Envision Solar (Envision) is a San Diego-based company that makes solar parking structures that can be used to charge electric vehicles, support outdoor digital advertising, and enhance energy security. What makes Envision’s products unique is that unlike most parking lot solar-powered vehicle charging stations, most of the company’s systems have the ability to track the movement of the sun.
According to Envision’s President and CEO Desmond Wheatley, 90% of Envision’s deployments have tracking capability. Why tracking? He echoed my thoughts exactly: because it’s “cool.”
Also, parking lots are “hyper-restrained” in geography so a solar charger needs to maximize energy density in a very small space. Incorporating tracking helps in that regard.
Envision’s two major product offerings are the Solar Tree® and the EV ARC™. The company owns at least seven U.S. patents and pending applications covering various aspects of the technology in these products.
U.S. Patent No. 7,705,277 (‘277 Patent), issued in 2010, covers Envision’s original design. Entitled “Sun tracking solar panels,” the ‘277 Patent is directed to a system for maximizing solar energy utilization by moving a solar panel to track movement of the sun from sunrise to sunset. Movements of the solar panel are accomplished daily in accordance with a programmed schedule of consecutive cycles.
A subsequent patent issued in early 2014 is directed to a refined design better suited for solar tracking in a parking lot. The system covered by U.S. Patent No. 8,648,551 (‘551 Patent) is significant, Wheatley said, because instead of the tracker causing the solar panel to swing in to the drive aisle, it instead bows.
According to the ‘551 Patent, the rotation of a cylindrical knuckle in the tracking system “allow[s] the solar panel to continuously reorient while maintaining a substantially stationary footprint.”
Wheatley told me the company’s most important intellectual property is that around the features of the EV ARC™.
Wheatley mentioned several advantageous features of the EV Arc. First and foremost is its autonomy, i.e., it is not connected to the utility grid. Some of the structural features are also important, including the ability for the thin base plate to support heavy vehicles and the high-traction material of the base plate, which allows it to remain stationary.
U.S. Patent No. 9,209,648, issued in November 2015, is entitled “Self-contained renewable battery charger” and is directed to a charging system (10) comprising a portable unit (12) that includes a moveable docking pad (16) having a base (18) and compartment (20) for holding a storage battery (18).
The portable unit (12) includes a column (24) having a first end (26) mounted onto the docking pad (16) and a second end (28). A solar array (30) is affixed to the second end (28) of the column (24). The unit has a structural canopy with a beam (32) and cross members (34) attached to the column (24) to support the photovoltaic modules of the solar array (30).
The company also has IP around the mobility and installation of its systems, including a specialized trailer and hydraulic ram, ARC™ Mobility, for transportation and deployment purposes.
Wheatley and Envision are very aware of the importance of patent protection in the U.S. and beyond. The company’s patents, he said, “prevent smaller competitors from copying” their technology. They also might stop larger customers from buying pirated products. In general, a strong IP portfolio increases the company’s value in the investor community.
With investments of about $200 billion on EV charging, the company sees China as an important market and has filed patent applications there. Wheatley told me that Chinese patents allow Envision to bring powerful partners aboard in China to protect the company’s business ventures there.
Envision Solar continues to innovate and isn’t stopping at car charging; they’re working on EV ARC™ eBike and eMotorcycle charging as well. Many more patent applications will certainly follow.