KANSAS CITY, Missouri — There are only 900 electric cars registered in the Kansas City metropolitan area, but by the end of this summer there could be more than 1,000 publicly available EV charging stations to serve them.
In hopes of growing its own business, the Kansas City Power and Light Co. is betting that sales of electricity-consuming EVs and plug-in hybrids will grow substantially in the region if potential customers see that there is a rich charging environment.
The strategy, which includes asking regulators in Kansas and Missouri to let the utility company pass the $20 million cost through to its customers, marks the first time a major investor-owned utility has entered the EV charging business in such a big way, although smaller utility-owned networks have been established in Texas and a few other states.
Regulators in California — which has the nation's largest plug-in vehicle population and about 2,000 public charging stations — only recently granted approval for that state's utilities to sell and install EV chargers directly.
Kansas City Power and Light, which serves western Missouri and eastern Kansas, is partnering with Nissan, builder of the Leaf EV, and California-based charging systems provider ChargePoint.
Nissan said earlier this week that it will fund 1,100 new Level 3 "quick charge" stations in 25 U.S. markets with high EV sales or strong potential. While the Kansas City program is separate, 16 of its chargers will be funded by Nissan.
The automaker said the Kansas City quick chargers will have both the SAE "combo" charging coupler used by European and American plug-in-vehicles and the CHAdeMo coupler used by the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars.
The utility will buy all 1,001 chargers from ChargePoint, which will manage the system.
The utility is gambling that its approach will answer the "chicken-or-egg" conundrum as it applies to the EV world by showing that the "egg," or EV fueling infrastructure, needs to come first for a healthy crop of EVs to develop.
Rather than stringing the chargers out in ones and twos to cover 500 or more locations, as has been the norm with public charging, the utility plans to clump them into just 225 locations, each with three to five chargers. Each charger will be capable of handling two vehicles at once.
Most of the stations will installed at malls and restaurants and will provide 240-volt, Level 2 chargers capable of providing "top up" recharging while EV drivers shop, eat or attend movies or other entertainment and sporting events.
The charging network will resemble the traditional gas station, with multiple "pumps" capable of handling rush-hour demand even though many will sit idle much of the time.
A utility spokesman said the hope is that "range anxiety" among potential EV buyers will be greatly reduced if they know that so many stations are available and that they likely won't have to wait in line if they need to charge while on trips.
The utility believes its network, capable of serving a population of up to 10,000 plug-in vehicles, will drive significant EV sales in the metropolitan Kansas City area.
Use of the chargers will be free to EV drivers through the first two years of the program, a utility spokesman said. The cost of building and maintaining the network should add $1 to $2 to the average monthly electricity bill in the area, the utility company told regulators.
And while KC Power and Light has been heavily dependent on coal-fired generation, which greatly reduces the environmental benefit of EVs, it has been stepping up its use of renewable wind power and recently announced it will retire six of its coal-burning generation plants.
The utility sees the EV charger network as part of an overall energy efficiency program that will enable it years to come to take advantage of the ability of EVs to put power back into the grid during times of peak demand. Additionally, the utility will be able to control the flow of power to the charging stations it operates, limiting their use when overall demand for power in the region begins approaching the limits of supply.
Edmunds says: Plug-in-vehile drivers — present and future — can only benefit when more alternative fueling networks are put into play; and it's nice to see attention being paid to the day when more than one EV at a time will need to charge at an individual station.