Five Years: A Timeline of EV Growth in Our Region
Flashback to 2014: there were less than 80 EVs dotting the roads of our metropolitan area, and the prospect of seeing a charging station was even slimmer. We lived in an area where the idea of owning an electric vehicle was daunting, if not unthinkable, and riddled with myths. How far could you drive? Where would you charge? What happens if it gets wet? Can it even go on the highway? Won’t it cost a fortune?
Five years later, we live in one of the best places to drive an EV — you might spot a plethora of pluggable vehicles when out for a drive, a charger is likely on your route, and your neighbor can name at least a couple of electric vehicle models. How did we get here? Let’s look back at the chapters of our midwestern electric vehicle revolution:
2015: A Bold Vision
For years prior to the Clean Charge Network, there was a small but passionate group of enthusiasts working hard to promote the idea of electric vehicles in our area. Before an early LEAF or Tesla even rolled off the production line, the Mid-America Electric Auto Association was making waves showing off their custom conversions — Volkswagen Beetles, Chevy S-10s, Honda Civics, Pontiac Fieros, and many more formerly gas cars converted to run off batteries. They spread the word at Earth Day Festivals, spoke at forums, and met monthly in parking lots of churches and libraries.
In 2010, they were front page news of the Kansas City Star, citing members that “envisioned electric cars cruising the streets — clean, quiet and powered by electricity that costs a few pennies per mile.” There were no public charging stations at that point, but the scrappy startup of drivers found ways to charge up on the go, such as plugging into the bases of outdoor light poles outside gas stations. But if electric vehicles were to go mainstream, there was a dilemma to be solved — which comes first, the electric vehicles or the charging stations? Someone had to take a leap forward to kickstart a cleaner future for our personal transportation.
On January 26, 2015, a crowd gathered in downtown Kansas City to hear the answer to this conundrum: an electric utility should take a leadership role in developing charging station infrastructure. KCP&L was about to announce the launch of a program that placed more than 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the area — it would be the largest EV charging station installation by a power company in the United States. At that quantity, the Clean Charge Network could support more than 10,000 electric vehicles.
2016: If You Build It, They Will Come
One year in, sightings of electric vehicles were quickly spreading across social media and in everyday conversation. Early adoption drivers could hardly run an errand without being stopped in the parking lot to ask questions about this curious new opportunity: the idea of fueling up — not at a gas station — but at grocery stores, local parks, places of work and their own garages.
Even though the Clean Charge Network was only partially built out, a seismic shift had begun. With this new spotlight be shone on electric vehicles, a new challenge presented itself: demystifying the idea of driving electric. Myths about electric cars were still rampant. Awareness of available models, battery ranges, fuel costs, and like-topics needed to be addressed.
What was found to be the most valuable tool in the effort to address naysayers and uptick adoption? Extensive support from the EV community — volunteering at events, sharing their experiences on social media and even offering up rides in their personal vehicles. Electric vehicle drivers were spreading the EV message.
2017: Number One in the Nation
By the two-year mark, the metropolitan area had experienced a 95 percent increase in electric vehicle adoption, topping the nation in growth and outpacing every other city in the nation. In addition, Kansas City was awarded number one in driver and charging station growth by ChargePoint, a key manufacturer of EV charging stations. News outlets both local and national were telling the story of the midwestern hot spot for electric vehicles.
Incentive programs, such as a deal offered by Nissan for $10,000 off the LEAF, had helped those car models sell like hotcakes. Manufacturers of electric vehicles were now paying attention to the Kansas City market. Combined with consumer education initiatives about federal tax incentives, the adoption of an EV was now financially attractive.
The Clean Charge Network had started investing in people, and it paid off. Social events fostered fellowship and community building. EV-forward swag, such as t-shirts, allowed those registered with the network to wear their passion on their sleeve. And tools like EV etiquette kits put the power of evangelism into every driver’s hands. Attendance at events started rapidly increasing, demonstrating the power of an empowered group of advocates.
2018: A Leader in EV Education
After a third anniversary and completion of the network, utilities around the country had followed the example our region had set by planning charging infrastructure investments in their communities. Many of these same utilities reached out to the Clean Charge Network for best practices, both in the successful deployment of charging infrastructure and in encouraging EV adoption.
Part of this success was due to a renewed focus on consumer education, positioning the Clean Charge Network as a trusted provider of information about electric vehicles. CleanChargeNetwork.com had become a hub were online visitors could get a full picture of the idea of driving electric and gain information about available models and where to find one.
Social media ad campaigns tackled myths about electric cars head-on and digital ads at places like Kauffman Stadium made driving electric high profile. Investment in the magnifying the stories of local EV drivers ramped up, including television commercials featuring interviews that demystified the experience of electric driving.
With the help of local EV advocate groups on Facebook, such as the Kansas City EV and Plug-In Vehicle Enthusiasts and the Tesla Enthusiasts, awareness widened its spread on social media and myths about electric vehicles were addressed head-on.
2019: Expanding the Network
After four years, adoption in the metro remained steady. Growth in our area settled to an average of 50 percent. Serendipitously, the merger of KCP&L and Westar Energy had started a new chapter for the Evergy Clean Charge Network. It was time for expansion. The addition of Wichita, Topeka, and middle Kansas provided the opportunity for the network to cover a good portion of Kansas and Missouri.
As 2019 came to a close, we now have almost 5,000 electric vehicles on the streets and highways of the metropolitan area, a huge increase in growth within half a decade. Since day one, the Clean Charge Network has prevented more than 1,890,161 metric tons of emissions, powered 100 percent by renewable energy. Ports in the network average a total of over 160,000 charging sessions per year, and 29 percent of those ports still available free of charge.
2020: The Age of EVs has Arrived
Five years since the birth of the Clean Charge Network, we now see the beginning of an era where the electric vehicle is commonplace. New battery technology has eliminated the concern of range anxiety, diversity of sizes and styles are ensuring that there is an EV for every lifestyle, and the price gap between electric cars and gas cars has equalized.
Where do we go from here? Let’s look at two ways that you, the EV community, can help our region get to the next level:
Model Availability: A 2019 report from the International Council on Clean Transportation named Kansas City as a region that is poised for market growth, with relatively high charging infrastructure per capita, but citing low model availability. Help diversify the variety of available electric vehicles, as well as increase the number stocked on car lots, by contacting your dealerships and asking for them.
Test Drives: The Clean Charge Network has found that one of the best ways to increase awareness and adoption of electric vehicles is to get more people to take one for a spin. If you own an EV, consider offering a test drive to friends, family, and neighbors. We both know they will fall in love once they get behind the wheel. As for our part, The Clean Charge Network will be offering an increased number of Electric Car Test Drives this year at Evergy Connect, as well as large scale test drive events during the year.