San Diego, CA
Industry: Energy & Environment
Products: Solar Chargers and Power Systems
Desmond Wheatley’s pivot to Solar 3.0 taps the growing market to power services and amenities, including autonomous e-vehicle charging stations.
Envision Solar is inventing, designing, and manufacturing the future of power generation for vehicles and buildings. Unlike much of the installed solar market, Envision Solar’s products are capturing the sun’s rays to meet the power needs for both stationary and mobile applications.
President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board Desmond Wheatley initially came to Envision Solar as a consultant to assist with taking the company public. In 2011 he took the reins of the business and changed its focus. The company’s original work was architectural designing of solar power parking shade structures, but Wheatley had ideas for a bigger, better goal. "We immediately set about transitioning to become a product company, rather than a project’ company," says Wheatley. "We invented, patented, engineered, and now manufacture those products. It’s really a very, very different company now."
Wheatley saw the market becoming too competitive and providing too low of a profit margin.
"We’ve separated ourselves from that. What we do now is bring a great deal of intelligence, innovation, and engineering to what I call Solar 3.0," says Wheatley. "It’s sort of the evolution of solar. The first part being simply making it work, the second is getting it somewhere near grid parity so that you can get the power at somewhere near or cheaper than a utility. Solar 3.0 is much more interesting. It’s about using solar, locally generated, to enable services and amenities that would otherwise be either too expensive, or too technically difficult or impossible to provide." He points out that to get sufficient power to a remote location, or even across a parking lot to charge electric vehicles, can be prohibitively expensive in terms of digging trenches, laying lines, and in the time and difficulty of the permitting process. Envision Solar’s products do away with all those concerns.
The largest part of the company’s business is the unique EV ARC, the Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger. "The most important part of that is the autonomous," says Wheatley. "It’s not connected to anything, not even the ground." The EV ARC basically consists of a solar array on a stand that’s attached to a parking space-sized platform. An electric vehicle is driven onto it and parked. It can be deployed literally in a matter of minutes, and needs no external wiring or connections.
For larger applications, the company’s Solar Tree uses a 35 x35-foot solar array atop a single post to shade six to eight parking spaces and provides enough energy to charge several EVs or power six homes. Both products use batteries to store the power they generate for use at night and in inclement weather. They also use a patented tracking system that tilts the solar array to make the best use of the sun’s rays, giving up to a twenty-five percent increase in efficiency over fixed panels. An important and major cost offset available to customers is the incorporation of digital advertising message boards on the charging units. These allow for the generation of revenue, in addition to the generation of electricity.
Envision further focuses on energy security when outages could not only cause inconvenience, but also threaten lives. "We’re not a typical solar company, and our sales pitch is not about selling you a kilowatt hour cheaper than a utility can," says Wheatley. "But we definitely are selling you a kilowatt hour that will be there for you during a blackout, brownout or some other type of grid failure. It’s a hyper-reliable, secure source of power, even during disasters like hurricanes and that sort of thing." In fact, the company received news of their products continuing to operate normally in the Virgin Islands through recent hurricanes that caused so much devastation to the region’s infrastructure.
The company requires a workforce with a variety of skills and backgrounds in order to take their ideas from concept to completion. Despite the specialized nature of the finished product, the knowledge needed in the manufacturing processes is easily translatable from other industries. "We won’t take no for an answer," says Wheatley. "We will punch way above our weight in every circumstance. We encourage it, we love it, and you’ve got to be like that if you’re going to work here."
Although, the company pursues a worldwide market, it sources as much of its raw materials from the United States as possible. "You can find reliable quality here, in a way that you can’t necessarily find everywhere else, and it’s very important to us to make the very highest quality products in the industry," says Wheatley. "We spend more on our Bill of Goods, so that we avoid spending money on service and maintenance in the future."
Challenges: Large increases in size are necessary in the future for the company to meet the worldwide demand for its products. Envision Solar has been able to put in place a loan for working capital that is allowing them to begin that expansion.
Opportunities: An almost unlimited potential market for their products means continued growth.
Needs: Finding the right people to allow Envision to continue to produce the innovation and quality that they’ve become known for.