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Last week, Hawaii’s four mayors made a joint commitment to take Hawaii’s ground transportation off of fossil fuels. Within 28 years, all cars, trucks, trains, and buses will be fueled by renewable energy in our city and across the state. It means that we won’t be shipping oil into our ports to move food from the farm to our dinner tables. And, it means that when we hop on the bus to go to work, our ride won’t pollute the air we breathe. We know this is possible; the internet, which connects all of us, was invented just 28 years ago. Here’s why Hawaii’s mayors, the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, and the startup community are coming together to make this happen now.
1: Waiting is not an option
In Hawaii, most of us live where the land meets the sea, and we know that the climate is changing in real time around us. Hawaii has every renewable energy resource on Earth and our grid is getting greener, but fossil fuel use in transportation has continued to rise year over year. Ground transportation accounts for more than 25% of the state’s imported fossil fuel consumption and a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions.
The status quo is the greatest risk of all to our communities, and the national vacuum of leadership means that action must come from a local level. And we’re up for the task. Governors, mayors, and local leaders know their communities best. In government and business, we recognize that it’s our shared responsibility to reduce and eliminate our emissions, no matter how big or small our communities may be.
2. Our people are leading
When we made the commitment to 100% clean transportation, we stood on the deck of Hōkūleʻa, a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe. In June of this year, Hōkūleʻa’s navigators sailed her around the world using only the stars as their guide on a voyage that took faith, wisdom, teamwork, and incredible courage.
Hawaii’s people are also leading the nation in their commitment to drive on clean energy. We are second in the nation in electric vehicles sales per capita, and our island geography makes Hawaii the perfect place for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. Transforming our transportation network and the grid to 100% renewable at the same time will actually offer synergy and advantages.
3. We can innovate our way to the future
Nearly a decade ago, our bus system in Honolulu asked Google to include transit in Google maps. It took them nearly a year to get there, but our bus leadership saw the opportunity far before anywhere else. Honolulu has one of the highest ridership rates in the nation, and now our bus system is committed to going all electric by 2035, so that our communities can cleanly and quietly commute to economic opportunity.
This kind of innovation not only makes life better, it also creates jobs and can reduce our cost of living. At a local level, one of the authors, Dawn Lippert leads the state’s innovation efforts as CEO of Elemental Excelerator and also serves as the chair of the governor’s energy advisory board. Why? Because good policy supports great innovation. And, when the public sector sets an ambitious goal like 100% renewable, it reaffirms the private sector’s capacity to push boundaries and solutions.
We saw this happen with energy over the past decade. Our home-grown accelerator has built a portfolio of the top energy startups in the world. Growth-stage startups are coming to Hawaii to solve the next frontier of energy challenges, and employing engineers, electricians, and trade workers in the quest. Now we’re creating the same momentum around transportation, and we are looking to grow and attract the best startups that will get Hawaii to 100% renewable-fueled transportation in one generation. Startups like Swiftly are already working with our bus system to build a first-of-its-kind tool to manage island buses in real time, and FreeWire is pioneering ways to shift electric vehicle charging from peak demand to peak sun and eliminating expensive wiring infrastructure.
Kirk Caldwell is the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii. The city is a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. Dawn Lippert is the CEO of Elemental Excelerator.