Plan for 120 off-grid fast-charging stations across SA set to ease electric vehicle drivers’ range anxiety
A new company believes SA’s future is in electrifying its transport system, but to boost sales of EVs, people need confidence in recharging facility availability.
Thinking about buying a battery-powered electric vehicle (EV), but turned off by the prospect of running out of juice? Soon, range anxiety may be a thing of the past as a new company sets up to launch the first of more than 100 ultra-fast charging stations in rural areas across South Africa.
Not only will the chargers boost batteries to 80% within 20 minutes, but they will be powered by renewable energy, 100% grid-independent and unaffected by rolling blackouts, according to the company, Zero Carbon Charge (ZeroCC).
Once the network has been established to complement existing charging options in urban areas, people will be more receptive to buying EVs, confident that a recharge is never far away, the company says.
The North West will be the first province to receive one of these charging stations, followed by the Western Cape.
ZeroCC is set to break ground by the end of the year, to launch the first of these stations. Once complete, the national network will comprise at least 120 off-grid charging stations, at 150km intervals on national roads and some R routes.
The stations’ on-site power generation systems will enable them to power DC (direct current) chargers, which offer ultra-fast charging to 80% within about 20 minutes for the cars capable of reaching such speed.
The company says it has contracts in the bag with 30 existing farm stalls, restaurants and hotels along major highways and agreements with about 100 landowners.
The project has taken significant resources to roll out, explains Andries Malherbe, who co-founded ZeroCC with Joubert Roux in 2021. Roux and Malherbe have partnered on multiple wind and solar energy projects since 2011 and are experts in renewable energy.
Hitting the sweet spot
Most EV lithium batteries have a capacity of 80kWh: With the sweet spot of a battery between 10% and 80% (drivers don’t ordinarily risk depleting the battery), an EV is left with about 55kWh, which provides a driving range in the city of about 330km and 300km outside the city.
Chargers with 22kWh AC (alternating current) take longer to charge – more than an hour – and provide a limited range of just 100km, while ultra-fast DC 150kWh chargers take 30 minutes to attain a far longer driving range, of about 340km.
Fast charging is the only viable solution for long-distance travel, Malherbe says, but when charged from the current electricity grid, an electric car would emit more CO₂e (carbon dioxide equivalent) than a petrol car driven over the same distance. An EV charged with green-powered chargers emits zero CO₂e.
A kWh costs roughly half the price of a litre of petrol. ZeroCC will be pricing its charging at about R9/kWh for fast charging, which is substantially cheaper than petrol and not subject to the volatility of the fuel price. Slow charging costs around R7.50/kWh.
The most recent fuel price hike took the price of ULP95 petrol above R25/litre in Gauteng and above R24/litre on the coast, for the first time since August 2022.
EVs require between 10-15% additional grid capacity – something SA simply cannot provide – which is why ZeroCC believes a network of off-grid charging for longer distances is the future.
South Africa imports about R300-billion worth of petroleum products every year. “If we could electrify our transport, the country could save that in forex. It’s massively in our national interest to support the electrification of transport and to localise the manufacture of these PV panels, batteries, inverters and chargers over the next 10 years. This could all be sourced in SA,” Malherbe says.
The project is being financed by private investors and development finance institutions.
South Africa might be behind the curve in terms of EV adoption – selling only 501 EVs over the past year – but it cannot avoid the global revolution in adoption, says Malherbe, as the SA motor industry is part of a giant integrated global supply chain.
“South Africans always think we are an exception to everything else. But there is just no way that South Africa will be an exception with electric cars.”
As the global chain pivots to EVs, SA’s market will shift to EVs along with the markets of its major suppliers. Already, 15% of global sales are EVs, which have reached more than 30% in China, the UK and EU.
The World Economic Forum estimates one in seven cars sold worldwide is now electric.
Europe and the UK are planning to phase out sales of internal combustion engines in those territories by 2035. DM