It is no longer controversial to say that electric transport will be the dominant means of travel very soon. With the realisation of this possibility, the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs), or notion at least, has enjoyed steady growth. In fact, according to a recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), by 2040, 33% of cars globally will be electric, as too will 54% of new car sales. The benefits of EVs are numerous and obvious, especially since petrol is not planet-friendly, nonrenewable and becoming increasingly more expensive.
EVs now even enjoy the same superb performance statistics as many of the top combustion fired engines do: Tesla’s P100D can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.38 seconds. It is no wonder, then, that the defenders of our current reliance on nonrenewable energy are now most certainly in the minority.
The Nissan Leaf, for instance, a compact five-door hatchback, was the first ever all-electrical vehicle to go on sale in South Africa. It boasts an impressive range of about 195 km on a single charge, enough for the average weekly commute in a city environment. BMW currently has two options available in South Africa: the i3 and i8. While the i8 is a hybrid vehicle, meaning it uses both petrol and electricity, reaching a maximum range of 37 km on electricity alone, the i3 is all-electric and has a range of between 129 km to 161 km, depending on how efficiently you drive. There are many other models currently available and being developed.
Rising petrol prices are always a concern for South African drivers. Perhaps the most standout feature of EVs, is the fact that, when it comes to petrol, they offer a lower running cost.
All of these benefits considered: Why are only a handful of South Africans driving EVs?
Implementation speed bumps in South Africa.
In South Africa there are a few barriers to adoption, including the lack of infrastructure, vehicle range and the current cost. And so there are indeed the nay-sayers, yet the demand for EVs in South Africa, according to a poll conducted by Wheels 24, looks very promising, with most respondents saying they would consider purchasing one. In this same survey, however, consumers also expressed concern about the range of EVs, although this would just be a symptom of an altogether different problem. Many EVs have actually got very reasonable ranges, depending on how you use them; in city driving conditions (the most conducive to efficiency) many EVs can provide a range of between 129-195 km.
However, were South Africa even to develop the necessary charge infrastructure, the power being used would have to come from the grid—a resource already under considerable strain. And as the price of these vehicles drop, and the adoption begins to uptick, so too would demand on the grid. This would result in a situation currently developing elsewhere, with cost fluctuations incentivising off-peak charging to better meet this increased demand. Charging your EV from the grid at a charge station, or even from home, would become increasingly expensive during peak hours. The BNEF study notes that, with the 8 million barrels per day displacement that EVs will cause by 2040, comes a 5% increase in demand for grid provided electricity. The first reaction to this problem might be to charge your EV off-peak, but an even more effective response would be to charge off-grid entirely—preferably at no cost to you, such as would be the case when using a home PV solar system. Elon Musk’s master plan (to be discussed later) actually foresees just such a future.
Cost is likely one of the bigger barriers to adoption. On the budget-conscious side of the spectrum, the Nissan Leaf will set you back about R450 000, which is by no means “cheap”. On the price-is-no-obstacle side, you have the BMW i8, starting at R1 755 000, which, even for a supercar, is pretty pricey. But these are early days yet, and as the technology advances and production costs decrease, we will begin to see these prices reach levels that the average consumer would consider reasonable. Tesla’s (who unfortunately has yet to export its models to SA) Elon Musk calls this the master plan part deux: producing high-cost, high-performance, but ultimately low-volume EVs, which would cover the cost of the R&D, with the end of producing an incrementally more affordable, and therefore high-volume unit for a broader market. It has even been suggested that EVs will reach unsubsidised parity with traditional, internal combustion engine cars by 2029.
Solar at home paves the way.
Installing a solar PV system at home would dramatically increase the attractiveness of owning an EV. As your savings on both the cost of fuel and grid electricity accumulate, your investment in this technology will begin generating a handsome return.
The graph below is a highly simplified comparison between the cost of driving a solar-powered Nissan Leaf EV with driving a petrol-powered Polo 1.4 Trendline over a period of 15 years. The cost of powering the EV with PV stays constant over the 15-year period, while it gets increasingly more expensive to drive the fossil fuel-dependent vehicle. This is because, unlike petrol, the energy generated by a solar PV system is free.
According to an article that appeared on Wheels24, experts predict that by 2025, petrol-powered vehicles and EVs will cost the same. This means that, soon, there will be even more incentive to go the EV route.
We all know that a car is not an investment, and that it actually depreciates in value, but with this generous return in savings with home solar PVs, can EVs be described as another beast altogether? It certainly seems that way.