Editor’s note: This is the first of three parts by Blue Planet Foundation on Hawaii’s clean energy progress.

We drive over 30 million miles every day in Hawaii. That’s equivalent to 63 roundtrips to the moon (only with more traffic).

To cover that distance, our cars and trucks burn through over half a billion gallons of fuel per year — producing over 5 million tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide.

What’s even more troubling? These numbers haven’t budged much for the past decade.

A state Department of Transportation to focus on

We drive more than 30 million miles every day in Hawaii.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This lack of progress in reducing fossil fuel consumption earned Hawaii a grade of D+ for transportation on Blue Planet Foundation’s fourth annual Energy Report Card. The Report Card — to be released this week — tracks the state’s progress toward our fossil-free future.

More than that, it holds all of us — lawmakers, business leaders, residents — accountable for our accomplishments and shortcomings on our pathway to 100 percent renewable energy. But aside from benchmarking progress, Blue Planet’s Report Card explores the outlook and opportunities for each of the five energy components it examines: transportation, energy efficiency, renewables, smart grid and economics.

We are launching the 2016 Report Card by first telling the transportation story. It’s an integral — and too often overlooked — part of our energy ecosystem. Transportation accounts for almost two-thirds of our fossil fuel consumption. Of that, about 60 percent powers our ground transportation, 28 percent goes into planes, and 12 percent to marine transport. In the past year, demand for overall transportation fossil fuels decreased slightly, but fuel used for cars and trucks remains the same. We are not on track to achieve a renewable transportation sector by 2040.

The Report Card explores a number of factors that drive fossil fuel consumption in transportation, including vehicle efficiency, electric vehicles and vehicle miles traveled.


Vehicle Efficiency And Alternative Fuels

What’s the most popular new vehicle in Hawaii? No, not the Tesla. It’s the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Covering a paltry 15 to 20 miles per gallon, the truck isn’t doing the climate any favors. Low gas prices aren’t helping.

Still, overall vehicle efficiency is making gains. At 24 mpg on average, we are moving closer to the state’s goal of 30 mpg efficiency by 2030. This is largely due to the across-the-board improvements coming from the large manufacturers who must meet federal fuel economy standards of 54.5 mpg for new cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025.

We haven’t forgotten about aviation. It will certainly be a more difficult nut to crack, as it involves multiple jurisdictions, technology changes and possibly rethinking air travel as we know it. But there have been some recent developments.

Alaska Airlines has been experimenting with a 20 percent biofuel blend on some of its mainland routes. On its Honolulu-Brisbane flights, Hawaiian Airlines is implementing operational techniques developed through the Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions that are projected to save 1,500 pounds of fuel per flight. It’s interesting to note that Hawaiian Airlines averaged 62 passenger miles per gallon in 2015, similar to TheBus’ 65 passenger miles per gallon.

A locally sourced alternative to fossil diesel fuel has been available for nearly two decades. Using recycled cooking oil, Pacific Biodiesel opened the first commercially viable biodiesel plant and retail biodiesel pump in the U.S. in 1996 (they were so early on the scene they obtained the web domain biodiesel.com). Today, Hawaii County uses a 20 percent biodiesel blend (B20) in buses, fire trucks, and ambulances. Honolulu uses B20 for garbage trucks and ambulances.

But electric vehicles — powered with batteries or hydrogen — will also be a key part of our clean energy future.

Electric Vehicles

With zero emissions, a quiet ride, and high performance, it’s no wonder electric vehicles are the fastest growing new car type in Hawaii. Over 4,750 are currently registered statewide, making us second in the nation for electric vehicles per capita.

But the best news? Electric vehicles and renewable energy go together like popcorn and furikake. While the vehicles add electricity load to the grid, it’s largely a controllable load that can help smooth out the variations in renewable energy supply and improve the quality of power on the grid. What’s more, these vehicles are essentially batteries on wheels. Storage is exactly what we need on our renewable energy grid to enable increasing amounts of clean power. Soon, electric vehicles will be able to provide power back to the grid when needed, further strengthening our energy system.

Electric isn’t just limited to personal cars. Electric buses are taking off around the world. Tour company JTB Hawaii has announced a plan to convert its fleet of buses to zero emissions. These are perfect opportunities to displace transportation fossil fuels with electric mobility options, making use of abundant renewable energy while enabling a more reliable grid.

Blue Planet report card chart transportation

Vehicle Miles Traveled

Vehicle miles traveled is a measure of how far we drive each year. After a sharp uptick, it is finally headed in the right direction. But we are not yet on track — Hawaii still needs more clean mobility options, such as public transit, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

One surprising evolution is that driving is becoming less popular, especially with the 16- to 25-year-old demographic. For three straight years, the number of active driver’s licenses has dropped, likely due to the increased availability and convenience of ride-sharing and car-sharing services and shifting attitudes of millennials. Meanwhile, the share of people who commute by bike, walking or public transit has increased every year.

To decrease vehicle miles traveled — and get people out of single-passenger cars — we need leadership and policies that promote new mobility options. According to a recent state study, effective strategies for reducing the miles include increasing fuel taxes, transit-oriented development and telecommuting by public employees and large employers.

Perhaps the biggest policy gap is the lack of an overarching renewable transportation target date for the state. We need that target in order to align today’s transportation planning with tomorrow’s vision. Setting transportation and electricity targets together also makes good sense; this is a case where it’s easier to solve two problems together rather than separately.

In the next installment of the Energy Report Card Series: Efficiency as a True Bridge to Clean Energy.

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About the Author

  • Jeffrey Mikulina
    Jeffrey Mikulina is the Chief Executive Officer of the Blue Planet Foundation. Prior to working with Blue Planet, he served for 10 years as the director of the state's largest environmental advocacy organization, the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. He also served as Vice Chair of the Honolulu Planning Commission and the Honolulu Charter Commission.