Desmond Wheatley’s company pushes the future with solar-powered electrical vehicle charger
This past summer, history was made with Envision Solar’s sun-powered EV ARC™s being installed for the first time on a U.S. highway.
“It’s the absolute responsibility of every human to do something about the way they use transport.”
“This is America, the land of innovation and ‘yes’—not thousand-year-old trenching techniques.”
BY ALYSON DUTCH
Since the dawn of time, invention has been the rocket fuel that propels mankind to the future. As Calvin Coolidge quipped: “privilege will not, education will not, but tenacity will.” It’s been a combination of need, unbridled curiosity and hardship that have manifested so much—from the discovery of fire to the powerful computers carried in our pockets.
Human invention has gone through many cycles, from utilitarian to industrial and now the computer age. But now we have reached a time when our inventiveness and human population are outgrowing Earth’s ability to support our survival.
Some forecasters say that if we don’t change the way we live our highly urbanized lives, the Southern Hemisphere will be uninhabitable in 40 years. Given that the global population is predicted to grow from the current 7.2 billion to 8.1 billion by 2025, we won’t have enough land to farm animals for food. Will there be enough room in Russia and Canada to house a globe full of denizens? Enough land to survive rising seas? Will we have enough fossil fuels to power air conditioning under an unrelenting sun?
There is good news. A responsible combination of invention and capitalism, supported by governmental policy, will be the solution to get us out of this mess. Pioneers like Desmond Wheatley are at the forefront.
A Scot by birth and now a resident of California for 25 years, Wheatley created the first solar-powered electric vehicle charger, the Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger. It’s manufactured by the company he runs: San Diego-based Envision Solar International.
The EV ARC™ fits inside a parking space and generates enough clean, solar electricity to power up to 225 miles of EV driving daily. The system’s solar electrical generation is enhanced by EnvisionTrak,™ which causes the array to follow the sun. This generates up to 25 percent more electricity than a fixed array.
Because 70 percent of the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet emanate from transportation and the generation of electricity, Wheatley sits in a position of significance.
Though internal combustion engine vehicles are on the wane and most of the world’s automakers have embarked on the electric vehicle transition, fossil fuels are still being used to generate the electricity that charges them–an absurd irony. If EV chargers rely on the grid, the demand for the electricity needed to power them would far outweigh the capacity of the infrastructure.
“It’s the absolute responsibility of every human to do something about the way they use transport,” says the passionate Wheatley, still speaking with a rolling brogue accent. “This is the biggest contributor to the wrecking of our planet, the place we live.”
As the electric vehicle industry prepares to replace the old hydrocarbon technology completely, Wheatley is making it possible to “Drive On Sunshine”—100 percent free, 100 percent renewable, 100 percent sustainable energy. His solution should make a tangible impact we’ll likely witness in our lifetime.
A growing cause
According to the International Energy Agency: “Electric mobility is expanding at a rapid pace. In 2018, the global electric car fleet exceeded 5.1 million, up 2 million from the previous year, which almost doubled the number of new electric car sales.” CNBC has reported that EVs will grow from 3 million to 125 million by 2030.
Currently, China is a leader in the EV industry, but it’s locations such as California that are setting the pace for a rapid market penetration of EVs because of the zero-emission plans being put in place. And there is lots of room for growth. The world is carrying about 1.2 billion cars today, on the way to a projected 2 billion by 2040.
There are, of course, naysayers about the need for alternative energy. This past summer, while history was being made with Wheatley’s sun-powered EV ARCs being installed for the first time on a U.S. highway, the U.S. administration threatened to disallow individual states from setting their own emissions standards in favor of a less stringent (and more polluting) federal standard.
Environmentalism is no longer a cause just for the hard-political left but has moved to a more centrist view. Green tech is no longer a capitalistic stepchild; it’s making money on Wall Street. As the Wall Street Journal reported: “Sustainable investing is already a $12 trillion market in the U.S., according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment; data from BloombergNEF show that global issuance of green bonds rose to $600 billion last year.”
Capitalism, which fuels invention, may be the hero that saves the planet. But if the private sector can’t drive it alone, governmental policy is needed to support it.
Also, per the Wall Street Journal: “’Investors are more than willing to put up the capital to fund green tech provided they get clarity from Congress,’ says Jon Powers, president of financial technology company CleanCapital and former federal chief sustainability officer under President Obama.”
In April, Wheatley’s Envision Solar became a public company on the NASDAQ exchange, a sign that mainstream America is starting to understand that the threats of climate change are not just a pointless obsession of the Left Coast and New York City elitists.
Tireless work ethic
Wheatley’s first business—while in his early 20s— was an attempt to clean up a World War II shipyard that was so beyond repair, it ended in an Environmental Protection Agency shutdown.
The young upstart, the son of a Scottish military man, had scads of verve, no college education and enough cheek to turn the world upside down. He landed on the shores of the United States at 16, a seaman working with the Scottish merchant marine. He toiled to keep ships’ generators running at sea, and in harbor tore the steel monsters apart and put them back together again. Tugboats, cranes and a high mechanical aptitude served as his higher education.
It’s men like this, people with incredibly deep work ethics, who sleep on the floors of their office only four hours a night to move mountains. He says about this time in his life: “I worked my arse off.”
Wheatley’s keen interest in how things work made him an infrastructure specialist who worked on some of the biggest technologies in wireless telecom, energy, drug enforcement and security systems. He always started at the bottom, always ended up running the show. His career adventures ranged from the United States to Europe, Asia and Africa, and hotbeds of innovation and building such as Dubai.
In 2010, Wheatley set his mind to purchase a waste-to-energy company and stumbled upon Envision, which was designing architecturally bespoke solar parking canopies. What started as a consultant project turned into a presidency, reverse merger and complete overhaul of a service company to a scalable product-centric energy solution outfit.
“It took a few years as the EV industry ramped up,” he says with a shrug. “We were early, but we took the risk of building the first solar-powered EV chargers to support what we saw coming.”
The Higgins Boat Factor
Impeccably dressed and lithe, Wheatley sits in his sparse and very functional office in a San Diego industrial park. A poster of Winston Churchill watches over the corner office with dirty windows.
He tells the story of an inventor named Higgins—“an American of Scottish descent,” he laughs knowingly. “He was the inventor of what General ‘Ike’ Eisenhower referred to as ‘the boat that won the war.’”
The mass-produced invention moved troops from ship to shore in a new way: arriving in an armada directly onto the shores of Normandy and the islands in the Pacific—without a harbor. They simply slid onto the sand and opened giant ramped doors, out of which spilled armed troops at the ready.
“Until we came along, EV charging was highly expensive and required disruptive infrastructure to build,” he explains. “You have to spend an incredible amount of time and money on permitting, trenching, pulling wires and pouring concrete.”
During a trip to Google headquarters around 2012, Wheatley hatched what he calls the “Higgins Boat of the war on pollution” in his head. “It had to be mass produced, rapidly deployed and very scalable.” The City of New York takes an average of 24 months to install EV chargers, which are tied to the grid. Envision’s products do the same thing in as little as four minutes and are charged by the sun.
“No one but us has the ‘Higgins Boat of EV,’ where you can just show up with a unit, deploy it and have it operating in four minutes.” And, he adds with a twinkle of his eye: “Unlike children’s toys at Christmas, our products show up with full batteries.”
Having Google as a first customer is the American dream tale. “They had invested in EV technology, but they needed infrastructure that would be rapidly deployed and scalable for their very mobile workforce,” he explains.
Google had a new product think tank, where it would take prototypes, use them and provide entrepreneurial feedback. Until that time, Envision was installing grid-tied infrastructure. One of its customers, the City of Boulder, Colorado, had just been quoted $300,000 on trenching alone to install EV chargers, and as a result said no to the project.
Wheatley said to himself while sitting in that Menlo Park, California, meeting, “This is America, the land of innovation and ‘yes’—not thousand-year-old trenching techniques.” He then walked across the room to a white board and drew the standalone, solar-powered EV charging unit.
He calls it “The Mule,” (a prototype that doesn’t yet work). It was the first EV ARC and Wheatley still has the hand drawing, which served as the basic blueprint of the operational units. He rolls his eyes thinking about how long it took to get the drawing to be something completely functional, but Google bought the units and uses them to this day.
Our EV future
Envision’s value proposition is simple: Keep the fleet running with scalable products that don’t require construction or the grid. Wheatley continues about other uses for the EV ARC.
“Grid-tied chargers are as useless as boat anchors when the power goes down. We provide a sun-powered source of energy for transport and emergency power for first responders. We know where the sun is going to be every morning for the next 5 billion years. If that’s not energy security, I don’t know what is.
“An EV ARC may not have saved a life yet—but it will,” he says with a smile.
Though the installation of Wheatley’s EV ARCs on the California U.S. Highway 101 (thanks to the foresight of the Monterey Bay Air Quality District and Caltrans) marks a page in history to enable the public to “Drive On Sunshine,” it’s not completely new.
Since early in the decade, Wheatley’s inventions have been heavily embraced by private sector corporations such as Google, Dell, McDonald’s, HGTV and General Motors. Ninety municipalities in 20 states and four nations are using them to power their vehicle fleets. The eighth-largest city in the world, New York City, uses Wheatley’s chargers for the first electric vehicles in its 36,000 municipal vehicle fleet, which dwarfs the total vehicle count in some countries. New York will electrify all of them.
“You just can’t keep saying that you want to drive your Porsche because you love them,” Wheatley says with a crinkle of his brow. “It’s just irresponsible and selfish.”
Among the oddities of oddities, Porsche is one of the automakers that is making an EV version—along with the most popular American vehicle of all time, the Ford F-150 pickup truck.
For those who have never driven an EV, it’s time to be educated and very surprised by what they can do.
This writer happens to be one of those Porsche fanatics who, the first time I rode in a Tesla, was gobsmacked by the giddy-up and speed of this car. Even more recently, I was thrilled to drive Wheatley’s Chevrolet Bolt. It was an experience that is making even this car aficionado think again and maybe pony up for that Porsche EV.
Occupation: President, CEO, chairman of Envision Solar, International
Home: San Diego
Family: Wife, 2 children
Favorite invention: Saturn V launch vehicle
Favorite books: “The Second World War,” Winston Churchill; “Brideshead Revisited,” Evelyn Waugh
Favorite movie: “Local Hero”
Hobbies: Open water swimming, running