About 4 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii. The island of Maui naturally has serene beaches and picturesque mountain skylines, but those weren’t what my dad and I discussed as we drove our rental car down narrow streets to the grocer. We talked about the possibility of electric vehicles.
You see, Maui is 48 miles long and 26 miles across at its widest point. Even without considering the advances made to battery-powered cars in the last four years, making a round trip from any point on the island to any other point is possible on a single charge. Hawaii is the only state in the nation that could reasonably outlaw gas-powered vehicles.
So it came as little surprise when Hawaii signed into legislation this summer that it is aiming for 100% renewable energy production by 2045. Not only is this a significant step forward for sustainability in the US, it’s also economically viable. Importing oil from the continental US is expensive, and in the long run switching to renewables will drive energy prices in Hawaii down.
As Hawaii gets closer to removing fossil fuels from its list of imports, it will become a US poster child of sorts for sustainability: the perfect storm of isolation, size and environmental consciousness to make this initiative work.
So what does this mean? More solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric power? Well, yes, yes and yes, but also one other thing. Often overlooked since they’re not as sexy as our designer-inspired windmills or fields of solar arrays, but arguably the part of sustainable energy that affects us the most: batteries.
One of the problems with many sources of renewable energy is reliability. You can’t just have the electric grid go down if it’s cloudy or not very windy on a particular afternoon. So, on the good days, excess energy needs to be stored. This is much more easily said than done. Despite its best efforts, humanity is not particularly good at storing electricity. Making large batteries is expensive, and requires a cocktail of rare earth metals, which goes against the mantra of sustainability. This is where Tulsa comes in.
But what, you ask, can Tulsa, a city renowned for its history in oil, possibly have to do with sustainability? Are you sure you didn’t misspell Portland?
Well, America is going to need batteries. Lots of them. And soon. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, SpaceX and Tesla, and the closest thing we have to a real Tony Stark. He’s building the Gigafactory, which will be the largest factory of batteries in the world. In fact, it will be larger than the sum of every other lithium-ion battery factory in the world.
So the battery industry is picking up speed. Tulsa has a rich background in manufacturing, and as such would make an excellent candidate to become a hub of battery production in the US. Sure, it would take time and money to accomplish, but it’s not entirely crazy to imagine Tulsa getting on board the battery boom and becoming a green city in the future.