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Beam Global’s solar off-grid EV charging stations offer major cost advantages

At first glance, the main advantage of the EV ARC, a solar-powered off-grid charging station made by Beam Global, is its portability—the unit is transported on a custom-made trailer, and can be set up in as little as a few minutes. However, while the system would certainly be handy for events, disaster relief and other temporary applications, it turns out that it can also deliver multiple benefits—and major cost savings—in permanent installations.

Above: A Beam Global solar-powered EV charger. (Image: Beam)

Installing public chargers often involves site preparation, trenching, upgrading utility service, permitting and regulatory approvals...the list goes on and on. Dealing with these requirements can end up costing more than the price of the hardware, and can cause delays of months or even years. The EV ARC neatly sidesteps all these hassles, and once it’s installed, it provides energy at no marginal cost, almost as a bonus.

Charged recently spoke with Beam Global CEO Desmond Wheatley, and the Q&A feature is well worth reading in its entirety. Here are a few of the highlights of our interview.

Charged: The more I read about your company, the more I’m struck by the many different applications and use cases.

Desmond: With a couple of beers and a couple of hours, we could literally write a list two or three hundred items long.

Charged: For example, one of your customers has a site where they’re not allowed to do any digging because of hazardous waste. I would never have thought of that.

Desmond: I built lots stuff in my lifetime, and there have been some instances where I was unfortunate enough to encounter subterranean hazardous materials. And the thing is, you end up owning it. In California, you end up having to clean, do remediation, and take all the spoils to Kettleman City [the site of a hazardous waste facility]. And that could be an end-of-project type of deal.

But the thing is, we knew that they would need EV charging in these types of environments—brownfield sites, nuclear waste sites. And frankly, at just about every airport in the country, you do not want to be digging up the asphalt, because most of the airports were built back in the twenties and thirties when the way you dealt with hazardous materials was to bury them under the concrete. So, the fact that we are able to deploy without digging for foundations or trenching or anything else means that we’re an ideal solution for those types of environments.

Many airports across the country will have a whole host of reasons why they do not want to get into that type of construction project. One of those would be the potential for encountering hazardous materials, but there are many others. Of the 20,000-odd airports that there are in the US, about 15,000 of them are the smaller general aviation airfields, and they simply do not have sufficient electrical circuitry to provide charging for terrestrial electric vehicles, far less for the wave of electric aviation that’s coming.

Charged: I understand you have over a hundred US municipalities as customers. How does the EV ARC help them set up their fleet charging?

Desmond: In New York City, the police department, animal welfare, you name it—every department that the city has, they’re now moving to electric vehicles, and they need charging infrastructure. In New York City, it takes an average of 24 months to put a grid-tied charger in the ground, by the time you go through environmental impact, permits, electrical work, everything. We do the same thing in less than one hour.

Beyond that, of course, in New York, like many other jurisdictions, there is a lack of capacity on the utility grid. This is why in August, when everybody turns up their air conditioning, ConEd turns the power off, because they do not have enough electricity to cover the current base load. As you electrify transportation, that problem’s going to become much more acute. Our products, of course, don’t require the grid, and therefore we’re able to deploy in New York without having capacity problems.

Charged: So, the reason for choosing the EV ARC instead of a grid-tied charger is because it can be installed so much quicker and easier.

Desmond: You’re absolutely right. The rapidity, the ability to deploy the infrastructure when you want it, not two years later when you’ve gone through planning and had the utility and everybody on board. That is absolutely huge. Many of our customers today, and this is increasingly the case, are taking possession of electric vehicles and they don’t have EV charging infrastructure. So they’ve got a lot of urgency. And because people have never done this before, they don’t understand that it’s going to take them a very long time to go through the permitting and construction and electrical work. We solve that problem for them because we can provide charging for them immediately. There’s a lower total cost of ownership too, and that’s driven by the avoided costs associated with construction and electrical work.

We have hundreds and hundreds of locations deployed, and in almost every instance, the avoided cost of construction and electric work is greater than the cost of our product. So from -day one, you get [savings], because you didn’t spend money digging trenches and pouring concrete and doing all that sort of stuff. And then of course you get a lifetime of free energy. If you avoid the cost of construction and electric work, you don’t even need to amortize the equipment anymore, and your cost of energy is zero. Think about that. Now you’re putting fuel into your fleet vehicles as a zero unit. That’s the first time that’s ever happened since horses, when the unit of energy was blades of grass, and even that wasn’t always free.

Even though EVs are more efficient, there’s nowhere near enough power on the grid. But it’s not just at the grid level, it is also at the substation level and even at the lot level. We have customers, for example, who have already installed grid-tied EV chargers, then more EVs come to their sites, so they need to put more chargers in. And...the contractor says, “We can’t do it, because you’ve already used up all your available circuit capacity on that site.”

So then that customer is faced with either an incredibly expensive circuit upgrade—transformers, everything else, if that’s even possible. Or they’re going to go to the utility to upgrade at the substation. And of course, that only works until all the substations have too much capacity. So there’s a whole bunch of capacity reasons customers come to us. They don’t have to worry about any of that. There’s no planning, no permission. It’s like Lego—if you want more, just add more blocks.

Charged: What’s the price of one EV ARC?

Desmond: They start at $59,400. And remember that’s an all-in price, no construction, no permit process, and you’ll never get a utility bill. The average selling price is probably about $65,000. And the difference is that we put differing levels of battery storage in the products depending on what the customer’s needs are. Some customers need more battery storage than others.

So, let’s say average selling price is $65,000. And in almost every instance where we’ve deployed across the US and even a little bit internationally, that was less than the cost of trenching, concrete work, planning, permitting, electrical infrastructure and everything else that would’ve been required to put the chargers where we were deployed. And then the unit of energy thereafter is zero.

Charged: Tell me about disaster relief, because we just had a big hurricane here in Florida. I was down in Lee County a while ago, trying to help out. I understand that you have three EV ARCs deployed in Florida right now.

Desmond: Yes. The fact is, whether we like it or not, these types of events are becoming more frequent and more severe, so we made some significant improvements to the EV ARC over the last couple of years. Previously, our electronics and our battery storage were mounted at ground level in an enclosure, which is common in the industry. We have migrated all of that into the canopy, which tracks and follows the sun, so now anything that matters on the EV ARC is 9.5 feet above grade. We can survive an inundation of 9.5 feet without any ill effects to the product at all.

Furthermore, the product is currently independently rated for 125 mph wind speeds, and we’ll soon be rated for 150. But here’s the good news: We were in the Caribbean for Irma and Maria, and our products in those storms survived Category 5, 185 mph winds. It’s fantastically robust.

In disasters, the first thing you lose is grid power. We also have emergency power panels built into the units and those are also 10 feet above grade. So first responders, EMS, police can come and connect life-saving equipment to that emergency power panel—not just charge their vehicles, but also take power off the units to do other things like running ventilation, medical equipment, radios and other things.


This is a condensed version of an article that originally appeared in Charged. Author: Charles Morris.