This week is National Drive Electric Week, and Hawaii hit a milestone for electric vehicles, with the total count at 7,650 registered EVs in the state, as of August 2018. This is an increase of 1,434 EVs (or 23.1 percent) from last year, while overall vehicle growth was relatively flat.

Back in June, I vouched for the many positive benefits of driving EVs – primarily, no emissions, alignment with the Paris Accords, supporting 100 percent renewable energy, and saving drivers money.

Despite the positive benefits and high appeal of EVs, many drivers still have concerns about how and where to charge their vehicles. Justified or not, these concerns actually slow down EV adoption.

The apprehensions were also captured in a series of surveys Ulupono Initiative commissioned between 2016 and 2018 to gauge local EV drivers’ charging habits, the status of the state’s public charging network, and the appeal of EV rentals among Hawaii visitors.

Drivers of EVs, like this Nissan Leaf, are worried about where they can charge them up.

Flickr: Cliff

In an initial survey of Hawaii EV drivers’ charging habits conducted between September and November 2016, 71 percent of drivers said they chose specific parking locations because of charging stations. Additionally, 73 percent said they make a concerted effort to frequent establishments with charging stations (proprietors take note!).

However, the same drivers also shared their frustrations — namely a lack of sufficient charging stations overall and specifically at the workplace. Fifty-five percent of drivers said they avoid driving long distances out of fear that they won’t be able to charge when needed.

Even as newer vehicle models are released with better battery range, current and potential EV drivers still worry about accessing charging stations. This angst remains a major barrier to EV adoption and to reaching the state’s clean transportation goals.

A subsequent evaluation of the EV public infrastructure in October showed that, while Hawaii is considered a leader in the nation, demand by EV drivers is simply outpacing the supply of EV chargers. The current law that requires at least one EV charger at public lots with 100 or more parking stalls has helped with a number of locations taking the lead and installing EV charging (thank you!).

Yet, the law lacks enforcement, and installing chargers can be a lower priority for some and understandably tough to justify the costs.

Furthering The State’s Goals

A third survey commissioned by Ulupono targeted one of the biggest users of Hawaii’s roadways: tourists. More than half of visitors surveyed in 2018 (56 percent) said they probably would have rented an EV, if available, with 1 in 4 indicating they definitely would. Meeting this demand among even a fraction of the roughly 10 million annual visitors would be one of the most immediate ways to further the state’s goals and reap the broader societal benefits of reducing transportation fossil fuel usage.

Given the critical benefits, combined with our initial research, it’s clear that developing sufficient infrastructure to support EVs is essential to bolstering driver confidence among potential EV buyers and renters alike. Though complex and challenging, we think policy can and should be utilized to help address Hawaii’s EV charging network capacity.

More than half of visitors surveyed in 2018 said they probably would have rented an EV, if available.

Some positive momentum was created at the 2018 legislative session, with a few very encouraging bills progressing but ultimately failing near the end. We can appreciate the tough decisions legislators face as they work to balance multiple perspectives in seeking the most optimal solutions. Considering the overwhelming societal benefits that EVs generate, we are optimistic that legislative solutions can be realized in 2019 with broad stakeholder support.

Ulupono Initiative is working toward creating a better understanding of the benefits, options and tradeoffs, and we look forward to collaborating with all parties in finding real and achievable ways the state can expedite the development of sorely needed EV charging facilities.

We are also working with community advocates, such as the Big Island EV Association, to help educate the public on the benefits of EVs and why a robust charging network is so essential. We encourage you to view our series of EV educational videos on our Facebook and Twitter channels.

If our state is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting our clean transportation goals, we need the right policies in place to accelerate EV adoption. There are a number of past and existing policies that prove this can be done (e.g., solar tax credits), so as legislators start looking ahead to the 2019 session, we strongly urge them to consider supporting the current wave of EV appeal and the opportunity it represents to our state, and beyond.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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.