PO‘IPU — Electric car drivers on Kaua‘i can now have their vehicles charged in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee.
Kaua‘i is the first island in the state of Hawai‘i and one of only three places in the nation to utilize the industry’s fastest electric charging station for electric vehicles. The new Level 3 station can fully charge an electric vehicle in just 30 minutes, versus the eight hours it takes to charge it on a Level 2 station.
“The difference is just how quickly power gets into the battery,” said Warren Doi, founding partner of Green Car Hawai‘i. Green Car is a “hybrid” rental car company based on Kaua‘i serving visitors as well the community via a transportation network that could eventually supplement the bus system and be an alternative to car ownership.
The fast charging capability is important to expand the use of electric vehicles on Kaua‘i, Doi said.
“The standard precedent has been the convenience of a close corner gas station where drivers can quickly fill up their cars. In order for electric vehicles to gain mass adoption, we need to create an infrastructure that resembles the current alternative,” said Doi.
In this green initiative program, Green Car has been working closely with Doug Sears, general manager of Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa in Po‘ipu, to offer this electric rental car option to hotel guests and the public.
The Grand Hyatt has been a pioneer on Kaua’i in the green initiative, already using solar panels that generate 1,250 kilowatts per day. The new station can “power 50 complete charges a day,” said Sears, “and it is a perfectly clean solution because it is not using traditional forms of power.”
Two of the Level 3 stations were installed in the hotel’s parking lot in Po‘ipu and were dedicated on Thursday. Also blessed were two Mitsubishi Miev electric vehicles, which can travel between 70 to 90 miles fully charged under perfect conditions.
The rental company already provides two Level 2 stations in the hotel’s parking lot, along with two Nissan Leaf electric vehicles, which can travel between 60 to 80 miles fully charged.
If extended driving is planned, drivers have the option of renting a hybrid Ford Escape vehicle, seven of which were first offered for rent at the hotel two and a half years ago when Green Car was established.
“It was the first incremental step to promote and develop a more eco-friendly and efficient transportation system,” Doi said.
Within three years, Doi expects an electric vehicle network to be implemented island-wide, ultimately creating a ride-share program.
Currently, the infrastructure of charging stations will continue to grow in the Po‘ipu area, he said, especially at other hotels and shopping centers, and talks are under way for interested parties on the north and east sides of the island.
“Having the Grand Hyatt being such as success (with it) adds to their level of interest,” said Doi.
Doi said he measures success based on his company’s customer surveys as well as the electric vehicle’s reception by many of Grand Hyatt’s Fortune 500 company customers.
These companies are “high on the green initiative,” said Katy Britzmann, director of sales and marketing for Grand Hyatt. “It really mirrors their philosophy. It has become an important factor in why they book us.”
There are two other stations and 10 vehicles on O‘ahu owned by Green Car that are being managed by business partner Justin MacNaughton, but the company’s pilot project was started on Kaua‘i and is still the best option, said Doi.
He cites reasons such as the partnership with Grand Hyatt in Po‘ipu; the island’s size and geographic components; and the ability to work out kinks in an area where some of the issues could be isolated. For example, “in Waikiki, there are so many moving parts, such as traffic,” said Doi.
Currently on Kaua‘i, there are 10 charging stations owned by retail centers, county and state governments, and third parties. O‘ahu has the most charging stations, said Doi.
On both Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, Green Car has acquired a total of six stations and 21 green cars, with four more arriving this quarter, a hefty investment for Green Car.
To compete in the rental car market, Doi said the company charges guests $15 per hour to use the car, and different parties are able to re-use the car throughout the day.
“It’s a more efficient use of a car from the rental perspective,” he said.
He said it helps that the rental checkout system is also user-friendly. At the Grand Hyatt, Green Car has a kiosk in the lobby with a touch-screen which asks for a driver’s license and a credit card. The system spits out a voucher, and then a valet brings out the car. Upon return of the car, the system charges the card at the hourly rate.
The system is also constantly being improved technologically. “In the near future, the cars will be able to be accessed through a Smart Phone,” said Doi.
In this rental market, there is also potential revenue from the charging stations themselves. According to Doi, that typically ranges between $5 to $7 per charge, depending on amps or actual electricity used.
For now, however, Green Car is offering the use of its charging stations for free to the public for 365 days, beginning June 21 and lasting through June 2013, to help promote electric vehicles on the island.
This pilot program is a worthwhile effort, Doi said.
“You have to start somewhere and we’re making that initial investment so we can become that catalyst for change.”
• Jane Esaki, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext 257) or by emailling firstname.lastname@example.org.