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San Diego Nets Positive Feedback for Portable EV Chargers

A pilot project that installed a pair of portable charging stations to help power the growing number of zero-emissions vehicles in the city of San Diego's fleet has received positive reviews from city officials.

San Diego, CA
(TNS) — A pilot project that installed a pair of portable charging stations to help power the growing number of zero-emissions vehicles in the city of San Diego's fleet has received positive reviews from city officials.

"This is a very useful tool for fueling our light-duty vehicles," said Casey Smith, director of the city's Department of General Services. "It's portable, there's no upfront construction costs. It's really 'drop and play.' "

The city spent $155,000 last year to acquire two Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Chargers, known as EV ARCs for short.

Made by local cleantech developer Beam Global, each unit operates independently of the electric grid. Overhead, the EV ARC has a dedicated 4.3-kilowatt solar panel that generates its own electricity. On the ground, a 1-inch ballast pad fits into a standard 9-feet-by-8-feet parking space. Five charging ports at the top of the pad can charge any EV model.

Each EV ARC weighs about 10,000 pounds but they are transportable, don't need special permitting and avoid the expense of digging trenches to run power to the unit.

"You've got the upfront costs but you've got no gasoline, no diesel and no electrical bill costs," said Beam Global CEO Desmond Wheatley. "So between avoided construction and avoided utility bills and avoided gasoline and diesel bills, the taxpayer is doing very, very well out of this."

The pilot project was originally scheduled to run for six months last year but city officials extended it to 12 months. "We wanted to make sure we had a full understanding of its capability," said Heather Werner, deputy director of the city's Sustainability and Mobility Department.

One EV ARC has been placed in the City Operations Yard on 20th and B Street near downtown and another sits in the city's Chollas operations facility, east of City Heights.

Of the 4,500 vehicles in the city's fleet, about 450 are hybrids and 28 are all-electric, with five more EVs currently on order. Of the hybrids, 360 are San Diego Police pursuit vehicles.

Putting a dent in the city's fuel costs made up part of the rationale for the investment in the EV ARCs. The other was to meet clean energy requirements established by the city's Climate Action Plan and the California Air Resources Board.

The Climate Action Plan calls for increasing the zero-emission vehicles in the municipal fleet by 90 percent in relation to gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. Overall, the city looks to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half in the same timeframe.

The state's Air Resources Board recently updated its regulations to require all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to achieve zero emissions by 2045 "where feasible."

"We're going to have to convert almost the entire city fleet to electric over a very short period of time," Smith said. "We know we're going to have to invest money to convert and build that infrastructure."

The city's fleet uses a lot of gasoline — the fiscal year 2022 budget anticipates spending $5.5 million and with gas prices recently spiking, the number could soar to more than $9 million in fiscal year 2023. The sticker price on a new EV is higher than gasoline-powered vehicles but the city figures savings on fuel costs will be a net plus.

"If the (city's EVs) are driving between 40 and 50 miles on average per day," Smith said, the EV ARCs can help support their use. "We drove 16,000 miles utilizing sunlight with this pilot project."

Smith said the city intends to buy more EV ARCs but the number depends on the upcoming budget. "We're still working out those details now, but we do know that this is a product that works for us," he said.

Headquartered in Miramar, Beam Global employs a staff of about 90 and manufactures the EV ARCs at a 52,000 square-foot facility. The company has sold the portable charging stations to municipalities that include New York City, recently signed a long-term government contract with the General Services Administration and installed EV ARCs at 19 Marine Corps bases.

"It's a good beginning," Wheatley said of the San Diego pilot project, "but there's a lot left to do."

Beam Global is publicly traded on NASDAQ and Wheatley said the company just wrapped up an all-stock deal to acquire AllCell Technologies, a Chicago-area maker of lithium-ion batteries.

"It's going to mean significant cost savings for us because now we own the batteries so we're not paying margin on top of them and our engineers and their scientists and engineers are now working together to get us better energy storage for even less money," Wheatley said.

© 2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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