EVs are here to stay, here's what you need to know about charging them in South Africa

Business Insider SA
Charging capacity vs. charging speed: What constitutes high charging performance. (Supplied)
Charging capacity vs. charging speed: What constitutes high charging performance. (Supplied)
  • There are at least seven manufacturers in South Africa who are selling electric vehicles (EVs).
  • GridCars says Eskom has the capacity to handle the influx of EVs.
  • South Africa's ratio of public chargers to EVs is higher than the global average.
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It's been a slow journey since the now discontinued electric Nissan Leaf arrived in South Africa in 2013. Fast forward to 2022 and you can purchase an EV from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Jaguar, Porsche, and Volvo.

Despite being around for more than eight years, EVs are still in infancy stages. Plus, South Africa has unique challenges in the form of rolling blackouts, which is a common concern for potential buyers, right up there with high costs as a result of import duties.

GridCars, which has rolled out more than 300 public charge points across the country, says Eskom has the capacity to handle the energy needed for the influx of EVs expected in 2022.

"EVs do not use that much energy; in fact they are up to five times more efficient than petrol cars therefore even a rapid growth of an EV fleet will be manageable," says Winstone Jordaan, managing director at GridCars.

"A bigger challenge we face is securing sufficient power in particular locations. In this case we need to also be smart: if 1,000 people all connect at 6PM, most of them only need the car to be full [charged] by 6AM the next day, so we should spread out the charging of those cars."

As the EV market grows there will be a need for larger charging stations with multiple chargers; this will require engineered design that integrates the grid, solar, and battery solutions in smart and functional ways, he says.

"These conversations are ongoing, so while there is some impact to Eskom, it is fully within their capacity to manage, with the support of the smart charging systems that GridCars has developed."

New tech to reduce charging times

BMW i4
BMW i4

But technology is moving at a rapid pace, and things have improved within those eight years. BMW's new i4 and i4 M50, due to arrive locally this year, feature newly designed batteries on its fifth-generation eDrive technology that allows for more energy to be stored in its flatter battery pack. This clever compact and modular design reduces the number of components required and subsequently allows for up to 205kW of DC fast charging, thanks to its built-in heating and cooling systems.

Earlier this year, Business Insider South Africa had the opportunity to test the new electric i4 models on the superfast DC chargers. A quick 20 minute stop off the highway in Nice provided over 300km of range to the vehicle. It is designed in a way that the car gets the battery to optimal temperatures ahead of the recharge, so that it charges faster closer to being on empty, but gradually gets to full capacity. The new technology meant it wasn't necessary for a one hundred percent charge. The tech will be available on all new BMW EVs headed to SA like the iX3, i4 and i7.

150kW DC fast charging is here

In order to charge at speeds of up to 150kW, it needs to be supported by the vehicle. Audi launched six new e-trons earlier this year, backed by its 150kW DC chargers. These four superfast DC chargers are strategically located off highways for minimal interruption to long distance travel. All EVs currently in South Africa use a Type 2 charger, so any brand of EV can make use of the 150kW chargers, but will achieve a maximum speed based on what the vehicle is capable of.

BMW is also in the process of upgrading its charging infrastructure at a retail level to accommodate the technology in its upcoming and future EV models.

South Africa's public charging infrastructure ranked top 5 globally

Another frequently asked question when it comes to how ready South Africa is for EVs, is charging infrastructure. According to the International Energy Agency’s IEA Global EV Outlook 2021 report released last year, South Africa ranks fifth globally when it comes to the ratio of public EV chargers to electric vehicles. That’s an average of 5 to 6 EVs per public charger, vs. the global average of 25 EVs per public charger.

Home charging vs. public charging

But how important are public chargers to EV owners? GridCars recommends that EV owners install a home charger and lists the benefits as faster charging times; waking up to a fully charged vehicle; leveraging lower costs at home vs. public chargers; and the convenience of 'plug and go' without driving around with cables in your boot.

While some manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volvo offer value-adds like a free home charger with installation that is fully or partially covered with the sale of their EVs, others offer discounts for using public charging stations or charging for free at their dealerships.

But what is the actual cost between home charging and public charging? Using a public DC charger costs R5.88 per kWh while an AC charger is priced at R4.70 per kWh. Charging at home is significantly lower at roughly R2.20 per kWh.

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