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(Pacific Business News)  Mark Glick, Energy Administrator, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s State Energy Office [Pacific Business News]
In My Opinion, by Mark Glick

Three factors have converged to make Hawaii one of the most attractive markets for electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States: the highest gasoline prices in the nation, limited driving distances, and public and private partnerships fueled by incentives for EVs and EV charging stations.

A key part of the state’s campaign to increase the number of energy-saving EVs on island roads is the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s recently re-energized EV Ready Rebate Program. We’ve added $350,000 through Nov. 1, 2012, for a $4,500 rebate on a new electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and up to $500 for an electric vehicle home charger.

Thus far, the program has yielded 618 rebates for 372 electric vehicles and 246 chargers. The growing demand for plug-in cars in Hawaii has led to a number of major automakers focusing on the Hawaii market. Last year, Nissan, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi made Hawaii one of the first locations to introduce new EV models. We also expect to see the plug-in Prius made available later this year at a number of Hawaii’s Toyota dealerships.

Today, there are 700 licensed plug-in EVs in Hawaii and another 10,604 hybrids — vehicles that use gas from the pump to power electric engines under their hoods. This puts us 5 percent towards our Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative transportation goal of 210,000 EVs on Hawaii’s roads by 2030, the same year we hope to achieve a 70 percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption in Hawaii. EVs would make up one-fifth of that 70 percent figure by reducing 75 million gallons a year by 2030.

Hawaii’s aggressive EV goals are part of the transformational change Gov. Neil Abercrombie has envisioned to meet Hawaii’s clean-energy goals.

There are indications that the focus on EVs is beginning to pay off. A national study, “Electric Vehicle Geographic Forecasts,” published by Pike Research in the fall of 2011, ranked Hawaii as the top state in the country for EV penetration, with sales growing by 43 percent from 2011 to 2017.

The study also estimated that EVs will make up 6.7 percent of the Hawaii car market by 2017.

This demand is creating a new market segment that is attracting significant private-sector investment, seeded in part by DBEDT’s targeted allocation of federal Recovery Act funds.

In addition to EV rebates, the state is accelerating the deployment of charging locations, the EV equivalent of gas pumps, across the state. DBEDT has provided $5 million in grants to businesses and state offices to build public electric vehicle charging locations throughout the state. DBEDT has also coordinated the purchase of EVs for motor pools, including that of the Department of Accounting and General Services.

A listing of publicly available EV charging stations in Hawaii can be found on the State Energy Office’s EV Ready website at www.energy.hawaii.gov.

The private sector is also playing a key role. Hawaiian Electric Co. is offering cheaper rates to charge EVs during off-peak hours and is taking a hard look on how it might contribute to building a robust fast-charger network. Car rental companies such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car are offering EVs for rent and making clean cars a part of their marketing campaigns.

State law now requires parking lots with at least 100 public parking stalls to set aside space for EVs. Also, EVs can drive on HOV lanes with a single occupant and take advantage of free metered parking at state and county locations.

Even though the sticker prices of EVs are higher than comparable gasoline-fueled cars, the $7,500 federal tax credit and $4,500 state rebate make EV pricing competitive. The better news is that EVs cost far less to operate than conventionally fueled vehicles. At $4 a gallon, the average vehicle powered by gasoline costs about 20 cents a mile to operate. EVs cost about 11 cents a mile.

Now, those are household economics that can really fuel EV demand!

Mark Glick is energy administrator in the state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s State Energy Office.