If every day is Earth Day then every day is an EV (electric vehicle) day in Dane County.
Indeed, Dane County is home to more EVs than any other county in Wisconsin. And the local array of EVs were on full display at the Second Annual Earth Day EV Parade in Madison on April 22, 2021.
More than 50 vehicles participated in the parade. There were Teslas and Nissan Leafs and Chevy Bolts—the EVs most common in our area—as well as a Ford Mach E Mustang, a Jaguar, several Audis, a Hyundai Kona and several Volkswagen ID.4 vehicles. There was even a very-rare all-electric Toyota (only a few thousand of those made, I’m told). And there was an all-electric Harley Davidson motorcycle too.
Owners and vehicles gathered at Brittingham Park just west of downtown Madison. The parade route took participants east, past the various new developments on East Washington and back through campus with a final circle around the Capitol Square.
During the pre-parade gathering at the park, EV owners talked about their experiences driving EVs.
One car enthusiast told me it was the quietest auto show he had ever attended.
One couple said that after 14 months of owning a Bolt, they rarely drive their gas-fueled car at all anymore. “It just feels loud and dirty compared to the Bolt,” one of them said. I hear this a lot and have experienced it myself. With no internal combustion engine the EV is smooth and quiet; there are no fumes and no oil to leak onto the garage floor.
Several drivers said that they were already on their second EV—that they bought or leased an early model and have now upgraded to one of the newer options. An AAA study reported that 96% of EV owners say that they will buy another EV. I compare this to smart phones—after you own a smart phone it is impossible to imagine going back to a flip phone (remember texting with the number pad?). Once you have experienced the benefits of an electric vehicle, gas engines have little or no appeal. This is the case at our house—we bought a used Nissan Leaf in 2017 because it was a low cost way to dip our toes into driving an EV. We loved the Leaf so much we eliminated our other gas car entirely and now, in the days since the parade, we sold the Leaf and bought a new VW ID4. When we started talking about replacing the Leaf we did not even consider gas-fueled cars (in the EV world we call them internal combustion engine or ICE vehicles).
Drivers also traded some tips. Most EV owners charge their vehicles at home; experts estimate that upwards of 80% of all charging occurs at home. So folks chatted about whether they trickle charged by using an existing outlet or if they had installed a charging station. (Either works, the latter is faster than the former so what is best for you depends on your driving patterns.) And there was talk about the apps that are useful for charging away from home. Several folks shared my enthusiasm for the crowd-sourced app, PlugShare, which I find to be quite reliable.
There was not, though, a lot of conversation about charging anxiety. While non-EV owners tend to focus on charging and range, EV owners are focused on the benefits of an EV, largely because they quickly figured out a charging protocol that fits their needs. (In our case, we trickle charge in the garage overnight, just like we charge our phones overnight. That works just fine for us since most of our driving is local.) So while I did not hear EV owners fretting about where to charge, I did hear one EV owner say “How much is gas now, anyway? I don’t even look at the stations anymore and definitely I don’t miss stopping for gas.”
Attendees also included salespeople from local car dealerships, showcasing some of the new models available. The selection of EVs is growing fast so it was cool to see all those new options. And I was really excited to see so many local dealerships promoting their electric options.
A handful of parade vehicles had signs indicating that their EV was powered by the sun. In most cases that meant the EV owner had a solar energy system or PV array on their home and the system provided electricity to both the house and the EV. Those signs that prompted some conversations about solar energy installations. (If you are thinking about solar and live in Dane County, there are two group buy opportunities available this summer; a group buy provides expert advice and access to competitive system pricing, making it easier for you to get solar!)
Overall, what I heard from owners reinforced my conviction that the more EV owners talk about their experiences the more we will see increases in EV ownership. Enthusiasm is contagious and EV owners are the best ambassadors for an all-electric future.
Carol and Andy Phelps, superstar parade organizers, made sure all drivers had the route map and a special easy-to-see EV vehicle flag designed by staff at Slipstream. The flags helped us stay together and alerted bystanders that something was happening.
In the parade, my EV was about ten cars back from the front. That meant I saw instances where a pedestrian figured out something was going on, that someone noticed that all of the vehicles in the road were electric. It was fun to see—the double take and then, often, a grin and a wave.
At one point on the east side we were slowed by some traffic and I got to reflect on how great it was that the electric vehicle in front of me had no exhaust—that sitting in traffic in an EV parade did not mean breathing fumes.
Because we were a parade, driving at or below speed limits, there was a lot of eco-driving. Eco-driving refers to various driving strategies—like avoiding jackrabbit starts and gliding to a stop—that save gas in ICE vehicles and extend range in an EV. My EV’s range at the end of the parade was almost exactly what it had been at the start of the parade—because I’d been braking and coasting in a way that regenerated the battery while driving. Noticing that gave me a particularly warm EV driver sense of satisfaction.
At the end of the parade drivers turned in their EV parade flags (we will re-use those of course) and departed the park. Folks were all smiles at that point—thanking us for the opportunity to participate. I tried to thank as many people as possible, reminding them that they are leaders in our efforts to electrify everything.
It is awesome to work on climate change in a place like Dane County, Wisconsin where there are hundreds of people leading on climate action. Every parade participant made a difference that day, helping us to increase public awareness of EVs, helping to spread the word that:
I am hopeful that parade participants will continue to influence others by sharing their EV experiences with family and friends on a regular basis.
I am also really grateful for our partners on this effort. Staff at RENEW Wisconsin and Slipstream were instrumental in organizing the parade and capturing photos and videos at the event. None of this would have been possible, though, without Carol and Andy Phelps. Carol organized the first Earth Day EV Parade last year so she was the first one I spoke with about a parade this year. And, from that first conversation, Carol worked with Andy to make things happen. She recruited participants, created t-shirts, ordered signage including the vehicle flags, provided decorating materials and thought through all of the other logistics including activities for children pre-parade! The Phelps did all of this because they care about climate issues and want others to join them in taking action and I am truly grateful to be able to collaborate with rockstars like them.
Promoting change in a place like Dane County means that there is momentum to build on. I recognized a portion of the participants in the parade but I also met lots of new people. I saw other drivers greeting friends and also starting conversations with strangers. We are a community – people who are making change happen, sometimes out of concern for climate change but sometimes just because we love a really well-made, fast, clean and quiet vehicle.
Let's do this, Dane County.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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