Chalk up Maui as the next hot spot for electric vehicle infrastructure. This month the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance was launched with the support of the University of Hawaii Maui College, Hawaii State Energy Office, Honolulu Clean Cities from neighboring Oahu, and a host of other partners from government and business. With the help of a $300,000 from the US Department of Energy, the group's goal is to design a plan to prep the island for large-scale EV use through increased EV infrastructure development. It's an interesting case study into how to topple the chicken-and-the-egg scenario plaguing EVs: who's going to pay for an electric car when there's no infrastructure, and vice versa?
Maui, much like the rest of Hawaii (and any island, really) offers an interesting setting for EV use. Hawaii has the highest average fuel price in the nation, with a gallon of regular unleaded going for about $4.13 right now. That alone is enough to get people thinking about plug-in alternatives.
But the bane of electric vehicles is still battery technology. Currently EV ranges don't exceed a couple hundred miles at best, which hampers their broad appeal to those who jaunt all over the country. A Nissan Leaf would take five charges to get from L.A. to San Francisco, and while plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt offer more range, they still need some of that good old dino juice.
On an island like Maui, range anxiety is less of an issue. Highway 30, which loops around the island, is only about 60 miles long. While a car shopper in Montana might shy away from an EV because of the very real possibility of driving longer than one hundred miles at a stretch, any travel of length on Maui would require a boat or plane. With a closed transit system and high fuel prices, electric vehicles look like a pretty attractive proposition.
While EVs may prove popular with locals, the Maui EVA also has its sights set on another driving population: tourists. Susan Wyche, a special project coordinate with UHMC, told Maui Time that 15 to 20 percent of vehicles on Maui's roads are rentals driven by visitors. Tourists make for great EV users because they're more likely to be wooed by their novelty and green aspects (especially in Hawaii) than buyers concerned with day-to-day commuting.
Wyche said the Maui EVA is hoping to encourage rental companies to add more electric vehicles to their fleets as charging stations increase in number. Once the EV fleet and infrastructure both become more established, the rental companies then may be able to sell their used electric cars directly to Maui citizens, saving money on shipping them elsewhere. It's an interesting concept. By using visitors as early adopters, Maui residents may be able to skip the early growing pains of the island's EV infrastructure.
As suited as EVs are for an island with high tourist traffic, the fact remain that EVs are still a niche segment of the car market. Until ranges increase dramatically, electric vehicle sales are likely to remain to the lucky few who can afford a second or third car just for commuting. And without a host of EVs on the road, infrastructure developments will be slow coming. (California, for example, now has 100 charging stations statewide.) But Maui EVA's plan does set an intriguing example for other counties and states looking to build EV infrastructure. By utilizing visitors as an enthusiastic set of early adopters with cash to burn, Maui may be able to build demand for EV infrastructure without waiting for residents to go electric vehicle shopping on their own.