A Journey into the Future of Hawaii’s Electric Mobility

Hawaiian Electric
4 min readJan 23, 2024

by Timur Tufail | Jan. 23, 2024

When I joined Hawaiian Electric’s Electrification of Transportation (EoT) team in 2022, my directive was to develop an innovative pilot focused on the residential EV driving customer segment. Electric vehicles are a promising solution to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, and several related advanced clean technologies have emerged that can help enhance the EV ecosystem.

I pursued an EV telematics-based solution that rewards EV drivers with incentives, resulting in the Smart Charge Hawaii pilot deployed across Oahu, Maui County, and Hawaii Island: smartchargehi.ev.energy

Without the luxury of being able to innovate for the sake of innovating — our focus was on designing a pilot that solved an important problem or addressed a need in Hawaii. Known for its pristine beauty and ample sunshine, Hawaii faces unique challenges with energy consumption and carbon emissions due to its remote location and heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Hawaiian Electric and other local stakeholders already realize the potential of EVs in reducing the state’s carbon footprint and fostering energy independence. However, we lack data and visibility on EV driving and charging behavior — we’re effectively blind to how EVs are interacting with our grid. This pilot would attempt to address these limitations.

Transparency and public engagement are essential to developing any kind of pilot at Hawaiian Electric. Over the course of the year, I held several discussions with stakeholders involved in electric transportation, including other Hawaiian Electric departments as well as partners such as the cities and counties in our service area, the State Department of Transportation, and investment firm Ulupono Initiative.

We debated the benefits of developing an EV telematics-based pilot that leveraged cutting-edge technology, as well as the potential impact on the daily lives of all Hawaiian Electric customers. It was clear from these discussions that there was a need for understanding where EV drivers are charging, how often existing charging stations are occupied, and where more charging stations are needed. EV telematics then, a combination of telecommunications and informatics, could enable us to collect and analyze real-time data from EVs, providing valuable insights to help enhance our grid.

With an ambitious project scope in mind, strong partnerships would be crucial to the pilot’s success. I began by facilitating comprehensive product demonstrations with leading EV telematics software providers. After a comprehensive due diligence phase, and with extensive feedback from Hawaiian Electric’s Innovation Council and Technology Investment Oversight Committee, we ultimately decided that ev.energy had the optimal solution for our pilot.

A significant part of the pilot involved rewarding participants with some kind of monetary incentive. Based on market research, I determined that a $100 cash incentive would be appropriate for each pilot participant. However, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s (“PUC”) guidance recommended seeking out cost-share arrangements with local partners. We approached Ulupono first, as they had previously noted that $100 was too low. Ulupono agreed to provide additional funding for the incentive pool, thereby increasing the reward to $150 per participant. I then negotiated a deal with Hawaiian Airlines, who agreed to offer our participants 10,000 HawaiianMiles as an alternative reward under a generous exchange program.

To garner funding from the PUC, we needed to address several concerns, including cost-effectiveness and scalability. With the support of our partners, I worked with our Regulatory and Legal teams to meticulously craft a compelling proposal for the pilot, highlighting its objectives, benefits, and emphasizing the alignment of our goals with Hawaii’s decarbonization targets.

After nearly a year of hard work, collaboration, and community involvement, the pivotal moment arrived — the PUC granted its approval, giving us access to the funding necessary for the innovative pilot. This milestone validated our efforts and demonstrated the PUC’s commitment to driving sustainable initiatives in the state. With funding secured, in May 2023 we officially launched Smart Charge Hawaii with ev.energy. At the time of this writing, we are in the process of signing up a target of 2,000 EV drivers.

The journey of developing this innovative EV telematics-based pilot and obtaining funding from the PUC was a huge win for clean energy and sustainable transportation. Support from public and private stakeholders demonstrated that collaboration and innovation can pave the way for a greener future. As we consider expanding the pilot and working towards a more sustainable Hawaii, we are confident that our efforts will serve as an inspiration for other states and regions to embrace EV technology and embark on their path to a cleaner, brighter tomorrow.

Timur Tufail is a senior program manager of electrification of transportation at Hawaiian Electric Company.



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