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Maui to serve as green energy model for electric vehicles and smart grid

By Staff | Nov 17, 2011

Electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt seen here, are rolling into Maui’s sustainable energy future. The University of Hawaii Maui College and State Energy Office hosted the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance (Maui EVA) Project kickoff at the Grand Wailea on Nov. 1. The project is the result of a $300,000 grant awarded to UHMC by the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in Hawaii. Photo by Jose Morales, Maui No Ka Oi Magazine.

KAHULUI – University of Hawaii Maui College (UHMC) Special Projects Coordinator Susan Wyche has been waiting for the electric vehicle (EV) to go mainstream for a very long time.

She was the keynote speaker on Monday, Nov. 7, at a meeting of the newly formed Maui chapter of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a forum working to bring about a sustainable Hawaii powered by clean energy.

At the luncheon on the UHMC campus, Wyche presented details on the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance (Maui EVA) project, the result of a $300,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in Hawaii.

The grant was given to UHMC – in partnership with the Hawaii State Energy Office; Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and 30 other Hawaii government, business and organizational partners – to create an overall countywide plan and infrastructure for the widespread adoption of EVs on Maui.

While the potential for EVs to help Hawaii meet its clean energy goal – to produce 40 percent of its energy locally by 2030 – is clear, Wyche outlined some challenges for their mass adoption, most of which relate to human behavior rather than the technology itself.

“EVs are expensive, require new infrastructure, provoke ‘range anxiety’ (a variable driving range and limited charging stations) and require drivers to adopt different fueling behaviors,” said Wyche.

“Most EVs are sold in advance with limited opportunity for test-driving, and potential owners are also worried that the current technology will quickly become obsolete. Another consumer concern is that EVs may create an unknown impact on old utility grids.”

But these challenges are far from insurmountable, according to Wyche and Maui EVA. In fact, the Valley Isle has been widely identified as the perfect location for island-wide EV adoption and infrastructure development.

“Maui is geographically small and relatively simple, which helps to ease ‘range anxiety,’ and makes the island more preferable than complex communities such as Oahu,” said Wyche.

For the top reason why Maui is a perfect match for the development of EV support and infrastructure development, “look no farther than your local gas pump,” said Wyche.

“Hawaii is the nation’s most dependent state on foreign oil. Of the $7 billion spent so far that is not reinvested in the local economy, 60 percent is for transportation.”

An unlikely source of EV system integration and implementation can be facilitated by the island’s number one industry. Maui hosts over two million visitors per year, and 85 percent of them choose rental cars for transportation.

“We estimate that 15 to 20 percent of the vehicles used on Maui are rental cars driven by visitors – a much higher density than in other cities or counties of comparable size elsewhere,” said Wyche.

She added that with such short driving distances, EVs are the perfect choice for visitors. Rental car companies offering EV rental cars will encourage both local and global adoption.

Members of Maui EVA decided that the quickest way to accelerate adoption would be to target companies, hotels and state parks that serve the visitor industry, encourage them to partner with Maui EVA and collectively create the infrastructure needed.

With charging stations in place at visitor destinations, the EV itself will become part of the visitors’ vacation experience. And once infrastructure is in place, residents will be able to access it.

Infrastructure will develop at high-density tourist destinations on Maui – hotels and condominiums clustered in South and West Maui – where EVs would recharge overnight.

Public parking facilities are already required to install an EV charger for every 100 spaces, and golf courses, restaurants, malls and other tourist destinations will install more stations across the island.

With the increased availability of charging stations, rental car companies will be able to sell an affordable EV fleet to the local Maui market instead of shipping them elsewhere, recapturing a portion of their original investment. And, the anxiety of buying a vehicle based on new technology will be decreased as visitors and residents experience an extended test drive without committing to a purchase.

Service and maintenance will become increasingly available, Wyche said, and EVs will become more common on Maui roads, which will spark increased consumer interest.

Auto dealers also understand the benefit of creating charging stations as the demand for EVs increases. October saw the arrival of the first Chevy Volt on Maui at Jim Falk Motors, and the dealership has already sold several Nissan Leafs.

Developing the infrastructure for EV use will also help drive the green economic engine for Maui County. Once the infrastructure for advanced charging stations is built, charging stations will require maintenance technical support, creating even more “green” jobs, she said.

EVs will also play a key role in Maui’s renewable energy grid. Because the island is an isolated grid, Maui has been selected for the smart grid system test site by several major companies, including Maui Electric Company (MECO), GE and Hitachi.

The Japan-U.S. Maui Smart Grid Demonstration Project provides the opportunity for MECO to test these new technologies, working closely with the manufacturing industry and research partners.

“Electric vehicles are also a piece of the renewable energy/storage puzzle, so having this demonstration take place at a time when we are preparing for mass adoption of electric vehicles is a great boon for Maui,” Wyche added.

Although wind and solar energy are available on Maui, the local power company limits variable energy to 15 percent because of its impact on the old grid.

EVs will help the island’s isolated grid to integrate renewable energy.

“The key here is, most EVs will charge at night when the load on the utility is low, and they will also help the local utility company use energy from wind farms, which is usually at its peak at night,” said Wyche.

Excess electricity produced by Kaheawa Wind Farm at night is now lost, because there is no way to store it. EVs will provide a client base for that energy, as well as revenue for MECO.

During the day, EVs will be able to fuel up in solar carports, such as the one that will be installed next year at UHMC.

Wyche noted that EVs can also become a source of storage – a critical component for an isolated grid – able to feed energy back into the system during emergency conditions.

Maui EVA intends to continue bringing together government, business, academic and nonprofit organizations to collaborate and promote EVs and encourage infrastructure development.

“Our goal is to have the highest EV ownership per capita in the world, and to combine that with the greatest percentage of fossil-free sources to charge those EVs,” said Wyche.

“Maui will serve as a case study for other islands in Hawaii, and the world.”

Maui EVA’s deadline for the finished implementation plan is Sept. 30, 2012.