Developing electric vehicle charging stations can take months or even years to complete, bedeviling governments keen to slash transportation emissions. But a California-based company says it can cut the installation time down to as little as four minutes. The key: the stations will be off-grid.

Clean-mobility company Beam Global has agreed to a deal with the city of San Diego to install and operate at least 50 solar-powered charging stations. The project will come at no expense to the city, nor to the drivers that will use the stations to fill up, said Beam’s chief executive officer, Desmond Wheatley.

“We’re seeing a really high adoption of electric vehicles,” said Cody Hooven, chief sustainability officer for the city of San Diego. “The installation of public charging is not keeping up.”

Wheatley expects the chargers to be deployed next year, though the company still needs to recruit a sponsor to cover overhead in exchange for naming rights to the network and on-site advertising. Beam won the right to install its transportable chargers via a procurement through the city of San Diego.

The public-private partnership with San Diego could be a blueprint for climate-conscious governments as they grapple with constrained budgets amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s not the only potential benefit: In addition to helping cities meet driver demand for more chargers, it could encourage greater electric-vehicle adoption. Insufficient charging infrastructure has been a big roadblock to widespread EV use.

Governments, of course, have the option to pay for charging stations themselves, or to defer the costs of such infrastructure upgrades to homeowners or businesses. The latter option doesn’t necessarily benefit residents without home chargers, including renters and people who live in multi-unit dwellings.

Beam, formerly known as Envision Solar International, completed its first off-grid project in 2012 — two chargers in Colorado. Its product generates and stores its own electricity via lithium-ion battery storage and is designed to fit the size of a standard parking space.

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