On October 8, 1899, Hawaii’s first automobile rolled through the streets of Honolulu. According to a report in the Hawaiian Gazette1 it achieved speeds of up to 14 miles per hour and was found to “excite no undue attention from horses.” Whether or not this was because of the vehicle’s lack of clattering gasoline engine is unknown. However, its “modern” drivetrain could easily have played a part in keeping Oahu’s equine observers calm.

The first automobile in paradise was an EV.2


Today, it costs more to drive an electric vehicle in Hawaii than any other state in the nation. That’s because Hawaii has the country’s most expensive electrical rates – three times higher than the U.S. average (6x higher than the rates in Portland, Oregon). Electricity is so costly because 70% of it is generated by burning petroleum (compared to 1% for the rest of the nation). Even with the current low price of oil, shipping fossil fuels3 to the archipelago of the Aloha State makes for very expensive electricity.

So why would anyone in Hawaii drive an EV?


William Nill has been living Hawaii since 1986. Ever the tech-obsessed EV advocate, William is the proud lessee of a 2013 Nissan Leaf. And while he doesn’t make the 44-mile uphill commute from his home in Kihei, to his job at the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site in his Leaf (it’s a bit beyond the Leaf’s capabilities), he and his wife Jennifer love and embrace the EV lifestyle. I met Jennifer in the parking lot of the Piilani Village Shopping Center where she had just finished fast-charging their Leaf. I was surprised to learn that the Nills principally charge their Leaf using commercial fast-charging made available through JumpSmart Maui – the exact opposite of most EV owners (85% charge at home).4


The reason? A flat $15 monthly fee.5 To charge at home paying Maui Electric Company (MECO) rates would be about 5 times more expensive (but still cost less than driving an ICE vehicle). JumpSmart Maui, however, is a whole story unto itself. Suffice it to say Japan’s largest public research and development management organization funded the JumpSmart charging infrastructure on Maui in partnership with a lot of other players, including Hitachi and Maui County. As members of JumpSmart, the Nills have found a way to beat the high cost of MECO electricity.

But the real answer to the future of EVs in Hawaii lies with the same reasons millions of tourists flock to the islands each year.


Sun, Wind & Fire

Hawaii is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, sunshine being the most obvious. While not the sunniest spot on earth (Yuma, Arizona commands that distinction), much of Hawaii enjoys enough sunlight to make solar panels a constantly recurring rooftop feature. In 2014, Hawaii ranked #1 in cumulative installed photovoltaic capacity per capita. Yet, despite this impressive ranking, solar accounts for less than 2% of the State’s electrical generation. That leaves a lot of room for expansion.


In fact, the Nills already have solar panels installed on their roof. But too much household demand, combined with Public Utility Commission regulations currently prevent William from charging his Leaf “on the grid” and benefiting from free solar energy. His plan is to eventually have an independent, off-grid system for charging his EV. It’s an exciting idea.

But sunshine isn’t the only resource available to generate electricity.


Wind (5%), geothermal (3%), bio-mass (3%) and hydro (1%) are all currently used to generate electricity in Hawaii. But in order for the state to reduce its dependency on oil and reach its goal to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045, they will have to play greatly expanded roles. Fortunately, the trade winds are very reliable and more utility-scale wind generation is planned. And while there’s only so much land available for future wind farms, geothermal holds potential for expansion, especially on the island of Hawaii, and the surrounding ocean abounds in hydrokinetic and thermal energy.6


All of this points to an extremely viable future for electric vehicles in Hawaii. Despite today’s expensive electrical rates, driving an EV is still cost-effective. It doesn’t create emissions, or require recycling or disposal of used oil. And to quote William Nill, driving a Leaf is “a blast.”

Powering vehicles with renewable energy instead of fossil fuels makes complete sense on remote islands surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean.

After all, in paradise, you can only drive so far.


ABOUT The Road Electric

1. [The Hawaiian gazette, October 10, 1899, page 4]
2. [Purportedly a Woods Electric car]
3. [Imported coal accounts for 14% of electrical generation]
4. [Idaho National Laboratories Summary Report Sept. 2015]
6. [HSEO report, November 2015]

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One thought on “EVs in PARADISE

  1. Thank you for doing what you do. Your posts are uniquely informational and an enjoyable read for topics that seldom get too dry or fadish on the status quo tech, industry and newspaper sites.

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