By Nina Wu
Wes Wada of Honolulu is not your typical tree-hugger or environmentalist, but alternative energy has become part of his daily lifestyle.
Wada adopted alternative energy times three. He just hired Eco Solar to install a solar photovoltaic system (32 panels in all) on his rooftop in Honolulu last year to help power his home and his two electric vehicles. He's had the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV for three years, already.
So he's living the "Solar PV + EV" equation.
SOLAR PV + EV
Solar PV + EV means living on sunshine as your main generator of electricity, but of course, there are many factors to consider before making this investment. (Read "Living the EV/PV Dream" by GreenTech Media).
For Wada, it's worked out well, as part of the Hawaii lifestyle.
"That's really the way to go, in my opinion," said Wada. "The key thing, No. 1, is you need to know what the daily commute is going to be."
On an island like Oahu, chances are your distance is going to be pretty short compared to what it might be on the U.S. mainland. The investment in the electric vehicles which he and his wife use have worked out, when rebates were factored in. If he were to do it all over again, Wada says he would lease the Nissan Leaf instead of purchasing it. That way, he says, you don't have to worry about the battery two years later.
Consider us lucky, too, given that we have sunshine, lots of it, through most of the year.
"Imagine never having to line up at Costco again for gas," he said. "In five to six years, the solar PV system will be paid off, then you get free electricity for the home and the cars. The convenience factor is really big."
PERKS OF AN EV
The other perks – use of the HOV lane regardless of the number of passengers, free parking at meters and the airport (there's a 30-day limit, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation, but it's free of charge if you have an EV license plate), and dedicated parking stalls all add up.
The energy climate in Hawaii, today, is more uncertain, with NextEra's pending acquisition of HECO, plus the state utility's plan to raise fees for all electricity users, with extra fees for owners of solar PV. Connecting the solar PV system to the grid is also a big uncertainty, with folks that have waited up to a year. If you've already got solar PV in place, the next natural step would be to consider an EV. At the same time, HECO is also offering a discounted time-of-use rate for owners of electric vehicles who charge up at non-peak hours.
Wada said he opted not to go with the time-of-use option, but he's definitely glad he opted for Solar PV + EV.
If you can't get approval for photovoltaic panels, Wada says there are still a lot of things you can do to cut back your electricity bill — LED light bulbs, a solar water heater, energy efficient appliances.
ON THE HORIZON
Most people worry about running out of electricity while on the road, but more charging stations are in the works, plus a start-up company is working on a mobile charging service for electric cars, according to Dave Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association. That sounds like a great idea.
"I would do it again, knowing what I know now," said Wada. "If people are really concerned about surviving in Hawaii and doing more with less, I think PV + EV is kind of a no-brainer."
What about you? Have you thought about investing in an electric vehicle in Hawaii? The number of EVs in the state reached 3,166 in December 2014. Are you more comfortable with a hybrid (with 19,256 in Hawaii, they make up about 1.7 percent of total passenger vehicles)?