OPINION | JOUBERT ROUX: ‘Our electric vehicle transition needs an off-grid solution’

The global electric vehicle (EV) revolution is upon us. In Norway, 89.6% of passenger vehicle sales in 2023 were EVs, while in China – the biggest car market in the world – EV sales accounted for 42% of all new cars sold. 

While South Africa is lagging far behind these countries (the latest figures put EV sales here at a mere 1,45%), it is good news that government is starting to respond to this seismic shift in the automotive industry. The release of the EV White Paper at the end of last year, combined with Minister Godongwana’s Budget speech announcement on financial incentives to encourage EV production consumption, is a huge leap forward.

Also published in

JOUBERT ROUX: SA’s EV transition needs off-grid solution

In his Budget Speech, Minister Godongwana announced that manufacturers will be able to claim 150 per cent of qualifying investment spending on electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. An additional R964 million has also been allocated over the medium term to support the transition to EVs.

While this news is a welcome move to foster the national adoption of electric vehicles and ensure the South African motor industry remains globally competitive, key questions remain. In particular, it is not yet clear how government plans to meet the increased demand for electricity that will be created by the mass charging of EVs in the future.

It is incomprehensible for any government to promote the adoption of EVs when there is not a clear support system in place for the development of a sustainable EV charging network, especially when no grid in the world was designed to sustain the vast demand that EV charging will create. Our projections predict that that by 2034 the additional energy demand created by passenger EVs in South Africa will hit 10 Terawatt-hours (TWh) and, by 2050, this will have increased to just over 60 TWh.

This is a staggering increase, especially when one considers that the current Eskom power grid is not able supply enough electricity to meet the country’s current energy demand. That is why the solution of off-grid, solar powered EV charging is the only viable option for South Africa to adopt EVs and migrate to green mobility.

The National Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s EV White Paper, published in December, has recognised the importance of ramping up South Africa’s charging infrastructure to meet this additional demand. It also recognises the problem of ‘on-grid’ (i.e. mainly coal-powered) EV charging stations multiplying our carbon emissions at the very same time that we have committed to a net zero transition. It states that “the transition to EVs will only truly be low-carbon once charging infrastructure has shifted materially to renewable energy sources.”

Our own research shows that that an EV charged by Eskom’s predominantly coal-fired grid emits 5.3 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in a year. This is even higher than a petrol vehicle which, on average, emits 4.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in a year if driven over the same distance.

So, while Minister Godongwana’s plans to stimulate EV production and take-up must be welcomed, what is missing is a plan to stimulate the development of green charging infrastructure that is independent of Eskom’s mainly coal powered network.

Zero Carbon Charge is currently building 120 charging facilities approximately 150 km apart  that are completely off-grid and powered by Solar PV. The super-chargers that will be installed at these facilities will be able to charge any electric vehicle at its maximum charging rate. The R1.8 billion to develop this network will also create local jobs in mostly rural areas and provide an additional revenue stream for farmers who will earn 5% of the revenue generated from vehicle-charging on their land. A percentage of revenue will also be reinvested in local socio-economic development initiatives.

However, key barriers that are currently impeding the development of off-grid charging infrastructure, which is crucial for South Africa’s green EV revolution, is the current cumbersome processes and stringent requirements being imposed by various regulatory bodies in order to get approval for developing these charging stations. These include stringent land use and environmental application processes required by local and provincial authorities.

It is critical that a conducive environment is not only created for the production of EVs but also for investing in and building off-grid charging infrastructure in South Africa. We have therefore written to Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga and Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel requesting engagements on the policy environment required for the mass development of cleaner EV energy sources across the country.

Once this infrastructure is in place, government could then consider incentives encouraging EV drivers to utilise this network to charge their vehicles, for example, rebates for motorists who charge their vehicles with electricity sourced from renewable energy charging facilities.

After years of policy uncertainty, national government’s recent commitments to support South Africa’s EV transition is good news for both vehicle manufacturers and consumers. However, for this shift to contribute towards our country’s net zero goals and not place further strain our national grid, government must go a step further and create a policy and regulatory environment that will allow for the ramping of renewable energy charging stations across the country.

Zero Carbon Charge will continue to look for opportunities to engage government on the critical importance of ensuring South Africa is prepared for the coming EV revolution and the opportunity for it to become a frontrunner when it comes to green EV innovation. In this regard, we look forward to participating in the Department of National Transport’s upcoming stakeholder consultations regarding the implementation of the Green Transport Strategy, which is focused on the development of decarbonization transport initiatives moving forward.

Joubert Roux co-founder of Zero Carbon Charge

Joubert is co-founder of Zero Carbon Charge

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.