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Struggling Eskom is bullish on the future of electric vehicles in SA

Motor manufacturers agree that consumers ‘need not worry’ about load shedding risk.

Despite being unable to guarantee a stable and consistent supply of electricity, Eskom says it remains committed to its role in unlocking the potential of the electric vehicle (EV) market in South Africa.

The power utility released a statement last week saying that it is working with major players in this regard, and that the hurdles in the rollout of EVs in SA are actually:

  • Price (EVs attract 45% in import taxes and duties)
  • Long-distance range anxiety, and
  • Access to charging facilities.

Read: More EVs for SA roads

Eskom told Moneyweb that it is “excited” about the progress of EV technology and wants to position itself strategically to participate in the rapid global uptake of electric vehicles. It adds that consumers “need not worry” about Eskom’s ability to supply the necessary electricity, because even a massive growth in EVs will not have a “major impact on overall demand during any normal day”.

However, given its current financial position, Eskom does not have access to capital funding to roll out charging infrastructure on a large scale. It is instead considering a “strategic points” rollout. And with the constrained coal supply situation, it should perhaps not come as a surprise that the utility’s EV infrastructure will be built using solar photovoltaics and small-scale storage.

Linked to the grid

Eskom wants to link the charging stations to the grid so they can discharge energy into the national power system during peak periods, and plans to “stimulate” electricity use (from the grid) during off-peak periods 

When it comes to concerns about charging EVs in the current power supply environment, Eskom says: “We don’t believe this challenge to insurmountable as load shedding is generally planned to be between two and four hours at a time, leaving sufficient time to charge.”

Eskom has been battling to keep the lights on in South Africa, but the power utility’s executives and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan have promised to keep supply constant for the next nine months, and say they will only implement stage one load shedding under extreme circumstances. The lack of maintenance and cost overruns at some of South Africa’s ageing power plants, alongside poor planning, led to the most recent load-shedding crisis.

Read: How Eskom plans to keep the lights on

The value of keeping up

The power supplier sees the value of keeping up with the global uptake of EVs. According to its statement, EVs and hybrid EVs will account for an estimated 30% of all vehicle sales by 2025. The UK has already announced that at least 60% of all cars and vans need to be electric by 2032 and completely carbon-free by 2035.

South Africa, according to Eskom, is far behind, having sold only 1 000 EVs since their entry into the local market. It expects uptake to be “relatively slow in the short term” and is looking to enter into partnerships with vehicle manufacturers to understand their plans for its own planning purposes.

South Africa currently has three brands of EVs on its roads, the Nissan Leaf (launched in 2013), the BMW i3 and i8 (launched in 2015), and the most recently launched Jaguar Land Rover I-Pace and Range Rover plug-in hybrid.

Growing demand

Jaguar Land Rover’s network director for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Brian Hastie, told Moneyweb that since the local launch of the I-Pace in March, demand has been positive.

“Interest in the fully electric Jaguar I-Pace and plug-in hybrid Range Rovers have far exceeded expectations and demand for the vehicles is extremely positive,” he said, adding that load shedding has not affected sales and that demand for the vehicle remains “strong”.

Hastie says the limited initial stock of the I-Pace is almost depleted. More orders have been taken, and will be delivered in the next three to six months.

For BMW, the prospect of load shedding is not a major concern either. BMW i product communications specialist Hailey Philander tells Moneyweb that the vehicle has not been shown to have a significant drain on the power supply and that BMW remains optimistic that the power supply crisis will be resolved.

However, she added that BMW needs to find ways of taking pressure off the grid.

Nissan Africa MD Mike Whitfield says that while a stable power supply would be welcomed he concurs that load shedding has not heavily impacted EVs. He says the vehicles are actually able to mitigate certain issues caused by energy volatility through off-peak charging and renewable energy sources. 

Alternatives and solutions

As an alternative, Eskom says hybrid vehicles are available to those who seek to avoid the risk of load shedding – and that there is an opportunity for power from renewable energy sources to be used for charging.

Whitfield says Nissan’s flagship EV, the Nissan Leaf, has special battery technology that allows unused power stored in batteries to be routed back into the grid, thus avoiding strain on the power supply through both off-peak charging and the use of renewables like solar.

The technology, known as Nissan Energy, enables recycled Leaf batteries – when paired with solar panels – to be used to power up appliances, homes and so on. 

“This is an extremely flexible solution that can be used for small or larger projects,” says Whitfield, adding that it is a greener solution too, and does away with the need for a generator. 

Read: Alternatives to Eskom

Business as usual for charging stations

Philander says all BMW dealerships in South Africa are equipped with generators and that all 38 ChargeNow stations at BMW dealerships operate even during load shedding thanks to supplemental power from either a generator or solar panels.

Hastie says the Jaguar I-Pace has a range of up to 470km and, in the event of load shedding, at least half the public charging locations have generator backup and can be accessed to ensure that charging can take place as normal.

Both manufacturers encourage drivers to charge their vehicles overnight (when there is less demand on the grid) and to take the load shedding schedules into account when planning longer trips as well as in everyday charging.

According to pod-point.com, it can take as little as 30 minutes or more than 12 hours to charge an electric vehicle, depending on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point; a typical electric car with a 60 kWh battery takes just under eight hours to charge from empty to full if a 7kW charging point is used.

Hastie says that contrary to popular belief, the threat of inconsistent power supply means that electric vehicle ownership is in fact the contingency plan for future mobility. 

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Classic Eskom. Both wanting and not wanting business at the same time.

‘even a massive growth in EVs will not have a ‘major impact on overall demand during any normal day’

This is only the primary concern of 1st world power infrastructure. How you deal with massive demand of everyone charging their cars at 6pm every evening. But don’t worry, Eskom’s got it locked down. Not to mention your ‘clean’ EV is just coal (or diesel) powered.

This is an opportunity for alternate petrol stations to spring up; that is not solely dependent on Eskom. I don’t see our traditional petrol stations supplying electricity; as this is in competition to their offerings.

Service stations are not in the business of supplying fuel. They supply energy of any kind, same as energy companies. The same people supplying the fuel will provide the electricity. ‘petrol stations’ are more likely to be anti charging your car at home. So they would just retrofit and it would be good if they can secure a stable (green) power supply as suggested (and fast chargers ;)).

Electric vehicles will work very well in Gauteng (and any other urban area). The main users will be people on their daily commutes. There are already charging stations in some places. If we’re not going to manufacture EVs then the import duty will have to drop.

At some stage the government will have to make a plan as to how it will tax EVs. Since EVs don’t use petrol/diesel a new levy will be needed to make up for losses on taxes and levies on petrol and diesel sales. But, only when EVs become a major segment in the motor market.

I wish Moneyweb would check the maths in their articles. A 60kWh battery takes MORE not less than 8 hours to charge from empty to full using a 7kW source even assuming 100% efficiency. 8 times 7 was 56 when I went to school, maybe the government introduced a law which changed this?

Lithium ion batteries are never 100% discharged in normal operation. Additionally these cars are fitted with ‘limp mode’ regulating speed and acceleration at low battery till you find a charge point. The residual charge can easily account for the slightly shorter charge time in test.

If you can not draw 60kWh from a battery then you should not call it 60kWh. If the display indicates that the battery still has more than 6kWh energy stored in it then the car should not die on me, just because of safety. It is the equivalent as if my current petrol driven car would stop when the light on the petrol gauge turns on. Rate the battery 50kWh usable power or whatever. These are not Chinese made speakers which claim 200W and in reality they are less than 1W.

Pity that SA’ JOULE-EV project went south (for financial/profit reasons…and not technical, as the design showed promise). Probably a product timing issue as well…now that SA’s appetite for EVs starts to change for the positive.

How I like the idea of an EV (for your inner city trips), due to zero engine-related service/maintenance needed.

In SA, 90% of electricity comes from COAL as source. So an EV in SA is in essence a “silent locomotive” 🙁 Ideal would be if you have PV-solar on your roof, charging up batteries during daytime, which are designed to slot into the vehicle’s battery bay. Two sets are required…one set in use in car, while alternate set is being charged back at home.

Still needs lots of future EV engineering for battery-bay commonality.

Originally there were EVs with removable batteries. Then they found that they need to stuff cells in any spare space to get range. So very difficult to remove or even partially remove from the vehicle.

A 60Kwh battery comes in at 1/2 ton. There is the issue of maneuvering that requiring hydraulics most likely. Charging it using PV only during daylight hours requires 45Sqm panels just for the car and an installation bill of approx R200k.

Still a way too expensive venture. However I would have a larger fixed battery at home (and fast charge outlet) used to charge the car. That would get around removing the battery.

@Ga77a. Intelligent reasoning, thanks 🙂 Yes, am aware of the design limitation being that every EV engineer will try to use the shape within available chassis to place battery in. And as low as possible. Yes, wouldn’t it be great just to exchange a flat battery for a fully charges one. Despite that it will take decades to reach size commonality between manufacturers, A-segment cars will have smaller battery than C-segment or SUV or a truck. We’ll end up with plethora of sizes, and your lucky day the “energy station” may be out of stock for your particular battery size *lol*

Another issue would be maintaining contact-points between (inter-changeble) battery & car slot. Current EV’s are designed around it’s own battery shape, and elec cables are permanently fastened. If say inter-changeble batteries were feasible, a time will come when contact-points will wear out on older EV’s….with just a jump/pothole in the road to deny your EV power for that moment (safety issue).

Agree…never contemplated the sheer weight of a battery (I can testify picking up and carrying a mere 102Ah UPS-home-backup battery takes a lot of effort. Well said / point taken.

Despite my affinity for battery tech (and other technology in general), the concept of an EV-car (or even hybrid car) remains a problem of efficiency: when an EV car is near flat, it STILL has to SLOG the WEIGHT of a few-hundred kg battery around…whereas a fossil fueled car, as the tank gets emptier…less weight = gets more efficient. Also, fossil fuels has more energy per kg, than battery tech (so far).

On a different note, I struggle to get my head around the concept of a hybrid car: when in EV-mode, it has to carry the dead weight (read “inefficiency”) of the engine/fuel tank/normal transmission. And when engine takes over, the engine has to pull the dead weight of battery….so a hybrid car would be less fuel-efficient than a normal petrol/diesel car would be, without battery to haul. (Accepted, it’s to reduce emissions will in city traffic, but the concept is nowhere near efficient. Will cost you both electricity bills AND engine servicing. I would go either full EV, or not.

Being able to interactively use the EV battery for reverse flow would be great as loadshed solution – those are enormous energy stores.

If we can grid-tied credits sorted, the solar needed to run a BMW i3 for 25y at 30,000km per year would be about a carport worth : 16 square meters, 10 panels, 3kW power, installed cost should be under R50,000 for a million km’s (cost of capital excluded). 5c per km

We just need to get capital cost down

Fuel stations are already rolling out electrical charging points at a high rate. They have diversified their business from filling stations to micro-supermarkets, restaurants and food chains all combined selling fuel and energy on the side.

Convenient stores are becoming the future as less people have time to go to malls for a few things….

However, the first electrical points installed offer free charging whilst customers are shopping will attract more customers…than the paying point chargers..

It’s a puzzle why government does not lift the duty on fully electric cars and even give a subsidy or tax rebate as they do in other countries. This could be coupled with Eskom slashing its night-time rates to encourage more off-peak electricity consumption (not only EV cars but pool pumps, washing machines, etc).

Using locally produced electricity instead of imported fuel would seriously dent our trade deficity.

Do you mean “coal fired” electric cars ????

Depends where you live.
If you live in Norway its safe to say its a 99% Hydro powered car.

At my house my EV will be a 70% Solar powered car.
EV’s are energy agnostic, they don’t care where the power comes from, just keep your source of power CO2 free as much as possible and we will get there sooner or later.

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