On Nov. 1, 2011, our federally funded EV-readiness project, the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance (Maui EVA), began with an ambitious vision--to get the state's eight million annual visitors to experience EVs in paradise. It would be the perfect vacation--driving a silent vehicle that does not pollute the environment. And when the visitors would return home, we anticipated that they'd want to own their own electric vehicles.
But halfway through our project, the Visitors Working Group determined that we could not afford a negative experience. The group suggested we should test it on ourselves before our visitors.
For EV drivers to steer clear of range anxiety--the risk of becoming stranded and needing a flatbed tow truck when the EV is completely out of juice--a complete public charging infrastructure was needed.
EV In Paradise
Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance
For visitors, this means that charging stations should be amply and adequately located to allow the vehicles to reach every major tourist attraction without the inconvenience of long wait times.
Therefore, it makes sense that the workforce supporting the visitor industry should be knowledgeable and comfortable with electric vehicle technology and charging stations. Some 40 percent of our workforce supports the visitors industry. They are the ones who will be answering questions about EVs and assisting the EV rental customer.
Visitors do not know the geography like residents do. They don't have alternative routes, backup plans, or people they know that can be called upon in emergencies. They will rely on the operator, valet, bell captain, concierge, guest services manager, operations officer, front desk, general manager, facilities manager, customer service representative, engineer and other staff at hotels, golf courses, restaurants, parks, beaches and tourist attractions.
While charging stations have been installed at major hotels and shopping malls, they are visibly absent Upcountry, on the North Shore, the road to Hana and beyond. This means the 100 percent electric Nissan LEAF cannot get to the summit of Haleakala from the Kahului Airport (only to the park entrance). And it's not possible to drive to Hana and back in one day. An overnight recharge is needed. Forget about circumnavigating Maui from the airport via the steep and winding Kaheliki Highway or eastbound past Hana to Kipahulu.
To get accustomed to EVs, you can test drive the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy VOLT at Jim Falk Motors Maui to experience how they accelerate, the lack of idling when you stop and the silent drive.
But renting an EV is a better way to experience how they perform at various elevations as well as the charging process. Options include overnight charging from a standard 110-V three-prong wall socket, "topping off" at any of the many fast-charger locations, and charging at a level-two charging station while you eat, shop or work.
So far, it is only possible to rent an EV on two islands in the state. On O'ahu, Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers LEAFs at Honolulu Airport and several other locations.
On Maui, Bio-Beetle ECO Rental Cars was the first to offer the LEAF for rent, followed by the Chevy VOLT a few months later. Enterprise Rent-A-Car brought LEAFs and VOLTs to its 40 Hana Highway Branch in mid-2012. Both rental car companies are based in Kahului, near the airport.
Employers can encourage their staff to try EVs by making it possible for them to rent them for business purposes in Maui and O'ahu.
Getting local residents to experience "EVs in Paradise" first is one of the best ways to spread the technology worldwide.
Anne Ku is the director of Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, a Department of Energy-funded project at UHMC. For more information, visit www.mauieva.org.