Every two years, computers dramatically increase in power and decrease in cost. It’s an observation called Moore’s Law, and we’ve seen the trend occur in everything from wearable technology to the increasingly powerful capabilities of our smartphones. For the first time, we’re seeing something like Moore’s Law in transportation — and its ramifications could change the way we think about electric vehicles (EVs).
Electric vehicle charging stations are already in homes and public spaces, but their presence is as new as the electric vehicle landscape itself. EVs haven’t hit the mainstream — they’re novelties, causing us to stop and stare whenever we see a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf quietly powering along a freeway.
“There needs to be a majority, and in my view, a total change in EV use,” says Desmond Wheatley, CEO of San Diego-based company Envision Solar. “In order to do that, we need a large charging infrastructure.”
Through Envision Solar’s innovative electric vehicle charging stations, Wheatley wants to see EVs fully hit the mainstream — and he wants to do that with the power of the sun.
The Problem With Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
Envision Solar was founded in 2006, an early time in the move to solar and renewable energy. “The value proposition in those days was to create solar shaded parking structures,” Wheatley says, “which are common now, but didn’t exist at the time.”
The company faced a problem: a customer had commissioned Envision Solar for a traditional solar product, but they also wanted electric vehicle chargers included. “In this case, the customer — a city — wanted those chargers in some parks so people could charge while they were there,” Wheatley explains. “The cost of trenching alone was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, so the city said no.”
That level of logistical hassle is a harsh reality of the current state of the electric grid. With the installation of a typical electric vehicle car charger, “you have to find a sufficient electrical circuit to provide meaningful charge. These don’t exist where people park their cars.” In order to create one, Wheatley lays out the obstacles:
“Traditionally, you dig foundation, pour concrete, bolt it down, build through the nearest connection to electrical grid — and when you get there, you’re likely going to have to do switch grade upgrades, and do quite a lot of electrical work. None of that happens without getting electrical permits, building permits … and when you put all that together, you get an immense amount of work to get a single charger, let alone the volumes that we need.”
It’s a cluster of roadblocks, forcing the most successful people in the EV industry to only find true success about 40% of the time. “The other times, they just can’t get the chargers installed because it’s too complicated to do everything I described,” Wheatley says.
“I realized, you know what? We’re never going to get this done in this industry. We need to innovate. We need to come up with a better way of doing this.”
That innovation became the EV ARC (Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger) — a product that sounds almost too good to be true, but is poised to change the EV charging infrastructure for the better.
Fully Autonomous, Completely Mobile EV Charging
The EV ARC looks like an EV throne. It consists of a parking space-sized platform and a solar panel canopy, which is angled to absorb as much sunlight as possible. “Only gravity holds it in place,” Wheatley says. “The EV ARC is delivered fully assembled and fully charged, and it’s dropped in a parking space in a matter of minutes ready to operate.”
It charges at the same rate as any level 2 charger on the market, which can take most EVs from 0 miles to full range in 4 hours. The difference is that the EV ARC is charging with nothing but renewable solar power, which is generated right where it stands.
Aside from the convenience of solar energy, the EV ARC offers a huge benefit: it doesn’t require any permitting, trench-digging, or plugging into the grid. “We can do a mass deployment more or less overnight,” Wheatley explains, and the excitement in his voice is clear. “We can produce 1,000 of them and drop them off all over a city basically overnight, which would take years with the traditional charging route.”
In our interview, I threw a question at Wheatley that always pops up in the solar conversation: is this technology useful for low-sunlight areas?
“95% of EV ARCs that we deploy always produce enough or more energy than is required. With the 5% that is exhausted from use and lack of solar production, a second unit would solve the problem. We achieve 100% efficacy simply by building a second unit in 5% of our locations,” Wheatley says.
“And you know what?” Wheatley adds, then pauses. “That’s pretty damn good. You can’t say that for grid-type stuff.”
The Future Is Bright For Electric Vehicles
We’re just at the beginning of Moore’s Law and electric vehicles — and in terms of future technological advancements, Wheatley says, “I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”
He explains that modern EV passenger vehicles get somewhere between 200 to 300 miles per kWh, but within the next couple of years, EVs will be getting 1.5 times as many miles per kWh — and the charging infrastructure will become 1.5 times as valuable.
“Our products will become 1.5 times more valuable without us investing a cent in them, and in the same time, we are investing in them,” Wheatley says. “The solar models are becoming more productive, the batteries getting cheaper. We’re getting more efficient in the way we produce our products.”
Wheatley has been driving BMWs for as long as he can afford them, but he recognizes that they don’t get radically better year over year. But every five minutes, EVs get more range, and solar becomes more efficient and powerful. At some point, Wheatley believes that the mighty consumer will realize that EVs are simply better. And in the same way that consumers moved away from paper and Kodak, the same thing will happen to electric vehicles. “They’ll realize, ‘That’s a better vehicle. I want it.’”
When that mass consumer adoption happens, Wheatley believes the explosion will be so rapid that nobody will know what to do with themselves — and that’s a good thing.
“This dream that we had, now it’s coming into reality, which is that we cannot just electrify transportation, but also have everyone driving around with locally produced, renewable energy,” he says.