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November 30, 2011

State Legislator Goes PV to EV

K. Mark2

Hawaii state Rep. K. Mark Takai, who served with the Hawaii Army National Guard in the Middle East in 2009, represents the communities of Aiea and Pearl City on the island of Oahu. Two years ago, he and his wife, Sami, installed photovoltaic panels for their home's roof. Earlier this year, they purchased a Nissan LEAF, which is powered by their solar panels. Rep. Takai took some time to answer our questions.

Why did you first go solar?

While serving at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, I had time to reflect on why our country is fighting in wars a half-a-world away. In Hawaii, we spend $7 billion a year importing foreign fossil fuels. When I returned from deployment, I decided that my family needed to wean ourselves off this, so we installed a 12-panel photovoltaic system. Our electric bill dropped from $170 in October 2009 to $18 in March 2010, which is the minimum charge from our utility. In anticipation of getting our Nissan LEAF, I decided to upgrade by adding 10 panels.

K. Mark1

What was it like to switch to an electric vehicle?

It's quite a huge leap from gas-powered vehicles. Prior to the LEAF, I was driving a 12-year-old Nissan Altima, which was averaging around 20 mpg. People are always asking about our new car. Most questions are about its power and gas savings, which are incredible. Driving by our local gas stations has been quite liberating. The odometer recently passed the 10,000 mile mark.

But "range anxiety" is real. On Oahu, my typical commute is around 50 miles per day, considerably less than the 80 miles I have stored. The biggest change for me has been to remember to plug it in every evening.

Since getting a PV system and an EV, how much money have you saved?

I estimate that we save $180 in electricity and $240 in gasoline a month. With these savings, the payback for our PV system is around two years.

What's your advice to anyone considering adopting a PV-to-EV system?

The PV and EV combo works quite well for our family. Going from a gas car to an EV is one step. But truly harnessing the sun to power an EV is the way to go, especially in Hawaii where the electricity rates are high.

K. Mark3

What have you done beyond the car and panels?

Our kids are now active participants in our family's energy plans. We've changed light builbs to CFLs, we've used smart power strips for the computer and television, and we'll turn off lights and appliances when they're not in use. We've installed windows that allow the tradewinds to cool our home, and we've bought a new refrigerator using the rebate program.

Our family collects and recycles all glass, plastics, and aluminum containers. We have an earthworm bin, where we recycle all our green waste from the kitchen, and we raise our own vegetables and golden perch fish through our hydroponics garden. In a couple of months, we will install a house fan.

What's the future like for Hawaii in terms of clean energy, the smart grid, and EVs? Do you see Hawaii as becoming a greentech leader or are there opposing forces that might get in the way?

Hawaii is already a leader in greentech. Support for the development of a smart grid and more green incentives is coming from all levels of government. There are really no obstacles, except our own unwillingness to turn away from fossil fuels. Hawaii is the most isolated land mass on the entire planet. We need to move toward our green objectives as quickly as possible for our future.

-- Brian Foley


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