Driving electric is the next big step for clean energy in isles

This story appeared in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday, September 6, 2018

What will it take to increase electric vehicles — or more generally, electrifying transportation — in Hawaii? As part of our planning, Drive Electric Hawaii — a coalition representing the state and county governments, utilities, nonprofits and businesses — recently did an informal internal survey. Among the top responses:

>> Increase availability of public charging.

>> Install chargers in the workplace, residential and commercial buildings.

>> Electrify bus fleets.

>> Educate the public through outreach.

Not surprising, really, but as we come upon National Drive Electric Week, Sept. 8-16, we should assess where we stand in getting Hawaii off imported oil for transportation as well as electricity. Hawaii is joining nearly 300 communities across America, Canada and New Zealand in this celebration to heighten awareness of the wide availability of plug-in vehicles and highlight the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, trucks, motorcycles and more.

Hawaii remains second in the nation for electric vehicle use by population. We have a large and growing number of publicly accessible chargers, but we clearly need more, especially in rural Oahu and across the neighbor islands.

A survey of local EV drivers commissioned by Ulupono Initiative in 2016 found that 80 percent primarily rely on home charging, and 76 percent still plug in while out shopping and dining. But it’s not easy to find an open, working charger when you need one most. The majority of respondents (55 percent) indicated they avoided driving long distances because they fear they won’t be able to charge, most often because charging spots are occupied.

While Hawaiian Electric is expanding its network of fast-charge stations on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island, more locations need to step up to make it easier for clients and customers — and employees — to drive an electric vehicle.

The recent launch of a test of alternative-fuel (electricity and natural gas) buses as shuttles between airport terminals and the temporary consolidated rent-a-car facility at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is another great step. It’s a reminder that reducing Hawaii’s use of fossil fuel for ground transportation will require collaboration that complements individual drivers’ use of electric vehicles.

All the counties have had the chance to try one or more electric buses and are considering adding them to their fleets to replace their older diesel buses. For Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii counties, Hawaiian Electric will soon propose a discounted electric bus charging rate to encourage off-peak charging during midday and overnight.

Electric buses are not only cheaper to own and operate in the long run, they also will reduce diesel noise and noxious fumes that are a real nuisance in urban areas.

Electrifying transportation is not limited to cars and buses. It is also about electrifying operations at harbors and airports. Electrifying cranes and forklifts at the ports will help. At airports, ground service equipment and units that power the airplanes to keep them cool while at the gates can be electric to make our air cleaner and reduce the imported fossil fuel needed to operate our major transportation facilities.

Our biggest challenge, beyond public awareness and acceptance of a change in the way we move around our islands, is offering charging opportunities in multi-unit dwellings — that is, apartments and high-rises — and existing parking lots and structures not wired for charging at multiple stalls.

But that is a challenge we can, and will, overcome by working together on our clean energy goals. National Drive Electric Week is a good chance to recommit to that vision.


See drivelectrichi.com for details on events during National Drive Electric Week, Sept. 8-16, including:

>> Sept. 8 — Ride and drive: In Waimea, sponsored by Big Island EV Association; in Kakaako, sponsored by Blue Planet Foundation and RevoluSun

>> Sept. 8 — Aloha Stadium booth, at the UH Warriors vs. Rice football game, sponsored by Hawaiian Electric

>> Sept. 9 — Windward EV Fair in Kaneohe, sponsored by Hawaiian Electric and Ulupono Initiative

>> Sept. 15 — Ride and drive in Hilo, sponsored by Big Island EV Association