Hawaii Looking to EVs

Hawaii Electric

Apr 07, 2011

Perhaps no state in the country is more well-positioned or ingreater need than Hawaii of turning its motorists onto electric vehicles while at the same time switching it’s grid over to renewable powersources like solar.

The island state relies on imported oil products for about 90 percent of its electricity generation right now, said Peter Rosegg, spokesmanfor Hawaii Electric. And the state has among the highest gas prices inthe country, averaging over $4.25 a gallon, Rosegg said.

While Hawaii has nowhere near the population mass that would normally attract car manufacturers to include it among their early releasemarkets, the state has enough passion to make up for it. There arealready a number of electric cars on the island, and Hawaii Electricreceived its first Nissan Leaf a couple weeks ago, Rosegg said.

“We have a long history of interest in electric vehicles here,”Rosegg said. “It started in the last, I guess you would call it, boomlet in the 1990s.”

The state utility invested in a whole fleet of electric vehicles then and even had a plug-in electric bus that it used to transport employees between facilities.

“We kept using those electric vehicles until they literally couldn’t be driven anymore,” Rosegg said.

The island is working with Better Place to install infrastructure for electric vehicles and dealing closely with AeroVironment, the companyinstalling home chargers for Leaf buyers.

Hawaii Electric has also created incentives to encourage itscustomers to buy electric vehicles and especially to charge themovernight when power demand is lowest.

The utility recently celebrated the groundbreaking of a new30-megawatt wind farm that Rosegg said he hopes will be the first ofseveral.

“The wind blows overnight,” he said. “And on a small island likethis, there isn’t usually a lot of demand for power overnight. We wantto add electric vehicles and we want to do it in such a way that wedon’t add to the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.”

Rosegg, who has been advocating for electric vehicles in Hawaii forseveral years, said that even if the utility did nothing to wean itselfoff fossil-fuel dependency and everyone on the island switched toelectric vehicles, the state would still consume significantly less oilthan it does now while using it for both power generation andtransportation.

Hawaii, which has the highest solar generation ratio of kilowatts to residents in the country, boasts aggressive incentives for residential solar installations. Rosegg said he knows several people who have bought electric cars andadded extra solar to their homes or garages in order to power theirvehicles.

It makes more financial sense, he said, for a homeowner to power hiscar with that solar energy than it does to feed it back into the gridand take the payouts for the utility.

Looking forward, Rosegg can imagine the utility being capable ofdrawing power from the large collective battery that will be composed of the many electric vehicles on Hawaiian roads.

In the mean time, the utility knows it needs to prepare for EVs,Rosegg said. People of like minds and social status tend to cluster inneighborhoods, and Rosegg expects there to be enclaves with more EVsthan others.

“If we have a bunch of electric vehicles in a neighborhood, that’s going to have an impact on the grid,” he said.

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