowering electric bills, is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun, and is committed to rooftop solar in Hawaii,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric’s president and chief executive officer. “We can’t imagine a better match to help us accelerate the clean energy transformation we all want for Hawaii. We hope our customers will take the opportunity to meet members of the NextEra Energy team and learn firsthand why NextEra Energy is the right partner to help us achieve a cleaner and more affordable energy future for Hawaii.”

About the Open House Meetings

Each open house meeting will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time. Senior leaders and other employees from NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric will be available to discuss NextEra Energy’s track record of increasing renewable energy, lowering customer bills, creating innovative solutions for modernizing the grid, and supporting local communities, as well as all the expected benefits from the proposed merger with Hawaiian Electric.

The dates and locations for the meetings are as follows:

Maui County

April 7

  • Central Maui: Maui Electric Auditorium
  • South Maui: Kihei Community Center

April 8

  • West Maui: Lahaina Civic Center
  • Lanai: Lanai Community Center

April 9

  • Molokai: Kaunakakai Elementary School Cafeteria

Hawaii Island

April 13

  • Hilo, Hawaii: Hilo High School Cafeteria
  • Puna, Hawaii: Pahoa High School Cafeteria

April 14

  • West Hawaii: Kealakehe High School Cafeteria
  • Waimea, Hawaii: HPA Village Campus Dining Hall

Oahu

April 15

  • West Oahu: Kapolei High School Cafeteria
  • Leeward Oahu: Pearl City High School Cafeteria

April 16

  • Honolulu: Ward Warehouse, Kakaako Conference Room
  • Windward Oahu: Windward Community College, Hale Akoakoa

Website

To learn more about the benefits of the transaction, please visit www.forhawaiisfuture.com.

Hawaii Moon RIDERS Honored at Capital

The House of Representatives today recognized the Iolani School and Kealakehe High School robotics team, known as the Moon RIDERS, for their work on the electrodynamic dust shield lunar project and their partnerships with PISCES, NASA, and Google Lunar Xprize. 

PISCES Executive Director Rob Kelso, Moon RIDERS, and members of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

PISCES Executive Director Rob Kelso, Moon RIDERS, and members of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

In February, the group was selected to take part in an experiment involving electrodynamic dust shield technology that will be conducted on the surface of the moon by the end of 2016. 

Kealakehe teacher Justin Brown, Kealakehe student Moon RIDERS, and Reps. Nicole Lowen and Mark Nakashima.

Kealakehe teacher Justin Brown, Kealakehe student Moon RIDERS, and Reps. Nicole Lowen and Mark Nakashima.

The selected Hawaii students will be mentored by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  The project came about through an agreement with PISCES and NASA to work on a Hawaii high school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project.

Kauai Biomass Project Nears Completion

The new biomass-to-energy power plant near Koloa on Kauai has successfully started its hot commissioning and expects to begin selling electricity to Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) by the beginning of May 2015.

The 6.7-megawatt biomass-to-energy facility will burn wood chips from trees grown and harvested on Kauai.  The plant will provide more than 11 percent of the island’s energy needs.  Once in operation, the plant will replace 3.7 million gallons of imported oil a year.

Once in operation, the plant will replace 3.7 million gallons of imported oil a year.

The plant is being constructed by Green Energy Team LLC (GET), a Hawaii limited liability company, and is using a biomass energy generation technology developed by Standardkessel Baumgarte, a German company that is one of the world leaders in energy technology.

The plant will burn wood chips produced from several sources on Kauai, including short-rotation trees grown on about 2,000 acres of land and several locations on Kauai that have been cleared of invasive species.

The plant will have the capacity to generate 7.5-megawatts of renewable energy to be delivered as electricity to KIUC under a power purchase agreement approved by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission in October 2011. Unlike solar and wind energy, the plant will provide firm power—day and night, independent of weather conditions—to KIUC. It will supply about 11 percent of Kauai’s annual electricity needs and will substitute power produced by diesel generators.

The facility will contribute to the State’s renewable energy portfolio goals that presently aim to have 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs from renewable resources. It will also be an addition to KIUC’s renewable energy portfolio, which currently consists of several hydropower projects and the utility co-op’s own two solar farms as well as other solar farms and customer-sited solar photovoltaic systems.

Construction on Green Energy Team’s biomass plant began in January 2013 and is nearly completed. Standardkessel provided the design and equipment for the plant and is providing construction management for the project. Construction was done by Bodell Construction Company; final work shall be completed by Diana Prince Construction, Inc. Financing for construction of the $90 million project is being provided by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas.

Once completed and operational, Green Energy Team’s plant will create 39 permanent operating jobs and many indirect jobs for local service providers and agricultural operations.

The Kauai-based plant will be the first closed-loop biomass-to-energy plant in the United States and fueled by trees grown on-island. This is also the first commercial biomass project since the period when former sugar companies also sold electricity to Hawaii’s electric utilities.

Paniolo Power Files Motion to Consolidate Merger, PSIP Dockets

Paniolo Power Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Parker Ranch, Inc., filed a motion today to merge two of the most important cases currently before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission into one docket—the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ (HECO)-NextEra acquisition and the HECO clean energy plan.

Paniolo Power Company

The Change of Control docket addresses NextEra Energy, Inc.’s proposed acquisition of the HECO Companies. The PSIP docket addresses HECO’s long-term clean energy strategy and transition plan.

“The issues in both the Change of Control and the PSIP dockets are inextricably linked,” said Jose Dizon, General Manager of Paniolo Power. “HECO’s lack of focus on customer value has led it to continue to use oil-fired power plants, with the associated high fuel prices that are passed on to the ratepayers.”

Understanding the destructive effects of fuel volatility, Dizon added, the PUC in April 2014 issued harsh guidance to the Hawaiian Electric Companies to accelerate power plant retirements and aggressively pursue clean energy sources.

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Big Island From the International Space Station

From the International Space Station, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) took this photograph of the island of Hawaii and posted it to social media on Feb. 28, 2015. Cristoforetti wrote, “And suddenly as we flew over the Pacific… the island of #Hawaii with its volcanoes! #HelloEarth”

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Crewmembers on the space station photograph the Earth from their unique point of view located 200 miles above the surface as part of the Crew Earth Observations program.

Photographs record how the planet is changing over time, from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Astronauts have used hand-held cameras to photograph the Earth for more than 40 years, beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s. The ISS maintains an altitude between 220 – 286 miles (354 – 460 km) above the Earth, and an orbital inclination of 51.6˚, providing an excellent stage for observing most populated areas of the world.

Commentary – Lack of Redundancy Caused Inconvenience

Hawaiian Telcom’s main fiber-optic trunk cable for West Hawaii was damaged three times over the past year (twice in the same week). These outages were a major  inconvenience for anyone making a purchase or trying to make a phone call. In addition, residents living from Waikoloa to Pahala were not able to call 911 to report any emergencies.

The lack of redundancy is the culprit of these outages. Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telcom have a fiber-optic cables going from Kawaihae to the Kona area. Oceanic’s fiber traverses along Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Hawaiian Telcom’s  goes along Highway 190.

However, these fiber-optic cables end in the Pahala area and don’t circle the island. So, a simple tree limb can knock out service to a large part of our island.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs estimates it will cost 6 million  dollars to extend the fiber-optic cable between Volcano and Pahala, which will eliminate this dead zone and create a true fiber-optic ring around the Big Island. This added redundancy will help minimize these recent outages in the future.

I hope the County of Hawaii, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, Hawaiian Telcom and the Federal government can work together to help resolve this issue, as our economic well being and public safety is at stake if this not resolved soon.

Aaron Stene
Kailua-Kona

Hawaii Residents Can Spot the Space Station Tonight

Hawaii residents can spot the International Space Station tonight (depending on clouds).

Spot the International Space Station tonight.

Spot the International Space Station tonight.

It will be visible beginning tonight, Friday, February 27 at 6:50 PM. It will be visible for approximately 6 minutes.  Maximum Height: 50 degrees, and it will appear in the Northwest part of the sky and disappear to the South Southeast.

Hawaiian Electric Companies Continues to Accept Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Applications

Contrary to some reports, the Hawaiian Electric Companies are continuing to accept solar photovoltaic (PV) applications through the current net energy metering process, which includes a technical review for safety and reliability. The companies are also making significant progress clearing pending applications on circuits that already have very high amounts of solar.

Shaka For HELCOOverall, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light continue to lead the nation in rooftop PV. An estimated 12 percent of the utilities’ customers have rooftop solar system, compared with the national average of less than one percent.

These efforts are part of the companies’ commitment to meet three overarching energy commitments by 2030. These include:

  1. Nearly tripling the amount of distributed solar
  2. Achieving 65 percent renewable energy use
  3. Lowering customer bills by 20 percent

“We know rooftop PV is an important option for our customers. We are continuing to follow the current net energy metering process while the Public Utilities Commission considers our proposal to transition to a fairer, more sustainable program. It’s critical for our community that we increase solar in a way that maintains reliability and is safe and fair for all customers,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for customer service.

A recent letter to some Hawaii Electric Light customers who submitted applications for projects in areas of Hawai‘i Island with high amounts of solar has been mischaracterized by a national solar group as an effort by the Hawaiian Electric Companies to stop all solar installations.

“We apologize for the confusion and want to assure our customers that we are continuing to process solar applications. We are reviewing our notification procedures to improve communication with our customers,” Alberts said.

Highlights of progress made

  • Earlier this week, Hawaiian Electric reported to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission that it notified an additional 548 O‘ahu customers who have been waiting for their net energy metering applications to be processed. Hundreds more are now being approved.
  • This was the first large group of Oahu customers to be cleared from a backlog of 2,749 applications, all from neighborhoods with high existing amounts of PV as of last October. Hawaiian Electric has committed to clearing 90 percent of that backlog by April, with the remaining customers applications to be approved by the end of 2015.
  • In addition, Maui Electric approved 331 applications in neighborhoods with high amounts of solar, nearly clearing its entire backlog. Hawaii Electric Light had 336 applications under review in neighborhoods with high amounts of solar, and approvals have since begun.
  • Overall, more than 3,000 net energy metering applications have been approved since the beginning of the year across the five islands that the Hawaiian Electric Companies serve.

In January, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light proposed a new program that would support the continued growth of rooftop solar while ensuring equitable rates for all customers. The new transitional distributed generation program would help address the current growing cost shift for operating and maintaining electric grids from customers who have rooftop solar to customers who don’t. At the end of 2013, that cost shift was approximately $38 million. By the end of 2014, that subsidy borne by non-solar customers had grown to $53 million.

In conjunction with this transitional distributed generation program, the utilities expect to be able to help the growth of solar by more than doubling the threshold for neighborhood circuits to accept solar systems. This would eliminate in most of those cases the need for a longer and costly interconnection study.

Hawaii Residents – Spot the International Space Station Tonight

Hawaii residents can spot the International Space Station tonight (depending on clouds).

Spot the International Space Station tonight.

Spot the International Space Station tonight.

It will be visible beginning tonight, Tuesday, February 24 at 7:52 PM. It will be visible for approximately 2 minutes.  Maximum Height: 48 degrees, and it will appear in the North Northwest part of the sky and disappear to the West Northwest.

Hawaii Electric Light Company Selects Ormat to Provide Additional Geothermal Energy

Following a rigorous review of bids submitted as part of a competitive bid process, Hawai‘i Electric Light Company has selected Ormat to provide an additional 25 MW of geothermal energy for Hawai‘i Island.

Puna Geothermal Venture

Puna Geothermal Venture

The next step in the process is to begin contract negotiations with Ormat, with an agreement to be submitted to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approval.

“We have continued to pursue ways to increase our use of renewable energy and lower costs to our customers, while also ensuring reliable service,” said Jay Ignacio, Hawai‘i Electric Light Company president. “Ormat was selected based on numerous criteria, including attractive pricing, technical design and capability, financial soundness, as well as commitment to resolving all environmental issues and to working with our Hawai‘i Island communities.”

Geothermal technologies provide renewable, controlled dispatchable energy and firm capacity that allow Hawai‘i Electric Light to schedule and control output from the geothermal plant to its island-wide grid.

Firm energy sources like geothermal support the integration of intermittent renewable resources, such as wind or solar, while maintaining reliable service for Hawai‘i Island customers.

A draft Geothermal RFP was issued in early November 2012. The PUC also selected an Independent Observer, Boston Pacific Company, to monitor and advise on all steps of the competitive bidding process to ensure that the process is fair and adheres to the PUC Framework for Competitive Bidding.

More than 47 percent of electricity on Hawai‘i Island is already generated from renewable resources, including hydro, wind, distributed solar and geothermal.

House Bill Would Create Videoconferencing Venue From Big Island

The House Committee on Legislative Management passed HB1054 last Wednesday, which would establish a pilot program to enable the House to receive live oral testimony from the County of Hawaii through audio or audiovisual technology.  The trial program would run through June 30, 2017.

Hawaii DOE educators used their computers to join the Access Learning legislative briefing via video conferencing. Clockwise, from top right: Moanalua Middle Principal Lisa Nagamine, Pahoa Elementary Principal Michelle Payne-Arakaki, and Keaau Elemenatry Principal Chad Keone Farias.

Hawaii DOE educators used their computers to join the Access Learning legislative briefing in 2014 via video conferencing. Clockwise, from top right: Moanalua Middle Principal Lisa Nagamine, Pahoa Elementary Principal Michelle Payne-Arakaki, and Keaau Elemenatry Principal Chad Keone Farias.

“This pilot program would remove one of the biggest hurdles facing Hawaii Island residents in voicing their opinions on issues that matter to them, without having to buy a plane ticket to Oahu to do so,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen (Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa, Honokohau), who introduced the bill.

“I am also working with House staff and leadership on other ways we might be able to extend remote access to the Capitol to neighbor islands that might not require legislation.  The technology to be able to do this has been around for a while and government is running out of excuses for not using it.”

The proposal calls for the House to coordinate with the County of Hawaii to identify sites or facilities that have existing audio and audiovisual capabilities that could be used to allow residents to present live oral testimony. The bill also requires the House to consult with the County of Hawaii, the chief information officer, and the Disability and Communication Access Board, and appropriates monies to establish audio or audiovisual systems.

The bill now moves on to the House Judiciary Committee and, if passed, proceeds to Finance.

UH Hilo’s Team Hoku Wins Microsoft Video Challenge

UH Hilo’s Team Hoku captured first place in the 2015 Microsoft Imagine Cup Pitch Video Challenge, Games Category.

eam Hoku, featured from left to right: Casey Pearring, Brian Hall and Theodore DeRego (not pictured: Lucas DeRego).

Team Hoku, featured from left to right: Casey Pearring, Brian Hall and Theodore DeRego (not pictured: Lucas DeRego).

Team members Brian Hall, Theodore DeRego, Lucas DeRego and Casey Pearring created reForge, a 2D online sci-fi sandbox game where players command customizable ships in tactical battles. UH Hilo students Kristin Pederson and Kelli Yamane worked on the documentation aspects of the game, although they are not official members.

Team Hoku received a $3,000 cash prize and is moving on to the Blueprint and User Experience challenges. The Imagine Cup competition is recognized as the premier global student technology competition, honoring innovations that address the world’s toughest problems.

Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose Plan to Sustainably Increase Rooftop Solar

As part of its transformation to deliver a more affordable, clean energy future for Hawaii, the Hawaiian Electric Companies are proposing a new program to increase rooftop solar in a way that’s safe, sustainable and fair for all customers.

In conjunction with this “Transitional Distributed Generation” program, the utilities expect to be able to help the growth of solar by more than doubling the threshold for neighborhood circuits to accept solar systems. This would eliminate in most of those cases the need for a longer and costly interconnection study.

Sustainable Solar

Under the proposal, existing Net Energy Metering (“NEM”) program customers and those with pending applications would remain under the existing NEM program. Any program changes from this proposal would apply only to new customers.

The initiative is part of the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ clean energy transformation to lower electric bills by 20 percent, increase the use of renewable energy to more than 65 percent, triple the amount of distributed solar by 2030, and offer customers expanded products and services.

“We want to ensure a sustainable rooftop solar program to help our customers lower their electric bills,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO. “That means taking an important first step by transitioning to a program where all customers are fairly sharing in the cost of the grid we all rely on.”

Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of customer service, added, “At the end of 2013, the annualized cost shift from customers who have rooftop solar to those who don’t totaled about $38 million. As of the end of 2014, the annualized cost shift had grown to $53 million – an increase of $15 million. And that number keeps growing. So change is needed to ensure a program that’s fair and sustainable for all customers.”

New Transitional Program

Currently, NEM customers use the electric grid daily. Their rooftop solar systems send energy into the grid, and they draw power when their systems do not provide enough for their needs, including in the evenings and on cloudy days. However, many NEM customers are able to lower their bills to the point that they do not help pay for the cost of operating and maintaining the electric grid.

As a result, those costs are increasingly being shifted from those who have solar to those who don’t.

The new transitional program would create a more sustainable system and ensure the costs of operating and maintaining the electric grid are more fairly shared among all customers.

Under the current NEM program, customers receive credit on their electric bills at the full retail rate for electricity they produce. This credit includes the cost of producing electricity plus operation and maintenance of the electric grid and all other costs to provide electric service.

The Transitional Distributed Generation program would credit customers at a rate that better reflects the cost of the electricity produced by their rooftop solar systems. This is consistent with how Kauai Island Utility Co-Op compensates its solar customers.

Increasing PV Integration

If this transitional program is approved, the Hawaiian Electric Companies expect to be able to modify their interconnection policies, more than doubling the solar threshold for neighborhood circuits from 120 percent of daytime minimum load (DML) to 250 percent of DML. In many cases, this will eliminate the need for a longer and costly interconnection study.

To safely integrate higher levels of solar, rooftop systems will need to implement newly developed performance standards, including those established using results of a collaboration among Hawaiian Electric, SolarCity and the Electric Power Research Institute. Through this partnership, the performance of solar inverters was tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. These standards can reduce the risk of damage to electronics in a customer’s home and to utility equipment on the grid, safety hazards for electrical line workers, and even widespread power outages.

The Hawaiian Electric Companies will also make strategic and cost-effective system improvements necessary to integrate more rooftop solar. They will work with the solar industry to identify areas where demand for upgrades is highest. Planning for these upgrades will also consider the needs of the State of Hawaii’s Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) program, which will make low-cost loans available to customers who may have difficulty financing clean energy improvements like solar.

To further support even more customers adding solar on high solar circuits, Hawaiian Electric will also be doing several pilot projects for “Non-Export/Smart Export” solar battery systems with local and national PV companies in Hawaii. These projects will provide real-world operational experience on their capability to increase solar interconnections on high-penetration circuits.

The company is also developing a community solar program as another option to help make the benefits of solar available to all customers, including those who may not be able to install rooftop solar (for example, renters or condo dwellers).

Hawaiian Electric is asking the PUC to approve the new program within 60 days. Under the utilities’ proposal, the Transitional Distributed Generation program would remain in effect while the PUC works on a permanent replacement program, to be developed through a collaborative process involving stakeholders from across the community, including the solar industry.

The PUC has stated it believes programs designed to support solar energy need to change. In an Order issued in April 2014, the PUC said:

“It is unrealistic to expect that the high growth in distributed solar PV capacity additions experienced in the 2010 – 2013 time period can be sustained, in the same technical, economic and policy manner in which it occurred, particularly when electric energy usage is declining, distribution circuit penetration levels are increasing, system level challenges are emerging and grid fixed costs are increasingly being shifted to non-solar PV customers.”

Across the three Hawaiian Electric Companies, more than 51,000 customers have rooftop solar. As of December 2014, about 12 percent of Hawaiian Electric customers, 10 percent of Maui Electric customers and 9 percent of Hawaii Electric Light customers have rooftop solar. This compares to a national average of one-half of 1 percent (0.5 percent) as of December 2013, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.

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NASA Robot Plunges Into Volcano to Explore Fissure

Volcanoes have always fascinated Carolyn Parcheta. She remembers a pivotal moment watching a researcher take a lava sample on a science TV program video in 6th grade.

“I said to myself, I’m going to do that some day,” said Parcheta, now a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Carolyn Parcheta, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plans to take this robot, VolcanoBot 2, to explore Hawaii's Kilauea volcano in March 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Carolyn Parcheta, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plans to take this robot, VolcanoBot 2, to explore Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in March 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Exploring volcanoes is risky business. That’s why Parcheta and her co-advisor, JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness, are developing robots that can get into crevices where humans wouldn’t be able to go, gaining new insights about these wondrous geological features.

“We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,” Parcheta said.

Parcheta’s research endeavors were recently honored in National Geographic’s Expedition Granted campaign, which awards $50,000 to the next “great explorer.” Parcheta was a finalist, and was voted number 2 by online participants for her research proposal for exploring volcanoes with robots.

“Having Carolyn in the lab has been a great opportunity for our robotics team to collaborate with someone focused on the geology. Scientists and engineers working together on such a small team is pretty rare, but has generated lots of great ideas because our perspectives on the problems are so different,” Parness said.

The research has implications for extraterrestrial volcanoes. On both Earth and Mars, fissures are the most common physical features from which magma erupts. This is probably also true for the previously active volcanoes on the moon, Mercury, Enceladus and Europa, although the mechanism of volcanic eruption — whether past or present — on these other planetary bodies is unknown, Parcheta said.

“In the last few years, NASA spacecraft have sent back incredible pictures of caves, fissures and what look like volcanic vents on Mars and the moon. We don’t have the technology yet to explore them, but they are so tantalizing! Working with Carolyn, we’re trying to bridge that gap using volcanoes here on Earth for practice. We’re learning about how volcanoes erupt here on Earth, too, and that has a lot of benefits in its own right,” Parness said.

VolcanoBot 1

VolcanoBot 1

Parcheta, Parness, and JPL co-advisor Karl Mitchell first explored this idea last year using a two-wheeled robot they call VolcanoBot 1, with a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels. It is a spinoff of a different robot that Parness’s laboratory developed, the Durable Reconnaissance and Observation Platform (DROP).

“We took that concept and redesigned it to work inside a volcano,” Parcheta said.

For their experiments in May 2014, they had VolcanoBot 1 roll down a fissure – a crack that erupts magma – that is now inactive on the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

Finding preserved and accessible fissures is rare. VolcanoBot 1 was tasked with mapping the pathways of magma from May 5 to 9, 2014. It was able to descend to depths of 82 feet (25 meters) in two locations on the fissure, although it could have gone deeper with a longer tether, as the bottom was not reached on either descent.

“In order to eventually understand how to predict eruptions and conduct hazard assessments, we need to understand how the magma is coming out of the ground. This is the first time we have been able to measure it directly, from the inside, to centimeter-scale accuracy,” Parcheta said.

VolcanoBot 1 is enabling the researchers to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. They confirmed that bulges in the rock wall seen on the surface are also present deep in the ground, but the robot also found a surprise: The fissure did not appear to pinch shut, although VolcanoBot 1 didn’t reach the bottom. The researchers want to return to the site and go even deeper to investigate further.

Specifically, Parcheta and Parness want to explore deeper inside Kilauea with a robot that has even stronger motors and electrical communications, so that more data can be sent back to the surface. They have responded to these challenges with the next iteration: VolcanoBot 2.

VolcanoBot 2 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, at a length of 10 inches (25 centimeters). Its vision center can tip up and down, with the ability to turn and look at features around it.

“It has better mobility, stronger motors and smaller (5 inch, or 12 centimeter) wheels than the VolcanoBot 1. We’ve decreased the amount of cords that come up to the surface when it’s in a volcano,” Parcheta said.

While VolcanoBot 1 sent data to the surface directly from inside the fissure, data will be stored onboard VolcanoBot 2. VolcanoBot 2 has an electrical connection that is more secure and robust so that researchers can use the 3-D sensor’s live video feed to navigate.

The team plans to test VolcanoBot 2 at Kilauea in early March.

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

Power Restored to Entire Big Island Following Major Storm

Hawaii Electric Light has completed repairs to all major damage caused by a storm system that passed over the islands late last week. At about 2:00 p.m. today, power was restored to the remaining 10 customers on Cane Haul Road (Honokaa) and in a remote area of Waipio Valley.

HELCO at Waipio“We would like to thank the community for their patience and understanding as we worked to safely restore electric service,” said Rhea Lee, Hawaii Electric Light spokesperson. “We realize how frustrating and difficult it is to be without electricity for an extended period of time, and our dedicated employees worked very long hours to assist customers and restore service as quickly as possible.

“The safety of the community and our employees always is our top priority. This storm damaged infrastructure around the island and some of the more extensive damage occurred in remote areas that were difficult to access until fallen trees and brush were removed, hindering repair progress in some cases.”

Hawaii Electric Light also reminds the community to be safe and treat all downed power lines as energized and dangerous. Do not handle or move any fallen or damaged utility equipment. If someone is injured by a downed power line, do not approach them. Call 9-1-1 for assistance.

The community is reminded to be cautious of trees that could have been weakened by the storm. Storms can weaken trees and their branches but not break them. Winds can topple weakened trees after a storm has passed, and this could cause new power interruptions.

Please call 969-6666 to report an outage, downed power line, or damaged utility equipment.

Hawaii Electric Light Responds to Storm Questions and Outages

Hawaii Electric Light crews continue to make progress on restoring electric service to customers affected by recent severe weather conditions.

Candle and Lamp

Today, repairs were completed in Ainaloa, Mauna Loa Estates, Orchidland, Nanawale, Hawi (except for Beers Road), portions of Honokaa and Ahualoa, most of lower Puna, Puukapu, and most of the Volcano area. Crews have been working long hours and will be getting some much-needed rest tonight and get an early start Tuesday morning. Crews will be working in Ahualoa, Beers Road, Discovery Harbor, Fern Acres, Hawaiian Acres, Honokaa, Kalopa Mauka, Kau, lower Puna, Paauilo, Volcano, and Wood Valley on Tuesday. About 360 customers are currently without power.

The community is encouraged to be safe and treat downed power lines as energized and dangerous. Do not handle or move any fallen or damaged utility equipment. If someone is injured by a downed power line, do not approach them. Call 9-1-1 for assistance.

Customers who remain with power and have not reported it are asked to call 969-6666. Due to the high call volume, customers may experience a longer wait time before speaking with a representative. The company sincerely apologizes for this inconvenience and thanks customers for their patience and understanding.

On a separate note, the company received questions from customers who experienced many short power interruptions during the storm and wondered why that was occurring. During storms, strong winds can blow tree branches and other debris into power lines and cause short circuits. Lightning also can strike near power lines and cause short circuits. This can create very high currents, and the power lines must be turned off very quickly to prevent damage or further disruption to the rest of the power system.

Hawaii Electric Light uses automatic sensing devices to detect these short circuits and turn off power to the lines in a fraction of a second; this is when customers see a power interruption. In many cases, once the power is turned off, the line can be turned back on because the tree branch that caused the short circuit clears the line or the lightning strike dissipates. The automatic devices wait a few seconds and then turn on the power to the line; this is when customers see their power restored after a short time. Customers can experience multiple brief power interruptions during a storm because of frequent lightning strikes or trees and debris being blown into lines.

“We realize this can be frustrating for customers, but the alternative would be to have the power remain out of service during the entire storm since it would be too hazardous for electric utility workers to respond during the height of the storm when there are dangerous winds and lightning,” said Hawaii Electric Light spokesperson Rhea Lee. “We hope that our customers have a better understanding of what occurs during storms.”

24/7 Streaming Coverage of Pahoa Lava Flow Now Available on TV

In partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, Hawaii County Civil Defense, and the town of Hilo, Oceanic Time Warner Cable has dedicated a channel on its digital TV lineup to provide 24/7 streaming coverage of the Pahoa lava flow as it advances on the Big Island. The company has placed two cameras mounted in a company truck on land that is being donated by Bryson’s Cinders, Inc. in a strategic location to the lava flow.

Oceanic Setting up Camera

“Oceanic sympathizes with the people impacted by the Pahoa lava flow,” said Gregg Fujimoto, President of Oceanic, “and we are honored to be able to assist the USGS and the Civil Defense in providing a consistent level of information to all the people of the state through this live coverage.”

The special programming will continue indefinitely and is available on digital channels 128/1128.

Big Island Residents Lose Electricity on Christmas Eve

This evening on the Big Island of Hawaii, residents across the island reported that they had lost electricity for a time tonight.  From Puna to Kona the outages were reported.

Hawaiian Electric Companies is currently investigating the power failure but has tentatively classified this as a “frequency trip on the system”.
HELCO Response 3When they have determined the exact cause of the island-wide outage I will update this post.

Hawaii Supreme Court Amends Rules Regarding Electronic/Photographic Coverage of Courts

The Hawaii Supreme Court has amended Rule 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 regarding electronic/photographic coverage of court proceedings, technical guidelines when extended coverage is permitted, and use of electronic devices in courtrooms.
U.S. citizen Berenson attends a hearing which reviews her parole at an anti-terrorism court in Lima
Here is a link to the modified rules, which were just posted today on their website:

http://www.courts.state.hi.us/docs/court_rules/pdf/2015/2014_rsch5.1_5.2_5.3am_ada.pdf

To summarize the rules:

  • The extended coverage application process remains the same
  • The number of video cameras remains the same (one pool camera and the judge may grant a second camera for live coverage at his/her discretion)
  • The number of still cameras remain the same (one still photographer allowed and the judge may allow a second still photographer).  The only change to this rule is that a still photographer may also video record proceedings (this was at the request of Civil Beat and other online media that would like to be able to take video clips with their still cameras)
  • Another modification to the rule is that media used to be able to audio record a court proceeding using a hand-held recorder.  That technology has become almost obsolete, so a member of the public or an individual from the media may now use electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, cell phones or smart phones for audio recordings of the proceeding, with the prior permission of a judge
  • The judge may also grant a timely request by a member of the public or individuals from the media to use electronic devices for note-taking purposes as well.  This request is not included in the extended coverage application nor does it have to be in writing.  Media or members of the public can ask a judge’s law clerk prior to a proceeding or work with our office in advanced for this prior permission from the judge
  • In all other cases, electronic devices cannot be used during a court proceeding.  The members of the bar, judiciary personnel and self-represented litigants may use electronic devices under specific conditions (for court-related business).
  • Electronic devices may be brought inside the courtroom, but ring tones and other sounds shall be silenced and the devices cannot be used to make or receive calls inside the courtroom
  • A presiding judge may prohibit or further restrict the use of any electronic devices prior to the proceedings to protect the interests of security, safety, privacy of parties, jurors, witnesses, attorneys, etc.