In previous posts, I mentioned how Japan and, to a lesser extent New York City, have inherent appeal for some types of electric vehicles. On this wintry day, folks, I give to you… Hawaii. Consider it Japan in miniature, with a touch of Manhattan. Sure, the Big Island is a little light right now… but that’s true of just about anything, development-wise. Note that the south of the Big Island is volcanos and other preserves, and not something most people drive to anyways. No, the real action’s on Oahu.
Oahu (technically, O’ahu) is way smaller than the Big Island, smaller even than Maui, but way more populated. Then add the fact that most of Oahu is on the leeward (South and West) side, including Honolulu plus Waikiki. Then add the fact that population counts often miss “residents” like timesharers, snowbirds, and military. Oahu then has effectively over a million people. While the area of Oahu is somewhat large, many areas are mountains, plantations, or just parks. Add again that Pearl Harbor sits right in the middle of the island, and it’s clear: surface trips on Oahu are funneled into corridors, if they even leave a single town to begin with. Should you happen to leave a corridor by taking a mountain trip, a plug-in or a very strong hybrid can recover its downhill energy like no gasser ever will.
Hawaii, meanwhile, has no indigenous oil or gas fields; the islands, as volcano tops, never compressed ancient plants into fossil fuels. Instead, oil must be imported on ships; gasoline is noticeably more expensive than on the mainland. Combined with the fact that temperatures are neither freezing nor blazing and it’s still clear: this is EV country.
Sure enough, electric vehicles have achieved good penetration compared to many other states, and their charging infrastructure is also largely in place: lots of level 2 units at shopping malls and other destinations (like hospitals), and even a few CHAdeMO for longer trips. (There’s also a CHAdeMO on Maui, right in the middle where lots of paths would cross.)
Right now you may be thinking: ‘I live on the windward or northwest sides; there are few or no chargers for me.’ Here’s another unfortunate myth I have to debunk: EV charging facilities are not gas stations, and the gas-pumping metaphor doesn’t apply. The #1 “station”, by far, should be your own home. You can’t run a little gas station in your driveway, but a plug works just fine, and is way more competitive than public installations. Thus, the first and foremost site in any EV network is your own home, and your “network” may look completely different from some other random EV enthusiast. Public charging points are for where you go, not where you start.
(Of course, if you have a plug-in hybrid, then you have the option of burning gas for Plan B. Public charging is then nice but not a deal-breaker.)
Okay, but… where does the electricity come from? Since the islands lack fossil fuels, it ain’t indigenous coal. When oil is imported, refineries leave their “dregs.” After gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel are produced, the remaining liquids are “fuel oil” or “bunker fuel,” used by large engines such as ships and large generators. This heavy fuel can’t be burned by little, mass-produced engines like cars or even commercial trucks. Sometimes, it isn’t even a true liquid, and must be heated before it will inject into the cylinders or boilers.
This fuel is still effectively cleaner and more efficient than little, portable piston engines. Oil, even heavy oil, is cleaner than most coal. A stationary plant, running at constant speed, can be optimized in ways that a vehicle in traffic won’t, or physically can’t. (Hybrids are an attempt to run auto engines more like stationary generators, and don’t completely achieve that goal.) Large generators almost always run on the diesel cycle, where road diesels have to accept compromises in many cases. A large piston engine then beats a small one, diesel or not; many generators can have pistons you could climb into.
But we’re splitting hairs here, since grid parity has been reached. Electricity generated from oil rises in price; solar power falls in price. Over the last few years, the effective rate of solar electricity has halved, and is set to halve again. Grid parity is then the time when solar rates match fossil rates, especially since solar is decentralized and does not need a high-tension network. Hawaii was the first state to achieve grid parity, and installation figures show it. One network of charging points, Volta, brags about solar sourcing at effectively free rates. The charging installations are paid for as a store amenity for its customers. Then the charger shows you ads on its large screen.
EVs in paradise… for EVs; what’s not to like?