News Article

Plug-in NC Ambassador Spotlight: Ken Clifton

October 1, 2018
By Lindsay Brecheisen

For this Plug-in NC ambassador spotlight, we’ll be talking to Ken Clifton!

Ken is a computer science professor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College where he teaches programming and logic courses. Ken has an extensive list of accomplishments and studies he has conducted in renewable energy and information technology, one being his creation of a solar power production plug-in for WordPress that has been installed at over 118 solar installations in 17 countries. Ken maintains numerous certifications, including earning certificates from North Carolina State University in renewable energy management, photovoltaics (PV), advanced PV and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) credentials. Notably, all of his education was accomplished at night and on the weekends while working full time.

Ken and his wife live on a 38-acre farm outside of Salisbury, North Carolina, with their two daughters. Ken enjoys restoring older John Deere tractors and managing his farm, including his flock of Babydoll Southdown sheep and his 35 14-year-old Hybrid American Chestnut trees that harvested around 3,200 chestnuts last fall.

What kind of electric vehicle (EV) do you drive? Have you incorporated any other types of energy efficiency efforts or renewable energy into your life?

My family is very much into sustainable living. My wife Kathryn and I both drive Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) every day.

We heat our home with biomass energy and use evacuated tube solar thermal to heat our water. We generate about 80 percent of the electricity that we consume using a 10-kW solar electric PV system.

How long have you been driving electric, and what made you decide to make the switch?
Both my wife and I have been driving electric since 2012. We decided to drive electric for so many reasons. Of course, sustainability mattered a lot, and being able to drive on sunshine, but it was more than that. We wanted to pioneer new technology and were part of Duke Energy’s charging station pilot study.

After driving EVs for so many years, I can honestly say they are superior in almost every way. A quiet, vibration-free ride with no transmission shifting and immediate acceleration makes for very rewarding drives – it is really hard to go back to a conventional vehicle.

Did your renewable energy systems influence your decision to buy an EV?
Absolutely. We wanted to use our solar energy, and we also wanted to be able to charge both EVs at the same time.

How did you decide on your Chevrolet Volt PHEVs?
We started out with two Nissan LEAFs, and in fact, my wife had the first LEAF in western North Carolina. After a few years with the LEAFs, both of our jobs changed such that we needed more range than a LEAF could provide at the time, so we both switched to Chevrolet Volts.

Even with the continuously improving technology, many find that PHEVs are a better vehicle for them and their lifestyle. What attracted you to a PHEV over an all-electric vehicle?
Keep in mind that your job or location might change. A PHEV is a very flexible option. You have most of the benefits of an all-electric EV, but you can just get in and drive 500 miles if needed. My Volt has about 54,000 miles on it and over 49,000 of that is all electric.

What’s your favorite thing about driving electric?
The combination of solar PV and EVs is hard to beat. Our first drive back in 2012 was charged on sunshine. We love knowing that our mobility is coming from local sources even when the power comes from the utility.

Have you taken any road trips in your Volt?
One of my favorite trips was from Salisbury to New Bern. I left Salisbury with a full charge, stopped at Campbell University for lunch and recharged using a free public charger there. I then continued to New Bern where I was able to charge many times during the conference at the bed and breakfast’s charger. That made for all-electric driving in New Bern for several days. Then I stopped in Jacksonville on the way back for the evening and charged for free using the Hampton Inn’s chargers. I averaged close to 100 MPG for the 476-mile trip in the Volt.

What types of chargers do you use?
My wife is still charging with the Siemens ChargePoint unit that was part of the Duke Energy pilot over six years ago. I used an AeroVironment Level 2 charger from Nissan for six years until it finally wore out. I am now using a GE WattStation.

Given that you and your wife live a very sustainable life, do you work to advocate for EVs in the community or in your classrooms?
I have taught several classes on going green that devoted quite a bit to EVs, and I have given many presentations over the last six years to various groups, including at EnergyUnited and of course to lots of students. I have also given my students Excel spreadsheet projects to construct so they can see just how much money can be saved by driving an EV. I also contributed as part of the infrastructure working group for Advanced Energy’s 2013 PEV Usage Study.

I bet your students are surprised when they see how much money they could be saving with an EV. How much would you estimate you’re saving?
All totaled, my wife and I have driven a combined total of about 160,000 miles all electric. If you use a 24-MPG conventional car and gas at $2.65 per gallon, that comes up to over $17,000 savings in gas, and of course the electricity cost is covered by solar. That is not even counting the reduced maintenance costs of EVs/PHEVs.

Have you converted others to driving electric?
Quite a few folks in Salisbury adopted EVs. I can’t take credit for all of that, but we have definitely advocated for them.

Having driven an EV since 2012, what’s one thing you think people should know about driving electric?
It is getting better all the time with more choices and longer-range vehicles! So if you have not looked at the EV offerings this year, you might be really surprised – of course, next year has over 15 new EVs and PHEVs slated to be released too.

What’s something you wish you had known before driving electric?
I might have given more consideration to leasing because the technology keeps getting better all the time. A two-year lease might allow you to update your ride quicker.

What has surprised you about driving electric?
EVs require much less maintenance. They are almost like a toaster with wheels – you just don’t have to do very much to keep them going!

Do you have your eye on your next EV yet?
I really like the compact SUV crossovers. I would like to drive the Kia Niro PHEV or EV to see what that is like.

Thank you, Ken Clifton, for being a Plug-in NC ambassador! We truly appreciate your commitment to driving electric! For more information on the Plug-in NC ambassador program, click here.