OPINION | JOUBERT ROUX: ‘We ignore the coming Electric Vehicle revolution at our peril’

History is rife with examples of prominent individuals voicing their scepticism before some of the world’s greatest technological advancements. For example, in 1995, American engineer Robert Metcalf, who famously invented the Ethernet to connect computers via cables over short distances predicted that the Internet would “suffer a catastrophic collapse” by 1996.  He was forced to literally eat his words a year later, at a World Wide Web conference, where he put a printed copy of his column predicting this collapse in a blender with water and drank the blended pulp in front of delegates. 

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Similarly, the growth of Electric Vehicles (EVs) is still being met with scepticism by some world leaders, despite many countries already switching to EVs at impressive rates. For example, in Norway, 80% of passenger vehicle sales in 2022 were EVs, while in China, the biggest car market in the world,  EV sales made up 22% of all new cars sold. At the same time, in furtherance of global commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 a number of countries will have banned the production of internal combustion engines by 2035, including the UK and the whole of the EU. Despite some naysayers, it is clear the EV revolution is coming and it is critical that South Africa doesn’t bury its head in the sand but embraces the shift. 

This is particularly crucial for local car manufacturers, in light of 46% of our country’s vehicle exports heading to Europe. For this reason, Finance Minister Godongwana’s Budget speech announcement that manufacturers will be able to claim 150 per cent of qualifying investment spending on electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles must be welcomed. The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has also allocated R964 million to support the transition to electric vehicles, however, more detail needs to be provided on what this funding will entail. 

And, with most of the vehicles sold locally coming from overseas, South African motorists are also going to have to follow international trends and begin buying EVs. Thankfully, while South Africa has lagged behind the global curve on EV uptake, the industry is set to grow rapidly over the next few years.

If one averages the predictions that have been published by various stakeholders including the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA), the South Afircan National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) and independent market assessments, there will be around 120 000 EVs on our roads by 2027 and 360 000 EVs by 2030. However, our own predictions are much higher. Taking into account the exponential growth in EV sales globally in the last few years, we estimate that there will be just over 700 000 EVs on our roads by 2030, still less than 5% of our total passenger vehicle amount in South Africa. 

Should government make the decision to remove the current hefty import duties applicable to EVs, so that they become more affordable, this growth could be even more exponential. 

While this is good news for South Africa’s energy transition targets, the increased demand that will be created by the mass charging of EVs will create a new challenge for our struggling national electricity network.  Government’s own Integrated Resource Plan 2023 acknowledges that our predominantly coal-fired grid will not to be able to cope with the future growth of EVs. Our projections predict that that by 2034 the additional energy demand created by passenger EVs will hit 10 Terawatt-hours (TWh) and by 2050, this will have increased to just over 60 TWh.

This is not unique to South Africa. Even the EU and UK, with far greater power generation and transmission capacities than ours are, at present, hard-pressed to handle the increasing demand that EVs will put on their power grids.

What is unique to our country, is the fact that a shift to EVs could result in more CO2 emissions, not less. Zero Carbon Charge’s research shows that an EV charged by the Eskom’s coal-fired electricity emits 5.3 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in a year whilst a petrol vehicle, on average, emits 4.4 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in a year if driven over the same distance. 

However, while the coming EV revolution is inevitable, our country embracing this shift does not have to mean further strain on our grid and increased greenhouse gas emissions. As the only provider of a nationwide network of off-grid chargers powered by renewable energy, Zero Carbon Charge is offering a solution that can help ensure South Africa reduces its transport- related CO2 emissions by 5% by 2050, in line with government’s Green Transport Strategy. 

Our projections show that if only 25% of EV’s are powered  by off-grid charging, around 13 TWh of demand could be removed from the grid, while this figure increases to around 26 TWh if 50% of EVs are powered by off-grid charging in 2050. 

By September next year, Zero Carbon Charge will have built 120 Solar PV powered, ultra-fast off-grid chargers, approximately 150km apart, covering all major routes in the country. We plan to have 60 of these stations completed by 28 February 2025.

Our R1.8 billion investment to develop this network will also boost South Africa’s rural economies by providing local jobs and an additional revenue stream for farmers. Landowners will earn 5% of the revenue generated from vehicle-charging on their land, whilst a percentage of revenue will also be reinvested in local socio-economic development initiatives.

With a lot of detail still outstanding on how government plans to help encourage the country’s successful EV transition, it is clear that its strategy must include a focus on the development of an off-grid charging network that is based on renewables. Zero Carbon Charge will continue to look for opportunities to engage government on the critical importance of investing in cleaner EV power sources. Any sensible EV transition has to be additive and green – additive to our total power pool, not put additional strain on our grid, and use generation from renewable energy.

Joubert Roux co-founder of Zero Carbon Charge

Joubert is co-founder of Zero Carbon Charge

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