Getting An EV Charge For Free


RevoluSun principal Eric Carlson, Volta CEO Scott Mercer and Volta president Christopher Ching with Oahu's first free, electric vehicle charging station that went live in February at Pearlridge. Photo courtesy Scott Mercer

The next time we’re in the market for a new car, we are seriously going to consider going electric. We have a hybrid now, but I’m itching to take the next step.

Electric vehicles, or EV’s, are making more and more sense as it becomes easier to keep them juiced up and on the roads. Perhaps you’ve seen some of those new electric charging kiosks? EV drivers can plug into these stations for free. The kiosks are already located at Kahala and Pearlridge malls. The newest is fronting Kailua Whole Foods Market and another will be ready to go at the Kailua Longs Drugs in about a week.

A company called Volta is providing the v-stations. I spoke with CEO Scott Mercer about why EVs are starting to catch on in Hawaii. According to the state, there are 495 electric vehicles registered here.

JM: Hawaii had the highest per-capita sales of electric cars in the nation in 2011. Would you elaborate on this? Is Hawaii more open to change, more educated, what?

SM: Hawaii is the perfect environment for the electric car to thrive for a few reasons. First and foremost, because we’re on an island, range is much less of an issue, so first-generation cars with 100 miles of range between charges are easily enough for a Hawaii driver’s daily needs.

Second, Hawaii has the highest oil prices in the country, so it’s the place where EVs make the best economic sense – an EV costs approximately one-third to one-quarter per mile in electricity costs than the cost of a comparable gasoline car out here.

And lastly, Hawaii has a very grassroots clean-tech community that is highly supportive of technologies that keep energy production local – just look at the explosion of solar. There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the community.

JM: Your business model is interesting. You don’t charge people for “filling” up, instead you’re relying on sponsors to pay for the service, such as RevoluSun, a major solar provider in Hawaii. Why, and will this change as more people go electric?

SM: Our goal is to put up these stations in public to encourage people to buy the cars, and providing free charging is a great way to get people to think about switching. We’ve had quite a bit of feedback from drivers who say they wouldn’t necessarily use a paid charging station when they have a charger at home, but they’re excited to use the free stations when they go out.

By using sponsorships, we can provide a free service that encourages drivers to buy EVs, we can leverage companies’ advertising campaigns to do actual good within a community, and we can afford to provide the service in advance of the EV population required to support a pay-to-use network. Our favorite part of the model is being able to provide a free service – as long as there are sponsors excited about providing the service, the stations will be free.

JM: Education is key. Please explain why you feel so strongly about this and whether or not you think there’s enough education going on to change people’s hearts, minds and (most important) habits.

SM: We understand that people need time to get comfortable with any revolutionary technology. There is quite a bit of effort being put into EV education, but what really matters in our view is having people experience the cars firsthand, be that from a friend or neighbor who buys one, or seeing the cars and our stations in public.

Mercer says electric cars are still in their very early days, but he and his partner Chris Ching “are glad to be in this early and very excited to see things progress and unfold over the coming years.”

The technology, Mercer says, will only get better and cheaper, which is a very good thing as the need for clean energy increases exponentially here in Hawaii and all over the world.