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Solar Grove Planned for SDG&E’s Energy Innovation Center

ENVISION SOLAR INTERNATIONAL INC.

CEO: Desmond Wheatley.

Revenue: $347,447 in 2010; $968,668 in 2009.

Net loss: $2.4 million in 2010; $4.3 million in 2009.

No. of local employees: 10.

Headquarters: Kearny Mesa.

Year founded: 2006.

Stock symbol and exchange: EVSI on OTC Bulletin Board.

Company description: Designs and develops turnkey solar ‘trees’ that generate electricity while shading parking lots.

Key factors for success: Founded by an architect, the company has a strong emphasis on aesthetics. Its goal is to produce clean energy and beautify parking lots.

Envision Solar International Inc., a San Diego-based company that creates solar-panel “trees” that shade parking lots while generating clean electricity, is building a grove of its mechanical structures outside of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s new Energy Innovation Center in Clairemont.

The project, estimated at about $1 million, will be the company’s first grove of EnvisionTrak trees, which silently rotate in unison throughout the day to capture the sun’s rays.

“When you arrive at the parking lot it will look one way, and when you come back it will look different,” said Desmond Wheatley, who in August stepped into the CEO role, replacing environmental architect Robert Noble, who founded the company in 2006 and now serves as chairman. “It’s just beautiful to look at.”

The trees also are equipped with as many as six universal sockets to charge electric vehicles and a battery storage system that ensures the trees have power for EV charging long after the sun has set. Envision filed for a U.S. patent for the product in June.

Prior to this contract, publicly held Envision had sold single EnvisionTrak trees, but never a cluster of them. All of the company’s existing parking lot “groves” are comprised of stationary structures that slant toward the sun at a 15-degree angle but do not move. Some of its stationary arrays can be found locally at parking structures on the UC San Diego campus and at the employee parking lot at Japan-based Kyocera Corp.’s North American headquarters on Balboa Avenue in San Diego. The latter was an early project for Envision, incorporating photovoltaic panels from Kyocera’s solar division.

Showcasing the Equipment

For Envision, the deal is significant not just because it represents $1 million in sales — important for a company that’s seeking to reverse years of net losses and satisfy investors — but also because its equipment will be in use at a “showcase” type of environment, Wheatley said.

SDG&E’s Energy Innovation Center, which opened in August at 4760 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., is expected to draw an estimated 30,000 people per year for seminars, commercial cooking demonstrations, green job certification programs and other events, according to Brandi Turner, community engagement manager for the center.

SDG&E hopes to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate, the highest level of certification for energy-efficient buildings. The parking lot solar grove should be completed in late December, in time for the center’s grand opening and dedication ceremony in January 2012.

“Experience tells us that being vetted and then selected by a utility means opportunities for growth beyond the initial deployment and increased likelihood of projects with their peers,” Wheatley said.

Contract in the Works

Envision also is working on a contract to provide a grove of 15 trees to an undisclosed “major government customer” in San Diego during the fourth quarter, and it was selected by Detroit-based General Motors Co. to provide solar trees for dealerships across the country, Wheatley said. The latter project, which could entail 100 or more trees, kicks off Nov. 16 with a groundbreaking in Warren, Mich.

Each tree sells for about $150,000.

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