The future of mobility is electric. Although for many it might seem a distant reality, the truth is it is here, growing at a rapid pace and can catch a country and its drivers off guard if they are not prepared.
With vehicles, no matter where they are produced in the global effort, the time-lines for halting production of the internal combustion engine (ICE) are out there for everyone to see (see attached graphic schedule from manufacturers).
The question for South Africans is where in the process are we to make electric vehicles (EVs) a viable alternative. Forget a moment about affordable EVs, they are coming, again sooner rather than later.
The pertinent question is what about the infrastructure to recharge your EV while travelling? With travelling, we mean basically everywhere not only between shopping malls and dealerships in urban areas or on one of two main routes between the north and south of the country where you will find chargers.
A company that decided to tackle the electric bull by the horns in this regard is Zero Carbon Charge with the end game of having at least 120 off-grid charging stations every 150 km of the country’s 18 200 km of highways and regional routes. This will cover all the main routes from north to south and east to west and in between.
According to the two founders and directors of Zero Carbon Charge, Joubert Roux and Andries Malherbe, it is not just about installing chargers along the mentioned routes. Using renewable clean energy with ultra-fast charging capacity is what it is all about.
“We have entered into agreements with various landowners to generate clean power via solar farming on site. The energy will be used to power fast 300 kW chargers (upgradable to 600 kW) where electric vehicles can be charged in about 20 minutes.”
Where possible, we choose locations and partner with existing farm stalls to provide customers with a convenience offering while they charge. In cases where there is no farm stall or similar facility, one will be erected by Zero Carbon Charge and will consist of an ablution facility and a coffeeshop or restaurant.
“Using 100% clean energy means we are not reliant on Eskom’s coal-based power or the availability of power owing to load-shedding. We control the complete process, rent the land from the landowners in return for a percentage of the turnover,” Andries tells Dealerfloor.
Asked about the cost to charge your EV, Joubert Roux, says it will be roughly around 60% of an average tank of fuel. “The turnaround time of about 20 minutes will be similar to what it takes to fill up an average vehicle’s fuel tank, and payment methods will be as easy as it is now at any filling station.
On the question of how the process is progressing, Joubert says the first site approval has already been made, and construction of the first charging station will start later this year at Dassiesfontein farm stall on the N2. Another four stations will be constructed soon after with the rest of the 120 stations following over the next two years.
“With the increased number of EVs on the roads in the future, the numbers of charging stations will also increase. Our way of developing our own electricity and making it available at our charging stations give us control of the complete process, but the running of the convenience facility or farm stall will be in the hands of the landowner,” Joubert tells Dealerfloor.
Both Joubert and Andries say the project could also have a major impact on job creation in rural areas as the trained staff and maintenance and security personnel will be part of it. Asked about what would happen with any excess power, they said they were looking at bringing cell phone towers into play, providing them with electricity and security and power for larger electrical agricultural and business vehicles.
For a ‘rainy day’ so to speak, back-up generators running on plant-based oil will be used, if required, also not dispensing any fossil emissions and small hydro-systems where water will be able to generate a certain amount of power, which could be used to provide extra power. The main power source will remain sun power farming via solar panels.
Both Andries and Joubert are optimistic about the future and the prospects of the project but also worried about the absence of a comprehensive strategy from all the role players. They, however, believe that the private sector could drive this initiative and that the electrification of our transport system could be just as revolutionary as the arrival of the smart phone and the Internet not too long ago.
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