Driving my EV in South Africa

Electric cars are a talking point amongst the petrolheads and everybody else. Every time I pick up a motoring magazine I notice the content devoted to electric cars increases. The shift is inevitable.

EV driver in South Africa

In South Africa people are aware of the shift to electromobility consciousness but uncertain how this transition is going to work here. On the one hand the increasing fuel price is having an effect on most people. Driving your own bakkie or taking a taxi is expensive. One huge benefit of electric vehicles is the low cost of travel. On the other hand, there are uncertainties like availability and cost of electric vehicles, the issue of range and a charging network and, of course, Eskom and loadshedding.

I am in the lucky position to drive an electric car, a BMW i3 Rex. Although this is a pure electric car, it also has a tiny (650 cc) engine that can extend the range on a charge – literally a ‘get my home’ solution. I love this solution, firstly the battery does not have to be so big (batteries are expensive and heavy) and ‘range anxiety’ is literally not a factor.

Most electric cars are nippy and responsive and the i3 is no exception. My wife had two MINI Cooper S cars, the R53 supercharged version and the F56 2 litre turbo and I always smile to see how she enjoys the i3, the perfect ‘cut and thrust’ weapon. You will need a very powerful car and quick reflexes to beat her in any road challenge. She will get the gap she wants – guaranteed. It’s also a cinch to park and generally just an easy car to drive within the city.

I love my EV because it is so damn efficient

It uses 14 kWh per 100 km. I can buy electricity at home for R2,72 per kWh (below 600 kWh consumption) or R3,31 per kWh (above 600 kWh) consumption which means that my fuel consumption equivalent (at R25 per litre of petrol) is either 1.52 l/100 km or 1.85 l/100 km. Really cheap. Needless to say we drive this car almost all the time and the only maintenance cost has been new tyres for the first 88 000 km. Really cheap to run as well.

I charge at night. I do keep an eye on loadshedding, but it has not been an issue yet. In stead of plugging in at 22h00 I might plug in at 17h00. I normally do not have to charge every day. On longer distances, it is becoming easier to charge as fast charging stations are increasing.

Downsides? Well, I cannot really leave tarred roads with this car although distance is not an issue. I would like to have the same technology in a car that allows me to drive on gravel roads as well and it would make the perfect weekend tripping car.

Batteries and charging

One of the fears people have of electric cars are the uncertainty of battery life. We all experience that our cell phone batteries aren’t great after two years or so, so what will happen with my car battery? Surely it is super expensive to replace. That is true, the battery in my EV is by far the single most expensive item. Luckily the battery management system (BMS) in these cars is getting better as well as the technology involved. Here are a few rules of thumb that I have apply with my car.

charging EV in South Africa
  1. Batteries do not like extreme temperatures. Like us, Li-ion batteries are most comfortable at 20 degrees centigrade and modern betteries have a water cooling/heating to maintain the temperature. My car sleeps in a garage at the coast where the temperature does not fluctuate much and that helps. Older cars like the 1stgeneration Nissan Leaf had an air-cooling system and the battery life suffered due to this. Modern cars come with 8 to 10 year guarantees and they do not fail overnight, rather losing a small % of range over time in a way that is almost not noticeable. Interestingly, as battery technology improves in terms of packaging density and battery management there are now companies that will replace your battery with the benefit of giving your car a big boost in range. The battery coming out also has a lot of value and can be used for stationary storage for your home or it can be sold to be reused (2nd life batteries) or recycled. Batteries will never land up on scrap heaps.
  2. Battery life is measured in cycles. For this reason, I limit the number of charges that I do. Since we, like most people do not do constant long-distance travel, but rather commute on a daily basis, can plan our charging. Normally I would plug in my car when I go to bed and only if the charge is less than 40%. I do not charge unnecessary. I heard someone saying ABC – “Always Be Charging” – i.e. every time you get home, plug your car in. I do not subscribe to this. Limit the number of cycles. I also apply this to my phone and other electronic devices. The degradation on my car after four years and 88 000 km’s is negligible.
  3. Keep the state of charge between 80% and 40%. Some cars like Tesla will charge only to 80% unless you instruct it to charge to 100% (for example when you do long distance driving). I do not have this luxury on my i3 but I trust the BMW battery management system to do the right thing. I do prefer to drive it as soon as it has been charged though to prevent it sitting at 100%. When I go away for extended periods, I leave the car between 70 and 80 % state of charge (SOC). Conversely, when the battery is depleted, I charge the car as soon as possible – not good to leave it in that state.

In summary, I can commend electric vehicles and it is probably a good idea to keep your eyes open for good second hand bargains. Personally, I would love to install solar (and maybe wind) power generation at my house and drive carbon free. Secondly I would love to have a SUV as a second car that is electric or hybrid (until we get more charging stations). It must be amazing to watch wild animals in the silence of an electric car!

AUTHOR: Theo Calitz


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