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The Future of the Electric Car (EV) in South Africa

The Future of the Electric Car (EV) in South Africa

Not enough is known by the South African consumer about the electric car or even the EV charging infrastructure. We are not as behind as we think we are.

Our charging infrastructure actually exists

Believe or not, but, one can actually drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town in a 3rd or even 2nd generation electric car with the ability to charge along the way.

Our highways have little known charging stations.

On the N1, N2, N3, and N4 there is no gap between charging stations bigger than 200km. The charging network is being evolved even further by companies like GridCars so that EV drivers can choose “drive on to the next charging station”, very much like we have more filling stations along our routes than is required for one tank of petrol.

There is a website called Plugshare.com that shows where all the electric car charging points are. An important note however is that it’s a user-driven website, which isn’t always exactly up to date and not updated by manufacturers.

There is a drive to manufacture 60% of all SA assembled cars locally. This drive should be extended to EVs also!

Charging points per EV is one of the highest in the world in SA. Internationally there are c25 cars per charging station. In SA there are 5/6 cars per charging station. We could quadruple EVs on the road in SA and not be at international ratios. We have just over 1000 EVs in SA right now vs a fleet of over 10m cars on our roads.

Electric Car Range anxiety is a factor for consumers

Older electric cars in South Africa had a range closer to the 100km. 2nd generation cars can do up to 300km. The latest EV however can now do 300-400km. Electric Car driver and many newcomers to EVs suffer from what’s called “range anxiety” which is the fear that the EV battery will run out of charge before they can reach a suitable charging point or their destination. What about all those people who run their ICE cars into the “red” on the fuel gauge, that’s proper range anxiety.

Batteries tech is moving forward but supply is slow

The technology around batteries has improved significantly over the years. The capacity to be able to charge the batteries has also improved. Cars can now drive a lot further.

Charging electric car batteries is getting faster and faster too with batteries being able to absorb more energy at a faster rate. The BMW i3 for instance increased it’s battery capacity from 22Kwh to 33Kwh and didn’t increase the overall size of the battery.

The time it takes to charge a car is dependant on 2 things:

  • The size of the battery in the car
  • The ability of the battery to absorb energy

Charging therefore ranges from 20min to 2 hours depending on these 2 factors (ignoring the electricity supply to the charger)

Newer cars are 100kw capable which means that the cars are slightly ahead of the SA charging capacities. The biggest shopping malls would be the best place to charge cars with the biggest capability.

Get with EV Lingo

Electric Cars and ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars should be compared in terms of Kilowatt Hours (Kwh) vs litres/100km. This is a paradigm shift for most consumers as we move into the future. Just like “gas guzzlers” (V8s), some EVs are “electron guzzlers”. So it becomes very difficult to compare like for like across ICE and EV. Some people talk about Amp-hours but the real measure is Kwh. The Jaguar I-Pace for instance is a 90Kwh vehicle that has a range of 470km.

There is local demand

There seems to be local demand for EVs as searches revealed in AutoTrader’s recent Industry Report show that consumers are searching for electric cars that don’t yet exist in South Africa. SA – Energy Storage Innovation Lab manufacturing Lithium-Ion batteries/cells. Providing supply into certain markets. As we see demand growing, the manufacturer will grow.

The challenge

The challenge is one of energy supply/availability to sites in South Africa. I.e. The size of the cable/’pipe” delivering electricity to the site. If we want more energy to the site, we have to run a new “pipe”. This is costly and often renders the business model for the supplier of the charging infrastructure impossible. 

This is the biggest limiting factor in putting in charging stations. Some sites have to run in a constrained mode at 30kwh due to energy availability constraints. And then the number of charge points becomes a factor as the number of cars grows. If 2 charge points are needed at a site that can deliver 80kwh, then they can only draw 40kwh each.

There are other ways to enhance the power at the sites and alleviate the challenge:

  • Solar Energy. SA is perfectly placed for solar energy storage.
  • Identify through the cities and municipalities where high capacity hot spots are
  • On-site storage through batteries that charge when the network is idle. 

However, storing energy makes the business model not work out financially for suppliers of the infrastructure.

Therefore the major problem is still the capacity to the site. The only solution to this is a network/grid upgrade.

Both consumer and business owners need to think differently

A change in the mindset of the consumer on electric cars is vital for adoption. Filling stations need to change their mindset as the consumer adopts EVs. People will be spending more time at a site and filling stations need to do something different to capture the consumer’s attention while they’re charging.

For consumers EV’s provide opportunistic charging. Which means that your car will charge overnight at home. Much like our cell phones are full when we wake up in the morning. The grid is also quieter at night. Rates are cheaper. Consumers also need to consider whether they need a “full” charge just to drive to work, probably not.

The other challenge

Where are the cars? In the EU, the shortest waiting time for an EV order is 2 months and can take as long as 18 months. The challenge – battery production.

Summary

  • There is an electric car charging grid in South Africa
  • We have battery manufacture testing underway

In SA, the auto industry is the crown jewel (contributes 7% to GDP). But, the policy framework hasn’t kept up with the changes needed. There is a disincentive on electric cars.  EVs attract a 25% Customs Tax while ICE cars attract an 18% Tax before other taxes. 

EVs are not incentivized. This directly affects consumer pricing in SA and is probably the foremost problem/challenge. Why not just drop the import tax immediately? Not sure what the answer to that is.

We need to stop saying Infrastructure is the problem. We need to find ways to get EVs into the country and on the roads.

This disincentive affects the demand curve. We are in the hands of Japan, China, India, and Europe. The more we wait, the steeper the adoption rate needs to be. Their end game is our end game. If the EU has a deadline on moving away from ICE to 100% EVs, what would happen to SA? 2 things come to mind:

  • If we don’t move faster, our fleet of ICE cars on our roads will age.
  • This will force us to end up importing international tech because we won’t have enough time to train and build businesses around EVs. 

We may have already missed the point of no return on this!!

The government can’t control the rate of change. It’s going to happen to us. We shouldn’t be trying to control this beast, we need to ride the wave.

EVs are coming whether we like it or not!!

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