By Sue Segar
IN anticipation of the burgeoning uptake of electric vehicles on South African roads, the Eastern Cape Provincial Government has contracted the technology company, Rubicon, to install thirteen 150 kW EV public charging stations within the province.
Rubicon’s director for Energy and E-Mobility, Greg Blandford described the development as a “pioneering initiative, and a real first” from the Eastern Cape government, to ensure the future sustainability of SA’s automotive sector.
“We need to ensure we have collaboration between the public and private sectors when it comes to electric vehicles and e-mobility in SA. That’s key. If we can get that right, it will be better for all,” Blandford told Cape Business News.
The public chargers will be owned and funded by the Eastern Cape government, and operated in collaboration with the Eastern Cape branch of the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC).
They will be placed in strategic points, roughly 100 to 150 km apart.
“So people will, quite easily, be able to travel in an electric car anywhere within the Eastern Cape Province. It will also help bridge the gaps between the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape,” said Blandford.
“The more these chargers there are along national routes, the more it will enable drivers to get in their cars and drive anywhere in the country without suffering range anxiety. The networks are getting stronger all the time.”
Blandford said South Africa’s EV market is growing rapidly, with the current number of EVs at about 4 000 and expected to quadruple by the end of 2026. This growth is not only going to create numerous opportunities, including jobs, but is also a positive move towards energy efficiency in the country. Other provinces would do well to follow the Eastern Cape example, he added.
“The AIDC is funded by the provincial government to develop the automotive sector in the Eastern Cape.”
The awarding of the AIDC contract is part of Rubicon’s expansion of its existing network of 90 EV chargers to 250 by the end of next year. Rubicon is also collaborating with vehicle manufacturers including Volvo and Audi.
Rubicon is an industrial automation solutions supplier to the manufacturing sector and related system integrators in South Africa, importing and distributing cutting-edge technology from around the world with the aim of providing a “complete industrial technology basket”. They specialise in renewable energy, electric mobility, lighting, building automation and power solutions. The company also supplies bank-backed solar energy systems to homes and businesses. It is also the official partner for Tesla’s battery systems, and the first company to introduce a Tesla vehicle to South Africa (the Model X).
Launch date imminent
The installation of the first two charging stations (which recently arrived from Spain) will be completed within the next few weeks in Umtata. “The balance of these charging stations will be installed by the end of April next year,” Blandford said.
“The locations of the balance of the installations are still under review. It takes time to establish a site, because these are high-powered chargers, capable of delivering up to 600 km of charging range in an hour for an electric car. The challenge is to find sites that are able to supply the power to the charger.
“We are also looking at sites that have roof top solar energy installed, to make maximum use of green energy. For sites that don’t have the ability to provide green energy, we are discussing a greening agreement with one of the license holders in SA to provide renewable energy to the site.”
New skills and job opportunities
Blandford said the skills sets required for the initiative is similar to those currently offered at universities and training institutions. “We met with some of the universities specifically to discuss e-mobility, the future of the technology and to equip them to be able offer courses that align with these programmes. EV charging networks provide job opportunities for civil engineers, electrical engineers, service technicians and there are refined skills sets within each discipline, such as programming the charging units.
“It’s an exciting venture; with access to new technologies and supporting skills that we are bringing from Europe – the development of EV charging infrastructure will offer career enhancements to our local population, enriching skills.”
Blandford said if the Eastern Cape initiative catches on, he believes other provinces will follow and provide similar investments into EV infrastructure.
“Much of the infrastructure in South Africa is public so it makes sense that provincial governments provide either suitable locations for these charging units or directly fund these initiatives. The more electric vehicles there are – and we know there will be thousands and thousands of them, maybe millions on our roads in the future, it makes sense for us to deploy the infrastructure now.”
He said SA currently has the best EV charging network ratio – one of the best – in the world. “We have roughly 4 000 EV’s on our roads – and 500 public charging stations in total but that number will rapidly grow in step with the amount of cars that come into the country.
“There is a lot of potential for EV charging stations. I envisage that we will have somewhere between 20 to 30 000 of these eventually across the country plus you will still have EV owners having charging units in their own homes, to provide a daily top up. There will also be incentives in place at that stage within municipalities.”