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U.S. energy grid doesn’t have ‘near enough capacity’ for EVs yet: Beam CEO

Beam Global Chairman, CEO, and President Desmond Wheatley joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss California's ban on gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the energy supply for EVs, and the infrastructure roll out to support electrification.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, officials in California are warning of rolling blackouts as the state braces for an extreme heat wave. Governor Gavin Newsom urging residents there to conserve energy as peak usage threatens to destabilize the power grid. This comes just a week after the state passed new legislation limiting all new vehicle sales to electric vehicles and hybrids by 2035, a move that's expected to strain the grid further.

Let's bring in Desmond Wheatley. He's chairman, CEO, and president of Beam Global. And we should mention, Desmond, you are out in California. You have said that the infrastructure is not sufficient enough for this rapid transition that Governor Newsom has now put forward. That was before these warnings of rolling blackouts. What's your biggest concern with the infrastructure in place?

DESMOND WHEATLEY: Well, I think we have to remember that the US grid, magnificent though it is, was never designed to replace petroleum products for transportation fuel. That simply wasn't on any of the original planning. And as a result, it doesn't have anywhere near enough capacity to provide all the fuel that we will need for all these magnificent electric vehicles that are coming down the road.

By the way, I think it's very important to point out that there's very little controversial about Governor Newsom's decision here. Europe has already made a decision to ban all electric vehicles in 2035. And it's very hard to imagine automotive manufacturers being able to make one class of vehicles for Europe and one for North America.

So this is one of those cases where as goes California, so goes the rest of the United States. But in fact, it's really as goes Europe, so goes the United States. So we're going to have to do a lot for infrastructure, and we're going to have to do it very quickly.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Desmond, it's Brian Cheung here. So kind of explain to me what Beam Global's role in the kind of overall space is when you talk about have off-grid EV charging infrastructure. You just recently acquired a battery technology company. How do you kind of fit into that future that we need to be thinking about?

DESMOND WHEATLEY: Well, Brian, it's exactly what we've just been talking about. We have, for over a decade now, recognized the fact that there would not be anywhere near enough capacity on the grid to supply all the fuel for the electric vehicles that are certainly coming over the next couple of decades. And then beyond that, there's another serious consideration, too, which is just a vulnerability.

Again, the grid is a magnificent piece of equipment, but we do have blackouts and brownouts from time to time. And we cannot have our fueling infrastructure relying on centralized infrastructure that's vulnerable to centralized failure. You know this country has a Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make sure that we never run out of gasoline or diesel. But we do not have any sort of strategic electric reserve. In fact, we're at capacity in most markets.

So at Beam, we make rapidly deployed and highly scalable charging infrastructure products which do not rely upon the grid for their electricity. They generate and store importantly-- and this is one of the reasons we bought the battery company-- all of their own electricity so that they can provide EV charging day or night during periods of inclement weather and crucially, when the grid is not available for whatever reason.

They're installed without construction. They don't require any on-site work at all, which means that we can scale them up very, very quickly. And that's what's going to be needed. It's certainly not hyperbole to say that the United States is going to need tens of millions of publicly available EV chargers in the coming decades. California will need tens of millions, in fact. And we only have about 80,000 deployed after decades of effort.

So we're really going to have to speed things up rapidly. And that's what we're in the business of doing, providing rapidly deployed infrastructure which does not need the grid and which, in fact, augments the grid's capabilities by adding more capacity, but without the construction and the lengthy permitting processes and that sort of thing.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, what does the cost look like when you compare it to other chargers? I mean, the reality is, even if the infrastructure is not ready, we don't have the luxury of just sort of waiting around to reduce emissions in order for things to catch up. So if you're saying that your company is a solution, what does the cost look like in comparison to some of your competitors?

DESMOND WHEATLEY: Very important to point out that we view ourselves as a solution or as a part of the solution. I think the grid will still play a big role, but yes, we're going to need to speed things up dramatically. And we're by far the fastest and least sort of cumbersome and risky way to deploy infrastructure. So when a cost is concerned, we're deployed in hundreds of locations across the United States and, indeed, internationally.

And in almost every incidents of our deployments, we cost less. The cost of our product costs less than the avoided cost of construction and electrical work to install the grid side charger in the locations where we are deployed. There are certain places where you can do a little bit cheaper, but at the end of the day, people want to fuel their cars where they are, not where the grid is available. So we're always less expensive than that avoided costs of construction and electrical work in those harder to deploy locations, which might just be in the middle of a city.

And then when you add a lifetime of free energy to that, it's really a very fantastic solution. I mean, Californians will be able to drive on sunshine for low or no cost in many instances without the environmental disruption of digging up the streets to run the cables, and pouring concrete, and all that sort of stuff. But most importantly, we'll be able to get rapidly deployed infrastructure in place on time and without the centralized vulnerabilities associated with blackouts and brownouts. We cannot have our fueling infrastructure relying on this infrastructure, which we know fails from time to time.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Desmond Wheatley, chairman, CEO, and president of Beam Global, thanks so much for stopping by the show. Really appreciate it.

DESMOND WHEATLEY: My great pleasure. Thanks for having me.