This is the near future for many commuters in South Africa: you’ll drive to work in your electric vehicle (EV), travelling for up to about 200kms on one charge. Once you are at work, you’ll plug the EV charger from your vehicle into a renewable energy charging unit – it’s as simple as plugging an appliance into a socket. When you return home, you plug your EV charger into your home unit in order to electrify your home from your EV. And it is all being made possible in South Africa.
After a year of development, a smart grid pilot project for the energy-efficient charging of electric vehicles (EVs), through battery storage of renewable energy and energy management across a network of charging stations, has proved successful.
Innovated by the uYilo e-Mobility Technology Innovation Programme – a national programme hosted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth – the project paves the way for a new era of green transport and smart cities.
Project leader and Deputy Director of the uYilo Programme, Hiten Parmar, is extremely pleased with the breakthrough: “Charging EVs with optimsed management of renewable energy is a groundbreaking achievement for South Africa and globally. We are not aware of anyone else who has achieved this kind of outcome.”
The uYilo Programme, situated within NMMU’s innovation hub ‘eNtsa’, spans a number of faculties and departments at NMMU, including engineering, information technology and chemistry.
In the near future, further technology advancements will include opportunities to transfer power from the EV into the grid or to power people’s homes with the EV bi-directional charger.
What this all means is that instead of the energy utility having to increase infrastructure for EVs, this system considerably reduces the load on the national grid.
“Petrol and diesel vehicles are the biggest carbon emitters in the transport sector and the major thrust globally is to use renewable energy as far as possible to ensure that EVs are 100% green; powered by renewable energy sources and not fossil fuel generated, CO2 emitting, sources of electricity,” says Parmar.
“Within the next five years we are likely to see strict policies coming into effect around energy efficiency and green transport in South Africa. It’s already happening globally. Japan already has more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations than fuel stations.”
According to a recent study by Japanese vehicle manufacturer Nissan, there are now more than 40 000 EV charging ports across Japan compared to fewer than 35 000 fuel stations.
“In the UK, EV charging stations will exceed gas stations by 2020, and the Netherlands is planning to ban the sale of petrol and diesel engines from 2025,” Parmar adds.
A recent study published by uYilo cited that South Africa currently has 98 EV ‘public’ charging stations across the country, including 77 AC slow chargers, which take 3 – 8 hours to charge a battery, and 18 DC fast chargers, which take about 20 minutes. Most of the charging stations are located at the Nissan and BMW dealerships nationally, but there are also some at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
A locally manufactured public AC charging system costs approximately R30 000 per charger installed, while DC charging systems are currently imported and cost approximately R400 000 per charger installed.
“Through our pilot project we’ve demonstrated that energy efficiency applied to solar-powered EV stations can be developed at scale because we have solved energy storage by re-using the lithium-ion battery pack from an EV for stationary storage. The energy management system prioritises each charging event, based on renewable and stored energy available, and incorporates a Time-of-Use feature to manage peak and off-peak charging. This way, EVs can be sustainably charged 24/7.”
NMMU’s uYilo Programme is accredited by the South African National Accreditation Society (SANAS) for lead-acid battery testing and will imminently expand on this to become the only facility in South Africa to provide certified lithium-ion battery testing.
Recharging an EV in South Africa currently costs approximately R30 – R40 for 130 – 150kms travelled. The two 100% electric EVs currently on the South African market are the Nissan Leaf (which already supports vehicle-to-grid functionality) and the BMW i3. Both can drive for up to 200kms on one charge. The BMW i3 REX can drive for approximately 300kms, 130 of which are on its 9-litre range extender, petrol engine.
Alan Boyd of the BMW Group in South Africa says that since the March 2015 launch of their fully electric vehicles they have sold 142 in South Africa and 60 000 worldwide. Floyd Ramabulana of Nissan says that since the Nissan Leaf’s launch in 2013, they have sold approximately 243 000 globally and 90 locally.
Boyd and Ramabulana say they expect to sell more if the economy improves and when the number of EV charging stations increases, and are installed for easy access at companies, business estates, shopping centres and apartment complexes. Many developers are already including EV charging facilities in their new buildings.
EV vehicle batteries have a life of eight to ten years, at which point they drop to 50 – 60% capacity and can then be recycled or repurposed for lower energy needs, such as lighting, and used for several more years. They are then submitted to recycling processes that can extract core materials out of the batteries, which can be put back into the battery manufacturing process.
“We are confident that this is an attractive business opportunity for a local or international commercial roleplayers to partner with us in taking it to mass commercialisation. We have developed the IP for this energy management system, and the added advantage is the equipment we have used to create this facility is 90% local South African technology.
To date, the South African rollout of EV charging infrastructure has been primarily driven by the OEMs and private sector. In 2015, BMW SA and
Nissan SA signed a Memorandum of Understanding stipulating their collaborative efforts in the national implementation of EV charging infrastructure.
“We are ready to join hands with suitable partners to exponentially expand and revolutionise the current e-Mobility landscape in SA and internationally,” says Parmar.