3 May, 2013 09:53

Special report: Electric Cars

It may sound far-fetched, but your car may soon help to keep the lights burning at home in the evenings. This is one of the technological possibilities which would be feasible if Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies gets his way and South Africa becomes a significant manufacturer of electric cars.

The Minister was joined by his Environmental Affairs colleague Edna Molewa and the local CEOs of three major automotive manufacturers at the Sandton launch of his strategy this week.

He also had experts from a number of stakeholders, including Eskom’s Amal Khatri, who had some fascinating things to say about the way in which car batteries could work when plugged in to home chargers.

He suggested that while they would need to load-up on electricity for the next day, this could happen after the evening peak demand period, which is in the early evening.

“Electric vehicles charging at home could potentially supply power back to the grid,” he suggested.

This would mean that when you get home, the remaining power in the battery could help Eskom to meet peak demand. One vehicle would make little difference but if we move to an era of millions of electric cars, the impact could be significant.

Once power demand subsides, the car battery would become a consumer of electricity, and could charge up in the garage while the family is sleeping.

Rob Davies was insistent that government wants South Africa to be a manufacturer of electric vehicles, which it is not at present, and he said that a series of incentives will be put in place to encourage manufacturers, under the new ‘Electronical Vehicle Industry Road Map.’

The automotive sector currently receives incentives to produce cars in SA under a scheme which was updated this year and re-named the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), and this will be amended to boost help for electric cars.

Currently, investors can earn up to 30% back on their investment over three years. Davies announced that when they invest in electric car manufacture, this will rise to 35%.

Meanwhile, the minimum annual production to qualify for state support will fall from 55 000 vehicles to 5 000.

Government will also look at incentives for consumers to purchase the vehicles, and intends to add more of these vehicles to its own fleets.

There is currently a trial of electric vehicles in Gauteng, with three solar-powered recharge points, and Minister Molewa said this number will rise to 50 in the next few years.

Davies spoke of his vision of one day every garage having not just liquid fuel pumps, but plug-in charging points for electric vehicles.

And Eskom will look at preferential tariffs for electric vehicles.

The big question is whether all of government’s efforts will be enough to make a difference and to persuade manufacturers to set up assembly lines for electric cars within South Africa.

The economic case may not yet be compelling, even with all the new support.

However, the automotive sector has received massive backing from government over the years, and may decide to put economics to one side in a bid to win a few ministerial smiles.

There are certainly other issues on which it could do with help from the state.

Toyota’s Johan van Zyl reminded the ministers at the Sandton launch that there is still a problem with the quality of fuel in South Africa.

It is of such poor quality that some models of vehicle cannot be sold here, as they cannot run on what currently comes out of the pumps.

Rob Davies insisted: “We want to ensure South Africa is not left behind” as the automotive industry moves away from liquid fuels.

In time, we may see the price government will have to pay to achieve this.

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