Out of the 1 million cars on roads in Hawaii, only about 5,000 are electric. But that’s 28% more than a year ago, and in a few decades, it’s possible that no cars in the state will run on gas.
A new bill in Hawaii’s legislature sets out a goal for the state: if it passes, by 2045, all ground transportation there will have to run on renewable energy.
Hawaii is already aiming to hit 100% renewable electricity use in the state by that year, and advocates saw adding transportation as a natural next step. “It’s easier to solve our two challenges at once as opposed to separately,” says Jeffrey Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, a Honolulu-based nonprofit working with legislators on the bill.
Each Hawaiian island has its own electric grid, and electric cars could help with the challenge of storing renewable energy on those grids.
“Essentially, we’ll have batteries on wheels that can serve to smooth the load on the grid,” says Mikulina. “They can store energy. We have a surplus of solar energy during the day, and you could go to work and plug in and suck up that excess solar during the day when your car’s just parked. Then at night, you could go home and plug in and share that excess energy when we need it most, which is evening in Hawaii.”
The bill doesn’t dictate details like when car dealerships might have to stop selling cars running on fossil fuels, or how much new charging infrastructure is needed. Instead, the 100% goal is meant to guide other planning.
When the 100% renewable electricity law passed in 2015, it changed planning in a similar way.
“It has fostered collaboration,” Mikulina says. “It has aligned all of the planning to achieve that goal, because now we know where we’re heading. It’s just been remarkable how effective just setting a vision in law has in shaping the landscape. So it’s time to do the same thing for transportation.”
The process may help set the momentum to achieve the transportation goal faster than 2045. When the electricity bill was in discussion, the local utility argued that it would be impossible to reach 100% renewables before 2050. Now, after progress has been made in planning for the 2045 goal, the utility says that it may be possible to achieve by 2040.
“Once you let loose the engineers, I think we’ll find that we can achieve it earlier,” Mikulina says.
Though “only” 5,000 electric cars are registered in Hawaii now, the state has the second highest rate of electric car ownership in the U.S. after California. Mikulina thinks that as technology improves and more car companies release electric vehicles, they will naturally begin to edge out gas cars and trucks. The new law would just help support that transition.
“We just see this evolving, where in five or 10 years the most affordable vehicle will be an electric or some other zero emission vehicle, or very low emission,” he says. “That’s where this is heading. But it’s important to set that state vision so we align our infrastructure to also achieve it.”
Hawaii already has a goal to continue building an integrated, multimodal transportation system; the transition to 100% renewable ground transportation would involve better mass transit and biking options, though the shift in vehicles would play a major role.
As a state made of islands, Hawaii is an ideal testing ground–no one can drive in from another state, so it will be fairly easy to make sure that, eventually, there aren’t any gas cars. Since the islands are relatively small, and residents have short commutes, electric vehicles with shorter ranges could be a fit.
The state also has strong economic motivation to make the change. It spends billions each year on imported fossil fuels. Climate change, driven by those fuels, threatens to affect tourism and the state’s other largest industries, displace coastal residents, increase the risk of infectious diseases, and damage marine ecosystems.
If the bill passes, Hawaii will have the most aggressive clean transportation goal in the U.S. But it’s something that other states will have to follow to address climate change; to limit climate change to two degrees of warming, by some estimates, global emissions will have to be close to zero by 2050.