Plug-ins Help Hawaii Push for Oil Independence
The basic conditions have always been in place for Hawaii to become a leader in electric vehicles. All that's been missing are the cars and the infrastructure to charge them. Now that full-speed consumer EVs have been on the market for more than a year and a half, it's up to groups like the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance and the state's EV Ready program to make broad EV adoption a reality.
It's important to note that Hawaii has the most expensive gasoline in the nation. Currently, the average price per gallon stands at $4.12 per gallon, 50 cents higher than the national average. But electricity is also very expensive at 32 cents per kilowatt-hour (nearly three times the national average.) Hawaii imports more than 90 percent of its energy each year, which is part of the reason why the state is working to achieve 70 percent clean energy by 2030, through a combination of efficiency improvements and renewable energy generation.
In 2010, the state began offering a $5,000 rebate for electric cars, part of a total $2 million in funding geared toward stimulating the purchase of more than 450 EVs and installation of 279 charging stations. Combined with the $7,500 federal incentive, the money made Hawaii the nation's most hospitable state for EV buyers, providing up to $12,500 in discounts off the starting price of a plug-in. The program was a understandably a hit, with the last of the funds having been claimed in May.
Based out of the University of Hawaii Maui College, Maui EVA was the only university program to receive a grant from the DOE's Clean Cities Community Readiness program, which distributed $8.5 in funds to 16 projects in 2011. Recently, the program began collecting and posting testimonials from Hawaiian EV drivers in an effort to make the experience less foreign. So what's it like to drive electric in the Aloha state?
The limited land area of Hawaii's islands make them intuitively well-suited for limited-range EVs, but providing charging infrastructure sufficient to overcome range anxiety is still a challenge. “The need to plug-in daily is a problem for a rental car patron,” wrote first-time driver Brian Konyk, who rented a Nissan LEAF from one of several Enterprise Rental locations offering EVs on the main island of Oahu. Though there are more than 50 public chargers available on the island, Konyk wasn't always able to find an available station when he needed one. “I was always thinking about where I could get my next charge,” he wrote.
For LEAF owners who charge at home and follow a more regular transportation routine, the experience can be a lot simpler―and cleaner. The average Hawaiian drives less than 8,000 miles per year according to Bureau of Transportation statistics (about 20 percent less than the national average), meaning that with some planning and analysis of driving habits, an EV should be sufficient for most drivers there. “The LEAF has adequate range to handle nearly all of our trips,” wrote Chuck Carletta of Maui, who recently expanded his home solar setup to accommodate a new Nissan LEAF. “We have put 7,000 miles on the LEAF so far and have only charged it four times at public charging stations.”
With electricity prices so much higher in Hawaii than in other states, the ultimate incentive to drive electric comes from having a photo voltaic setup to power your vehicle. Since installing photo voltaic panels capable of generating 13 kWh per day, Carletta has seen his monthly electrical bill drop to less than $20 per month. “We are now producing more electricity than we use and the surplus goes back in to the electric grid.” After the family brought home its Nissan LEAF, their monthly gasoline costs fell from about $230 per month to about $50 (thanks to two lesser-used gas vehicles.)
For Hawaii, EVs represent a key step in a larger push to cut dependence on petroleum-based fuels in favor of efficient, renewable energy. Since the state currently gets most of its electricity from diesel power plants, EV adoption would only go so far to relieve that burden. But as the state and its residents work to transition more and more of their energy production to renewable sources, electric vehicles can act to multiply the emissions benefits gained from such a shift.
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