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WiREd for the Future

Maui to serve as green energy model for electric vehicles and smart grid. “Maui will serve as a case study for other islands in Hawai‘i, and the world.”

November 17, 2011
Debra Lordan , The Maui Weekly

University of Hawai'i 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 for women who are working to bring about a sustainable Hawai'i powered by clean energy.

At the one-and-a-half-hour "green" bag luncheon on the UHMC campus, Wyche presented details about 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 Hawai'i.

Article Photos

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

The grant was given to the University of Hawai'i Maui College-in partnership with the Hawai'i State Energy Office, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) and 30 other Hawai'i 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 Hawai'i 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' [the fear that your car will run out of power with no easy way of "filling up" again] 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."

With far-reaching worldwide benefits at stake, 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 O'ahu," said Wyche.

For the number one reason Maui is a perfect match for the development of EV support and infrastructure development, "look no farther than your local gas pump," said Wyche. "Hawai'i 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-85 percent of whom 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.

Wyche 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.

Maui EVA's strategy is to accelerate mass adoption of EVs by targeting companies, hotels and destinations that serve the visitor industry, and encourage them to develop 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 first at high-density tourist destinations on Maui-hotels and condominiums clustered along the south and west sides of the island-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, 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.

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 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 Maui Electric Company (MECO).

During the day, EVs will be able to charge on solar energy available in from photovoltaic home systems and parking lots. For example, UHMC plans to install solar carports across one third of its main parking lot. EVs can also become of a source of storage-a critical component for an isolated grid-able to feed energy back into the system during emergency conditions.

To promote adoption of EVs, MECO is proactively working to integrate higher amounts of clean energy and ensure a safe and reliable electrical grid.

"One of the goals of the Japan-U.S. Smart Grid Project is to give MECO the ability to actively manage EV charging, which will enable us more efficient use of the clean renewable energy resources on our island," said MECO President Ed Reinhardt in a recent press release.

"Maui has the opportunity to show the world the full benefits of both EVs and smart grid technologies operating in tandem," said Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa in a recent press release. "Maui is proud to serve as the testing ground for both technologies."

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 Hawai'i, and the world."

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

Contact Wyche at (808) 984 3670 or email swyche@hawaii.edu.

 
 

 

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