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Solar EV Chargers Simplify Installation and Adoption

Removing the installation barriers typical of some electric vehicle charging stations, solar units promise to make the technology more accessible to the general public and government fleets.

by / March 31, 2020
Shutterstock/Matej Kastelic

Electric vehicle charging is not just getting greener; it's getting more mobile as well, and can now be dropped into a parking space in minutes.

Solar-powered, battery charging systems for electric vehicles are popping up from California to North Carolina, driven in part by the declining costs of both solar panels and the storage batteries, but also their extreme portability.

Envision Solar, a San Diego-based company, has developed charging systems to fit within parking lots, allowing cars to park beneath solar panels, which supply electricity to a battery, making the power available for charging, day or night.

“We have developed a technology solution that replaces that 100-year-old model of digging trenches, pulling wires and connecting to the utility grid,” said Desmond Wheatley, CEO of Envision Solar.

These systems have been deployed in California — one of the latest in a rural area in the northern part of the state — as well as other states like North Carolina. The city of Charlotte recently announced the purchase of four of the chargers to be made available to both the public as well as city fleets.

“The EV ARC units will ultimately be deployed to various locations dependent upon the city’s need,” said Steven Gucciardi, project manager for Charlotte. “Most of the units will serve dual purposes: support the growing city fleet of EVs while remaining accessible to the public.

“The Office of Sustainability will be deploying at least one of the units for educational outreach,” he added.

Wherever the charging devices are deployed, said Gucciardi, “they will be available for public use and can be found by EV drivers on a variety of phone-based apps.”

Envision Solar EV chargers can cost about $60,000 each. Tax credits and other incentives can bring the price down about 40 percent, said Wheatley. The cost for the four units in Charlotte totaled $345,147, which was shared by the city and the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center.

The charging stations help to advance the city’s Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) and “provide the roadmap for Charlotte to become a low-carbon city by 2050, aligning with the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Gucciardi. Charlotte hopes to have all of its city fleet and buildings carbon-free by 2030.

Envision Solar has also formed partnerships with Electrify America, and will deploy about 30 units across the Central Valley in California.

The solar-powered EV systems are touted for their portability, allowing them to be dropped into areas such as disaster zones where grid power has been lost. They can also handle up to 9.5 feet of water submersion, making them attractive to hurricane and flood zones around the nation’s coasts.

But the lack of construction costs remains a significant motivator for companies wanting workplace charging or government agencies interested in growing their fleet vehicle charging, said Wheatley.

“And then, once you’ve done all of that, you get a utility bill,” he added. “And if there’s a black-out or a brown-out, your car’s not going anywhere.”

Over the course of the unit’s life, it can generate some $40,000 to $80,000 worth of electricity, said Wheatley. “The real savings come in the initial avoided construction costs.”

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Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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