To kick off Earth Week activities, the University of Hawaii Maui College hosted dozens of residents for presentations on electric vehicles on Maui, and it was apparent that the familiarity of EVs is growing, according to a college official.
"Our goal was to support Earth Day, which we haven't had at the university in quite awhile,"
said Anne Ku, project director for the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance at the college Monday. "I think it went really well. People who came were conversant with EV language, which is a huge change from the last two years."
Kihei’s Shawn Wynne works in his car while its batteries are being charged Tuesday afternoon at one of the free charging stations in front of the county building in Wailuku. Wynne said his Nissan Leaf usually needs to be charged once a day or overnight at a free charging station near his home.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Dozens of electric car owners showed up Monday afternoon at the University of Hawaii Maui College’s science building for presentations on electric vehicles on Maui. The event kicked off Earth Week and finished with picture-taking beside about a half-dozen renewable energy cars.
Shaun Stenshol, president and founder of Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars, answers questions about electric vehicles, alongside other business owners and Maui residents.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
The presentations were led by Hiroshi Kuniyoshi, executive director of New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization in Japan. The government-sponsored company is an arm of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and specializes in energy and environmental technologies.
In 2011, the company and state agreed to build a smart grid on the Valley Isle to demonstrate how renewable energy sources can be integrated into an electrical grid.
The $37 million experiment called the Jump Start Maui Project looked at the feasibility of electric vehicles on Maui and identified several barriers for the technology, Kuniyoshi said.
"We focused on three things: cost, performance and infrastructure," he said.
Although price and performance are notable issues - the 2013 fully electrical Nissan Leaf is just under $30,000 and only travels about 75 miles on a single charge - infrastructure was a primary concern.
According to Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars, there are about 20 charging stations on Maui - three are private and the remaining are public. The stations are mostly level 2, or 240-volt chargers that can take about four or five hours to fully charge a vehicle. The Valley Isle has only one level 3, 500-volt station, which fully powers a vehicle in 20 to 30 minutes, and is located in front of the county building in Wailuku.
In contrast, Japan has about 2 million level 2 stations and about two-thirds of the world's level 3 stations (about 1,650), Kuniyoshi said.
Osamu Onodera, another company official, said that New Energy has taken an aggressive approach toward implementing these technologies with next-generation vehicles - a key for Maui as well.
"Unless the infrastructures are there, it is very difficult to promote," he said. "We want to provide more information to customers about electric vehicles."
Over the next few months, five level 3 charging stations will be unveiled in locations across Maui, he said.
The information presented at the event was encouraging to many in attendance, including Bio-Beetle owner and president, Shaun Stenshol.
"It's pretty exciting," he said. "Five years ago, you couldn't even buy one (EV).
. . . You had to build it yourself."
The rental car company has nearly 20 biodiesel cars and two electric cars, a Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Volt.
While acknowledging slow rentals for the two EVs, he said he believes the vehicles are the future of automobiles and that many people are simply afraid that the battery charging will prevent them from enjoying their trip.
Battery charging was not a problem for Haiku resident Liam Ball, who is enjoying his Nissan Leaf.
"I was one of the few people who made it up to the summit of Haleakala," he said with a smile.
Answering questions from other interested car owners,
the Maui Realtor said that he loves witnessing new technology.
"My only complaint is with the power windows rolling up too slow," he said. "Other than that, it's perfect."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.