Imagine if every man, woman and child on Molokai owned an electric vehicle. We use this purely hypothetical scenario to illustrate the approximately 7,000 EVs (electric vehicles) that are registered on Hawaii’s roads statewide.

According to state statistics, local EV sales have increased more than 26 percent over the last year. With more makes and models offered in electric and plug-in hybrid options, it’s clear the electrification of ground transportation momentum is growing in the islands.

The University of Hawaii West Oahu welcomed the use of electric vehicles in 2016.

Flickr: UHWO

EVs are no longer a novelty, but rather a glimpse into the global transition away from gasoline-powered engines. And with our limited miles of roadway, consistent weather and fluctuating gas prices, the 50th state is the ideal place for EVs to flourish.

As an EV driver for the past four years, I can attest to the many positive benefits, not only for my family but also to Hawaii’s environment and energy goals:

  • EVs are cheaper than an average internal combustion engine vehicle since 31 percent of the total cost of ownership for an ICE vehicle is from fuel, while that number is only 9 percent for the average EV
  • EVs send zero greenhouse gas emissions into our air and are about three times more energy efficient than ICE vehicles
  • EVs are more easily powered by renewable energy
  • EVs can actually help support the electrical grid and further the integration of renewable energy

Recognizing these facts, the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative set a goal of reducing transportation fossil fuel use by 70 percent before 2030. More recently, Hawaii became the first state to target meeting the emissions goals set forth in the Paris agreement. In addition, all four county mayors have committed to using 100 percent renewable fuel sources for ground transportation in Hawaii by 2045.

While we are making good progress toward 100 percent clean electricity, we are still severely lagging when it comes to transportation. Currently, electricity in Hawaii is powered by 27 percent renewable energy, but our transportation fuels are still less than 1 percent renewable. Plus, ground transportation accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than our power generation.

Failure To Move Forward

If we are to meet these renewable transportation goals, we need more people driving electric — and that will take driver confidence in the capacity of our charging infrastructure across the islands. Unfortunately, during the 2018 legislative session, several measures that would have helped facilitate the expansion of EVs in our state ultimately failed to move forward:

  • Senate Bill 2122 would have required 25 percent of parking for certain residential multi-unit buildings and commercial buildings built after July 1, 2018, to be EV charger-ready
  • House Bill 2274 would have redefined the required number of EV-designated parking spots in large lots and garages, creating a ratio that would increase in upcoming years as EV numbers are expected to grow
  • House Bill 2728 would have established a state Clean Transportation Initiative to reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of fossil fuels in all public ground transportation by 2035, and eventually in all ground transportation throughout Hawaii

The first two bills (SB 2122 and HB 2274) were the biggest missed opportunities this past legislative session, since they touch upon Hawaii’s challenged EV charging network capacity.

There are just 529 total charging station ports statewide, and the expansion of more public chargers is not keeping up with the increase in vehicles. While we’re happy to see more EVs on the road, the public charging network is not keeping pace with EV growth.

This leads to frustrated drivers and concerned consumers who are considering EV ownership, primarily those in apartments or condos who lack the ability to plug in at home.

A survey of Hawaii EV drivers we commissioned last year found very low levels of satisfaction when it came to the islands’ charging network. Their most common frustration: not being able to find an open and functioning charging station.

Studies show that 55 percent of EV drivers avoid traveling long distance for fear of not finding an available charging station. We need to ease fears and misperception in order to drive mass adoption of EVs.

We at Ulupono Initiative are doing what we can — investing in charging networks like OpConnect Hawaii, FreeWire and Volta Industries, as well as participating in the Drive Electric Hawaii coalition to help with public awareness and outreach.

Still, there is only so much private organizations can do without help from the government. The right policies signal to the market, as well as key players and stakeholders around the world, that Hawaii is serious about the electrification of transportation.

We need to stop treating EVs the same as ICE vehicles. They simply are not equal — EVs do not pollute our air and environment when operated.

We applaud the lawmakers who introduced these EV bills, but it will take the political will of more policy leaders to pass and get them signed into law. Let’s be all-in when it comes to enabling the mass adoption of clean ground transportation and move Hawaii to drive electric.

The Ulupono Initiative was founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. 

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About the Author

  • Greg Gaug
    Greg Gaug is vice president of investments with Ulupono Initiative, a Hawaii-focused impact investing firm working to improve the quality of life for island residents in four key areas: locally produced food; clean, renewable energy; and better management of water and waste.