Bumps in the Road as Hawaii Plugs In

By · September 13, 2013

Jump Start Maui

Jump Start Maui is a plan to integrate EVs into the island's smart grid. (Jim Motavalli photo)

It’s easy to see an electric future in Hawaii, where Nissan LEAFs and Chevy Volts are seen zipping through palm-shaded boulevards, rental companies are showing interest, and two companies—OptConnect and Volta Industries—are installing a lot of public charging to complement aggressive government efforts. Expensive gasoline and readily available renewable power are two more incentives to plug in.

In fact, Hawaii has made an excellent start, but as detailed in a new report, “Electric Vehicle Paradise,” (PDF) there are still many barriers and obstacles that have to be overcome.

Hawaii EV Charging

EVs lined up to charge in Honolulu's convention center. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Dan Davids, board chair of Plug In America and a part-time Hawaii resident, said at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit here, “The Electric Auto Association has a Hawaii chapter, there are active EV owner groups on all the islands, and Plug In America has been active for six years. Hawaii is firing on all cylinders with EVs, but success is not assured.”

According to the report, the hurdles include:

  • High electric rates that hover around 42 cents per kilowatt hour, and thus expensive grid recharging;
  • An ongoing lack of charging infrastructure, especially fast charging and especially on the less-populated islands;
  • Lack of choice: Many new EVs are not available in the islands, and premiums are sometimes slapped on electric models;
  • A need for public awareness of electric car advantages.

None of these are insurmountable obstacles. According to Ethan Elkind of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (a co-author of the report), “Hawaii has easily solvable problems. We went island by island to see where the problems were.”

Government and energy policy has to be in sync. Obviously, there’s synergy between the rooftop solar that’s increasingly common in sunny Hawaii and an electric car charging off the grid, but Elkind points to caps in net metering laws that limit to 15 percent the residents who can sell electricity back to utilities. “The defacto cap has to be addressed because it’s preventing people from buying EVs,” he said.

Davids says there are 1,783 EVs on the islands now, with the bulk of them in populous Oahu. More have been sold in 2013 to date than in any previous year. But sales would likely be exploding if some of the barriers are removed. Hawaii’s Big Island is a good case study.

Big Island, Big Obstacles

Doug Teeple is founder of the Big Island EV Association and owns both a LEAF and a 1972 VW Karmann Ghia conversion. He counts perhaps 100 EVs on the island, which is twice the size of the others combined. But being the size of Connecticut, with only 12 public chargers, means that owners (70 of whom are members of the association) can’t easily drive between the major towns of Hilo and Kona.

Doug Teeple and his LEAF

Doug Teeple of the Big Island EV Association with his LEAF. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Teeple also points out that the Big Island’s 60 LEAF owners had to buy their cars in Maui and have them shipped over at a premium, because the local Nissan dealer declines to sell them. And a service technician has to be brought over from Maui for six-month maintenance visits.

Still, Teeple is organizing public education events, and he says the interest in EVs is growing. “It’s all about getting out and being seen,” he said. “And our organization is campaigning for infrastructure, especially fast chargers. With nine or 10, we could cover the island.”

Visibility certainly helps. Anne Ku, project director of the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance (and the other report co-author), points to a cluster effect—for every EV sold in Hawaii, five people are brought into dealerships by word of mouth.

On Maui, both Enterprise and Bio Beetle rent electric cars. Hawaii gets eight million visitors a year, and if they rent electric it also has a multiplier effect when those tourists go home. And EVs should also become much more visible with the high-profile $30 million Jump Start Maui project (involving Hitachi and others), which aims to integrate EV owners into a new smart grid.

A Plug-In Microgrid for Lana'i

Exciting things are happening in Hawaii. The island of Lana’i, mostly owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, is likely to become a “little laboratory” for a renewable microgrid featuring electric cars. There’s only one charging station on Lana’i (which has a population of just 3,000) now, but it’s a start. Residents pay 47 cents a kilowatt hour for grid electricity, so a microgrid would be more than welcome.

Some of Hawaii’s hurdles are downright bizarre, such as OptConnect’s smart card problems with the chargers it inherited from now-defunct Better Place. But OptConnect and one of its investors, the progressive Ulupono Initiative, are replacing those units and putting $650,000 into new Mark II chargers for Hawaii. As Davids said, the electric motor is turning in Hawaii, and now it just has to get over some bumps in the road.

Comments

· · 45 weeks ago

"Hawaii is firing on all cylinders with EVs"
"Jump Start Maui"

Such horrible mixed metaphores! Do these people even know what they are saying?

· · 45 weeks ago

At 42 cents per kilowatt hour, you'd think every other house would have a solar panel on top of it.. But I admit, I'm biased.

Without a solar panel, there would be no savings for me using electric over gas in my Volt at $.42/kwh.

· · 45 weeks ago

Hawaii is going to be our Germany in that they will have massive amounts of solar power added to the grid thus making it difficult to manage. Hopefully they will learn from the Germans and figure out how to adjust the grid to control it. We'll need the knowledge in California eventually.

· · 45 weeks ago

Brian beat me to it. "Hawaii is firing on all cylinders with EVs" Really? Hopefully it was the author's attempt at a bad pun.

Bill, you are right but gas in Hawaii has the highest average gas prices in the US at over $4.25/ gallon which helps but still makes it a hard economic proposition.

· · 45 weeks ago

@Spec: I very highly doubt that, as nearly all of Hawaii's power comes from small oil powerplants. Some of them are probably nothing more than large diesel generators, which means that power generation can be readily matched to power consumption. And if that means that some days, they're running at idle, then *shrug*.

Another way of doing it of course, isn't to have grid-tied solar panels where power is fed back to the grid in case of surplus generation, but grid-backed panels where grid power is only used as a backup.

If you've got solar panels and an air conditioner, on the other hand, then your rooftop panels will *never* need to feed excess power into the grid. The AC will just consume too much, although technically speaking, I suppose it's possible to do some computer programming to match them up perfectly. Hmm...

· · 45 weeks ago

"If you've got solar panels and an air conditioner, on the other hand, then your rooftop panels will *never* need to feed excess power into the grid. The AC will just consume too much, although technically speaking, I suppose it's possible to do some computer programming to match them up perfectly. Hmm..."

Interesting idea, but not really doable without some special hardware. In order to actually vary the energy consumption of the A/C system you would need to put the compressor on a Variable Frequency Drive and make sure the motor and the rest of the system could handle it. The rest is a pretty trivial control system, but normal residential systems are purely on/off.

· · 45 weeks ago

If all of the charging stations deployed support vehicle 2 grid (i.e. two-way charging), the smart grid could use all of the EVs to smooth out demand in the local grids. The EVs would absorb any extra solar power that would otherwise be wasted, and provide power that would normally be provided by 'peaker' power plants burning oil or diesel. Once the peak power event passes, the cars charge back up again automatically. It's a match made in sustainable heaven.

· · 45 weeks ago

"If you've got solar panels and an air conditioner, on the other hand, then your rooftop panels will *never* need to feed excess power into the grid. The AC will just consume too much,"

No, not really. My PV system puts out more power than my AC system uses. Granted it is a decent-sized array and just a window air-conditioner.

· · 45 weeks ago

@Spec:
Aaargh! I am as sceptical as they come on renewables, and regard solar power in Germany as the biggest waste of money possible short of going to war, but solar in Hawaii will never, ever be the complete waste of time it is in Germany.

What it takes to have effective solar power is sunshine, and what is more sunshine approximately in the season that you need the power.

This is the reverse of the situation in Germany, whose northerly latitude and relatively mild summers mean that there is little call for air conditioning, and hence demand for power is the summer is minimal, just when solar is chucking it out.

Since solar is mandated to take priority, this ruins the economics of every sensible source of power in Germany.

In contrast Hawaii is far more favourably situated even than Arizona, with reasonably constant sunshine throughout the year, and power demand likewise.

Diurnal variation can reasonably be overcome with a few kilowatt hours of storage, unlike the massive and utterly impractical demands of storage to make solar anything other than a really dumb idea in Germany.

So you put solar where it is sunny, for instance Hawaii, not where the problem is long, cold, low light winters.
Who could have guessed that one?

· · 45 weeks ago

@aatheus wrote: >>>>>> If all of the charging stations deployed support vehicle 2 grid (i.e. two-way charging), the smart grid could use all of the EVs to smooth out demand in the local grids....It's a match made in sustainable heaven. <<<<<<<<

Or battery capacity hell. The article didn't specifically mention V2G, which I was looking for as soon as I saw "smart grid", but I'm glad you mentioned it, as it's all too often assumed in "EV nirvana" discussions.

With the battery chemistry and longevity of the industry-leading LEAF under some question after the mismanaged PR fiasco in Arizona, I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves with the idea of pushing EV batteries through unnecessary charge/discharge cycles by participating in V2G systems. At least until we know more about how best to manage such systems to avoid impacting the longevity of uber-expensive battery packs, V2G only makes sense in the context of a "full system solution" like BetterPlace, where vehicle owners don't own or care about battery packs, and the battery owners manage them as an aggregated resource for maximum advantage. For any one EV owner, the risk of being forced into a battery swap/lease deal (or whatever convoluted mess Nissan's come up with) any sooner than necessary is just too costly for V2G to be attractive.

· · 45 weeks ago

@Mike I

".....
"If you've got solar panels and an air conditioner, on the other hand, then your rooftop panels will *never* need to feed excess power into the grid. The AC will just consume too much, although technically speaking, I suppose it's possible to do some computer programming to match them up perfectly. Hmm..."

Interesting idea, but not really doable without some special hardware. In order to actually vary the energy consumption of the A/C system you would need to put the compressor on a Variable Frequency Drive and make sure the motor and the rest of the system could handle it. The rest is a pretty trivial control system, but normal residential systems are purely on/off......".

Not really doable? When the AC shuts off, and the home is sending 95% of the juice from the solar panel out toward the grid, the juice just goes to the next homes or home down the block, and its not noticed by the utility at all, other than a huge solar percentage of houses will make the utility wonder how come people aren't using much juice anymore. No V2G needed here.

Now there have been some problems with windmills that don't have proper tolerance for phase imballance (some utilities are horrible), nor utilities that have not properly managed powerfactor correction, but the main problem that utilities have with renewables are just the ones you'd expect, such as what if the wind suddenly stops blowing or the sky darkens over a wide area. The solution is to have a relatively large baseload plant 'at the ready', or, Gas Turbines which can rapidly pick up (what is seen by the utility) the changing load. As mentioned, Diesel Generation on the Islands should be set up so that reasonably quick changes in required generation can be handled within a minute or so. Any utility that has proper paralleling schemes to 'Drop on Generator Units' should have an easy job of it.

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