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April 20, 2015

EVs still best choice, even with today's lower gasoline prices

Categories: Energy | Featured | Transportation

Published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on April 20, 2015

By Murray Clay

The recent gasoline price drop has finally put Hawaii below $4 a gallon and as low as $2.74 per gallon at Iwilei Costco.

While it is cheaper to fill up now than it's been in years, the costs continue to fluctuate and we must decrease our dependency on imported fuels by bolstering Hawaii's electric vehicle (EV) momentum.

According to the November 2014 Hawaii Energy Facts & Figures issued by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), there were nearly 3,000 registered EVs statewide, compared to about 1,800 last year.

DBEDT states: "The amount of fossil fuel used to power an electric vehicle in Hawaii is 31 percent less than that required to power a similar gasoline-fueled vehicle."

I'm a recent EV convert with my new Nissan Leaf.

Why did I switch?

As managing partner of Ulupono Initiative, which has proudly invested in OpConnect and Volta EV charging networks in Hawaii, I've analyzed the numbers.

Let's start with operating costs: Back in July 2013, when Honolulu gas prices were $4.18 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com, the average gasoline vehicle cost 18 cents per mile to drive (fuel costs only). A Nissan Leaf was about one-third cheaper at 12 cents per mile, and a homeowner with a solar photovoltaic (PV) system could drive an EV for two-thirds less at 6 cents per mile (some of this is based on 2012 data).

Today, the numbers work out quite a bit differently. Based on current prices and the 4.5 miles I get per kilowatt hour in my EV, the costs are 15.2 cents for gasoline; 7.1 cents for a Nissan Leaf (53 percent cheaper at 32 cents per kWh); 5.8 cents for someone who's signed up for the utility's Schedule TOU EV (Time Of Use Electric Vehicle — 62 percent cheaper) rate and charges at night; and 3.8 cents for someone with solar PV (75 percent cheaper).

When looking at numbers alone, it seems like a no-brainer.

However, one of the main reasons consumers are hesitant to get an EV is range anxiety — the fear of running out of "juice" and not being able to make it to a charging station. With my EV, I've been able to go from Kahala Mall to Waialua and back to Hawaii Kai on a single charge.

While I drove those 73 miles in "Eco Mode," I also had the air conditioner on the entire way.

And if I was running low, there are plentiful public charging stations. As of September 2014, DBEDT reported Hawaii has more than 400 Level 2 charging ports and 13 Level 3 charging ports.

Our partner OpConnect Hawaii operates the state's largest charging station network with nearly 100 charge spots on the four major islands.

And our partner Volta Industries, which provides free charging at its 26 EV stations statewide, recently said it gave away 1.8 million miles of charging in the past three years.

It would further benefit folks statewide if the current law requiring one EV charging station/parking spot for lots with 100 spaces or more was actually enforced. With no current enforcement, many office buildings and retail venues are ignoring this law.

From an investment standpoint, EVs align with Ulupono's mission to reduce Hawaii's dependency on imported oil.

For consumers, the numbers clearly make sense. In fact, I'm not the only one at Ulupono to benefit from the cost savings in driving an EV; my colleague who helped crunch these numbers also got one. So while we're not paying as much at the pump as in the past, let's keep the EV momentum going.