The U.S. has a growing dependence upon imported oil to meet transportation requirements. There are no simple alternatives, but electric vehicles (EVs) can help meet transportation needs in urban areas. Furthermore, EVs do not pollute, add to the greenhouse effect, nor cause acid rain, especially if their electrical energy is generated by safe and non-polluting renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and ocean thermal. Hawaii's short driving distances and year-around temperatures in the range of 21-27° C (70-80° F) makes it an ideal location for optimizing electric vehicle performance. The EV program being carried out by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) of the University of Hawaii, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), began as a demonstration program, was followed by an improvement program, and now focuses primarily on test and evaluation of battery systems. Two HNEI research programs involve the testing of on-board generators using various fuels, especially methanol and hydrogen, to extend vehicle range and provide return capability in case of a loss of battery power. A new program involves installing a 2 kW photovoltaic charging system. HNEI also hopes to advance a new EV project that will involve a nickel-hydride-hydrogen battery system with about twice the capacity of nickle-cadmium, possibly coupled with an advanced AC propulsion system and a variable speed transmission.
This paper will include a brief summary of Hawaii's major renewable energy resources that generate electricity and report on HNEI's EV program. EVs can play a key role in Hawaii's alternative transportation future, as well as that of most urban areas around the world.