Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations Heading to San Francisco

Article Written By RACHEL BARRON at Solar Energy

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Need to immediately quell the growing tension between your employees as they jockey with their electric vehicles throughout the day for a spot at the company’s one charging station?

Want to forgo the permitting process, trenching and electrical work needed to connect an EV charging station to the grid? Don’t even have a grid nearby to rig up a charging station?

A San Diego-based company has a solution to these modern-day dilemmas. Called the EV ARC, this 9-by-16-foot solar-powered EV charging station is made up of a ballast pad for cars to park on, and a 21.6 kilowatt-hour battery that stores electricity produced from a 2.3-kilowatt solar canopy.

This grid-free charging station can also be towed to a site like a boat on a boat trailer, and deployed in minutes into a standard parking lot space.

Envision Solar, which makes the technology, shared with SolarEnergy.net on Friday that the EV ARC will be participating in a micro-study of sorts to help San Francisco improve its knowledge on the best place to put a charging station within the city.

The study is being made possible by The 11th Hour Project; a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which works in part to boost electric vehicle adoption.

The foundation announced last week that eight projects, one of which includes Envision Solar, would share a $1 million grant.

Envision Solar’s cut of the grant will go toward getting San Francisco three EV ARCs, said Desmond Wheatley, president and CEO of the company.

The plan, according to Wheatley, is to drop the EV ARCs in selected parts of the city and move them about every three months, all the while tracking data, such as usage patterns, length of charging time per vehicle, et cetera.

This will give San Francisco the ability to test and study multiple locations using real data, as opposed to selecting charging station sites based on forecasted or modeled data, Wheatley said.

Enabling the EV ARC to charge electric vehicles completely off-grid is the company’s solar canopy.

Envision Solar isn’t the only one using solar for its charging stations. For example, the Tesla Supercharger network has looked to carport-mounted solar arrays to help feed its high-speed charging stations. BMW has been working on a ground-mounted, wing-like solar charging station. And of course there are those, such as the Ford motor company, who have been experimenting with putting solar on the roof of the car itself.

Historically, the size and number of solar panels have been the determining factor in getting solar-powered EV charging stations to perform relatively on par to grid-tied ones.

That’s why permanent structures supporting multiple solar arrays have been among the most cost-effective way to fill up a charging station with renewable energy.

To get enough renewable energy from an area the size of a single parking space, Envision Solar relies on its solar tracking system. Garnering more power from solar panels on movable mounts programmed to follow the sun is far from new.

But traditional tracking systems tend to follow what Wheatley describes as a swinging motion. “If you swing the solar array in a parking environment, you wind up swinging out to the street, or into the vehicles parked next to you. That’s a litigation [risk],” he said.

To avoid such damage, Wheatley said Envision Solar has designed a tracking system that bows. “It bows to the east, and then it bows south, and then it bows west,” he said, and it does it without leaving the linear alignment of the parking space.

Wheatley also said the EV ARC generates about 16 kilowatt-hours per day, which translates to being able to fully charge one standard electric car, or adding one-fourth charges to multiple electric cars in an urban environment where users tend to connect for shorter stints.

Like many emerging technologies, the EV ARC isn’t cheap. The ones San Francisco are getting cost around $45,000, Wheatley said.

“That’s the total cost,” Wheatley quickly points out, tacking on the fact that the price can drop substantially for customers who can partake in the federal government’s 30 percent solar Investment Tax Credit.

According to Wheatley, Envision Solar has had customers who spent five times the cost of an EV ARC to install grid-tied charging systems due to expenses, like digging up a parking lot, putting in new electric infrastructure, and managing the permitting process.

Despite Wheatley’s zeal for the EV ARC, it could take awhile to assess the market’s desire for the technology. The company is currently moving into its first real production cycle, according to Wheatley.

Whether electric cars get their energy from grid-tied charging stations or the EV ARC, many industry watchers expect the demand for more public charging locations to only grow.

In California, government agencies have been wrestling with getting the infrastructure in place to meet the governor’s executive order of getting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on state’s roadways by 2025. And market research firm Navigant Research is projecting that there will be more than 35 million electric vehicles on roads worldwide by 2022.

EV ARC photo courtesy of Envision Solar.