By Susan Halas
The combination of smart people and serious money made the day-long conference focused on the future of plug-in electric vehicles a memorable event.
The free day-long meeting was hosted by the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance (EVA) at the UH Maui College campus and moderated by UHMC project director Anne Ku.
The 80 or so participants seemed about 60-40 split between out-of-town experts and curious residents. Many of the visiting participants sported the business cards of international banks, name consulting organization, high level government agencies and top ranked universities.
Conspicuous by their absence were Maui’s elected officials, local banks and other media. The presence of those representing the visitor industry, supposedly a key player in the romance between the Valley Isle and new forms of transportation, was slim and brief.
Maui Ideal for Demonstration Venue
Though Hawaii in general and Maui in particular has long been touted as a perfect demo venue for all the new energy technologies, the EVA event was one of only a few recent presentations where the data was hard and the participants came equipped with substantial hands-on practical experience.
Among those who spoke was Jim Ruby, manager of fleet services for the University of San Diego, who discussed the challenges of keeping his school’s 500 alternative vehicles running. His fleet ranged in size from smaller- than-a-golf-cart to larger than a city bus and everything in between.
Ruby, a former Chrysler engineer with high-level mechanical skills, discussed what kinds of repair and maintenance services are necessary to keep his vehicles in top shape and also the changes he and his associates have made in the garage for a cleaner greener repair facility. His carts, cars, trucks and buses run on electricity and a variety of alternative fuels.
Another speaker who came to the subject with a wealth of current data was Dave Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association (HADA). An enthusiastic advocate for Hawaii’s role in the expanding electric vehicle market, Rolf said that statewide in 2011 and 2012 there were 366 Nissan Leafs and 48 Chevy Volts sold. The figures for the Mitsubishi iMiEV recently rolled out in Hawaii were not available. He did not mention numbers for the Toyota Prius, the leader in hybrid vehicles.
His figures for the island of Maui over the same period were 38 Leafs and 9 Volts and an as yet unknown number of iMiEV. These three vehicles were the subject of much of the discussion.
The new Toyota Prius plug-in, a hybrid vehicle which combines electric and gasoline-operated functions was frequently mentioned and is expected to be available in Hawaii soon. Other speakers identified the the plug-in and other vehicles in the Prius line as the cars whose sales are increasing the most rapidly, is the most wanted alternative car, and is also the car that is currently the hardest to get.
Despite predicting a rosy future for electrics and hybrids, they presently constitute a very small portion of new car sales in Hawaii. According to figures published in Hawaii Dealer Magazine for the first quarter of 2012 there were over 35,000 new vehicles sold in the state in 2011. Industry experts predict that number will grow to 38,000 this year.
Though the numbers of actual cars and charging stations in operation in Hawaii is small, (some might say miniscule), the data presented did indeed seem to indicate a “Kitty Hawk moment” might be at hand – when the practical applications and costs migrate from the purely theoretical toward the realm of the possible and (dare we say) inevitable.
No Surprise: Early Adopters Are Smart Guys with Money
With that in mind, Mike Ferry, transportation programs manager for the California Center for Sustainable Energy and coordinator for the San Diego Region Clean Cities Coalition, spoke on the results of recent surveys his organization has conducted. Ferry said San Diego is one of the leading areas in adoption of this new technology. He profiled the early adopter of electric vehicle (EV) technology:
- 97% own their own homes
- 93 % in households of two or more people
- 71% of primary drivers are male
- 51% have post graduate education
- 46% have household incomes of over $150,000
Ferry also said there was a strong correlation between those who had already made an investment in solar or other forms of alternate energy and early adopters of electric and hybrid vehicles.
EVs – Cheap to Run, Slow to Charge
He also listed some of the difficulties encountered by early adopters, which seemed to have less to do with the operation of the cars and more with how, where and how long it takes to charge them.
Issues associated with charging included permitting, uniform standards (or lack of them) and charging at multi-unit dwellings.
He also noted that many building codes, as presently written, do not accommodate charging infrastructure.
(Hawaii has recently passed legislation requiring that parking lots with more than 100 stalls install charging stations for electric vehicles, but according to comments by those present, the specific wording of this regulation may be significantly modified in the current legislative session).
Charging an electric vehicle can take as long as 12 hours or as little as 20 minutes depending on the level of charger used.
The slowest is a “Level 1” charge, which runs on house current and can take up to 12 hours.
The next step up is called “Level 2” (which is where most of the owners seem to be). Level 2 runs on 220 current, similar to that used to operate a clothes dryer, and can charge an electric car overnight.
The fastest chargers are called “Level 3.” They run on three-phase current and (at least hypothetically) can take as little as 20 minutes to replenish a depleted battery.
There are no level 3 chargers on Maui. The speaker added that in some places where level 3 chargers are available, the local utility companies have added a hefty fixed surcharge to the cost of using them.
Ferry showed a graphic which indicated that many of the early adopters have programmed their charging operation to begin late at night and finish by 6 a.m. to take advantage of off-peak utility rates.
What Are the Real Costs?
The question of what the cars actually cost now and what they might cost in the future seemed elusive and dependent to some extent on if the cars could actually be purchased and serviced in Hawaii. The numbers also hinged on what rebates are and will be available at the federal and state level and what the cost of electricity is now or likely to be in the future.
One of the most direct and persuasive presentations came from Jason King, a local resident. He gave an enthusiastic endorsement of his Chevy Volt, now in operation for a year, which he runs from power he generates himself at his off-the-grid solar powered home in Huelo.
King gave the initial cost of installing his solar system at about $30,000 and said that more panels to generate the electricity for the car cost an additional $5,000.
In his opinion it is “pointless to buy an electric car and then run it off a MECO power plant that’s burning diesel at the source.”
“We don’t need MECO,” he said. “We don’t need that grid any more. Maui could be such an example,” he said, pointing out that the generation of alternate energy can be “pollution free and such a boost to the economy.”
Demand Exceeds Supply
His sentiments were echoed by a number of other speakers. All confirmed that the local demand for the electric and hybrid vehicles presently exceeds the supply and that people who ordered them sometimes have to wait months for delivery. It is not unknown to be charged a premium for cars that are in high demand. They cited a recent article in Bloomberg News and Forbes Magazine.
According to Bloomberg, electric drivers formed the fastest growing segment in the US auto market in the first quarter of 2012. National sales in this sector climbed to 49% during this period to total 117,182 vehicles, up from 78,527 during the same period in the previous year. Toyota Motor’s Prius hybrid and General Motors’ Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car each posted record sales in March 2012.
Forbes had a similar take, noting Volt, Leaf and Prius sales hit records in March 2012. Volt sales jumped to 2,289 in March; Leaf sales to 579; and Prius’ sales to an amazing 28,711, up 54% from March a year ago.
Forbes termed Prius “one of America’s and the world’s most successful vehicles.” And the Prius has blazed the hybrid trail, as Toyota alone sold more than 38,000 hybrid vehicles of all sorts in March.
Both publications noted that the increase in sales comes as regular gas powered cars become significantly more fuel efficient.
Those contemplating making the switch find it doesn’t come cheap. Even the lowest priced alternative car (with all rebates and incentives included) still costs well above $20,000. Despite the high dollar threshold, limited driving range and relatively untested charging equipment – the appeal is undeniable and the actual driving experience is far better than anticipated.
The new plug-in Prius got raves from Consumer Reports, but is not expected to be widely available until next year. Maui Now test drove the Nissan Leaf during the lunch break and found it smooth, fast, comfortable – a car in every respect, except that it’s totally silent and it doesn’t use gas.
Electricity Still Cheaper Than Gas
Preliminary cost calculations done by a a local registered engineer converted the cost of gasoline into price per kilowatt hours and compared it to the local cost of electricity.
The cost of gas on Maui in the 50 to 60 cents per kilowatt range while the cost for electricity (among the priciest in the nation) is currently in the 30 to 40 cent per kilowatt.
Electric vehicles do not have many of the other costs currently associated with internal combustion – as they do not use oil or many of the other fluids that are required in regular cars.
What that spread will be in the future remains to be seen. What the regulatory climate will be in coming years is another unknown. Currently the price of gas is loaded with add-on taxes, while the price of electricity does not include comparable road taxes and surcharges.
Maui’s Kitty Hawk Moment
Kitty Hawk, as most students of transportation history recall, was the place where the Wright Brothers demonstrated that a heavier-than-air device could actually fly.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Maui will be the place to demonstrate that the electric and/or hybrid vehicles are not just futurist fantasies, but practical transportation alternatives. Certainly Maui is paying serious attention at very beginning of what may prove to be a phenomenal growth curve.
Maui is already notable for the amount of hard money going into alternate energy projects.
Among the speakers at the conference was Yutaka Hayashi of Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). His firm has already committed over $30 million to a smart grid demonstration project in Maui Meadows which includes a transportation component.
Others with equally substantial checkbooks have already made or have plans to invest here in a variety of other formats.
While these ventures are not strictly limited to electric vehicles, the ability to generate new energy in clean formats would certainly enhance the atmosphere for the adoption and use of electric vehicles locally.
Byron Washom, who has a substantial reputation as an innovator, is a UC San Diego consultant who comes to Maui regularly in connection with a Department of Energy planning grant to Maui College, in the amount of almost $300,000. UCSD and the Hawaii Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) are also active partners in the award.
Visitors Are Maui’s Grant Target
Washom pointed out that of the multiple planning grants given in the nation, Maui’s was ranked in the top three in innovation. It was the only one, he said, that focused on the visitors rather than residents as a prime target.
Though the visitor industry working group did give a brief report early in the day, their conclusions were not optimistic. The report said that despite the fact that 85% of all Maui visitors rent cars, there is presently only a single electric vehicle currently available for rent on Maui, and fewer than a dozen active charging stations.
Their report passed the ball back to the resident market and implied that serious efforts to get visitors to try or rent electrics during their stay here would be premature.
What was clear by the end of the day was the product is here. It works; it’s in striking distance of being affordable and Maui is an ideal test market.
What was less apparent were the true costs: how the fast-developing technology will modify and lower those expenses, whether the powers-that-be at home are capable of rising to the challenges of installation of charging devices and whether the Hawaii driving public is ever going to see enough product availability to make electric vehicles a viable alternative for any market – be it rental fleet for visitors or individual cars for residents.
It was equally clear that electric vehicles and their hybrid cousins are a much better solution in terms of fuel cost, air quality and environmental impact than the cars Mauians and their guests presently drive.
By the end of the day, we could only wonder what will become of all those internal combustion engines that seem fated to go the way of the once ubiquitous horse.
Kitty Hawk or not, the real green in the development of the electric vehicle locally is the color of money.
Lots of Links
It doesn’t take long to come up to speed on electric vehicles, as well to navigate as the whole alphabet soup of lingo that devotees sprinkle freely in their speech and writing.
Here are some links that can help the non-technical reader understand how they work.
Most of these sites have links to other informational sites, graphics and videos.
Plug-In Electric Vehicle Handbook for Consumers. An easy read and a handy guide. Everything you might want to know in 15 pages. Click here. 
Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance frequently asked questions with many links and some pdfs. Click here. 
County of Maui Energy Programs (transit portion) Click here .
Hawaii Dealer Magazine-First Quarter 2012 Smart Cars/Smart Grids and Hawaii- Magazine of Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association (HADA). Lots of interesting stats and data. To read the issue online click here .
Bio Beetle Car Rental Maui’s pioneer in environmentally friendly cars. Click here 
NEDO-New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (Japan) – a big company with many divisions that has made a significant Maui energy investment. English site is somewhat limited. Click here . 
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (US Dept of Energy). Click here .
California Center for Sustainable Energy Click here .
List of Existing Maui’s Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles
These are the locations of current charging stations on Maui – All are Level 2. (Information courtesy of Bio Beetle – the only company on Maui to rent an all electric vehicle.)
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa – on 2nd floor parking garage, no fee, but high hourly rate to park in their facility while charging.
Kihei Town Center – Level 2 charge port between Sansei and Cuatro. No charge but requires a Better Place membership.
Four Seasons Resort – Level 2, for hotel guests only.
Kahana Gateway Shopping Center – Four Level 2 charge spots in rear of shopping center underneath the building. No fee for charge but requires a Better Place Membership.
Wailea Beach Marriott – Two Level 2 charge spots, hotel guests only.
5A Rent a Space -3600 L H’piilani Hwy., Lahaina, $10/hr. Bio Beetle terms this fee excessive and recommends using nearly Kahana Gateway charger.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Kahului – One Level 2 charger no fee.
Jim Falk Motors, Kahului – Two Level 2 charge ports in front and one charge port in back. No fee.