Salisbury Family Powers Car with Solar Rays

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

By Juanita Teschner
Ken and Kathryn Clifton of Salisbury are sold on electric cars and solar power.
That combination allows them to run their new Nissan Leaf with sunshine. “If we were buying the electricity to run the car, it would be between 2 and 3 cents a mile,” Ken Clifton says. “That would mean we could go 250 miles and it would cost us $5.00.”
But savings on fuel was not the only reason Clifton decided to purchase an electric car. Actually, make that two electric cars. His wife commandeered the first so he ordered a second Nissan Leaf, which is scheduled to arrive in January.
He and Kathryn, who graduated from Catawba College with a degree in environmental science, know that the Charlotte-Salisbury-Gastonia metropolitan area is ranked 10th worst in the nation for ozone pollution so they wanted to get a non-polluting vehicle. 
“I don’t think there’s anything we do on the planet that’s worse than a car,” Clifton says. “It’s so resource intensive. You’ve got oil to change, oil filters, air filters, spark plugs, wires, belts, hoses, antifreeze. It’s this hole that you keep throwing money down.”
When he and Kathryn were considering an electric car over a gas-powered vehicle, he asked her, “When was the last time we had to do something to the electric washing machine?”  Since they were still using a washing machine bought by his grandparents in the 1970s, he knew that would be a selling point.
The owner’s manual for the Leaf noted that the only thing the electric car requires between 0 and 98,000 miles is to measure the brake pads, rotate the tires and check the cabin air filter.
Granted, electric cars require charging stations, but the Cliftons took advantage of Duke Energy’s pilot program to install a charging station for free. Had they paid for it themselves, it would have cost $2,700.
Their 24 solar panels made the deal even sweeter.  “We make our electricity for the whole house,” Clifton says. By using net metering, they send any electricity they don’t use back to Duke Energy during the day, making their meter run backward. Then at night, they use the stored energy.
The day they brought the car home, they plugged it into the charging station. “The house was drawing 600 watts of electricity, the car was drawing 3,700 watts of electricity and my solar panels were  producing 4,700 watts, so we were running the house, charging the car and still sending power out to other customers here in the neighborhood that are hooked up to Duke Energy,” he says.
Clifton figures that nine-to-10 solar panels would provide enough electricity to power an electric car. A full charge, which takes 3 ˝ hours, lasts about 100 miles.
They got a $7,500 tax credit on the purchase of their car, which Clifton says has “all the bells and whistles,” bringing its cost down to $29,500. A basic model costs $26,000-27,000 with the tax credit.
For Clifton, buying an electric car was a no brainer. “Were we going to buy one that we needed to buy gas for and do all the upkeep on, or were we going to buy one that’s like a toaster that you just plug it up and it works?”
The answer was obvious for Clifton. That’s why a second Nissan Leaf will be sitting in their driveway in January. Says he: “I can hardly wait.”
For graphs on the Cliftons’ solar production and power to charge the car, visit and go to the second article.
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit or